For a language originally spoken only by Eastern European Jews, Yiddish has certainly found its way into common English. My wife was raised in a farming region in the American Midwest and never knew any Jewish people as a child, so she was surprised when I informed her that she uses Yiddish words all the time. Most Yiddish words comes from German, as well as Hebrew and the Slavic languages, but they’ve entered the popular English language through the entertainment industry and East Coast American society. I like the sound of Yiddish words that begin with the letter S, especially sh, and here are some of my favorites.
To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.
A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.
Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.
Often used as an insulting word for a self-made fool, but you shouldn’t use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.
It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”
Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
Update: We published a new post with 40 Yiddish words that you should check out!