The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know

By Michael

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The Yiddish language is a wonderful source of rich expressions, especially terms of endearment (and of course, complaints and insults). This article is a follow up on Ten Yiddish Expressions You Should Know. Jewish scriptwriters introduced many Yiddish words into popular culture, which often changed the original meanings drastically. You might be surprised to learn how much Yiddish you already speak, but also, how many familiar words actually mean something different in real Yiddish.

There is no universally accepted transliteration or spelling; the standard YIVO version is based on the Eastern European Klal Yiddish dialect, while many Yiddish words found in English came from Southern Yiddish dialects. In the 1930s, Yiddish was spoken by more than 10 million people, but by 1945, 75% of them were gone. Today, Yiddish is the language of over 100 newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and websites.

  1. baleboste
    A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.
  2. bissel
    Or bisl – a little bit.
  3. bubbe
    Or bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.
  4. bupkes
    Not a word for polite company. Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” – less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”
  5. chutzpah
    Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
  6. feh!
    An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.
  7. glitch
    Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”
  8. gornisht
    More polite than bupkes, and also implies a strong sense of nothing; used in phrases such as “gornisht helfn” (beyond help).

  9. goy
    A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, the non-Jewish world in general is “the goyim.” Goyish is the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.
  10. kibbitz
    In Yiddish, it’s spelled kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.
  11. klutz
    Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.
  12. kosher
    Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don’t eat – pork, shellfish, etc. – is called traif. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”
  13. kvetsh
    In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
  14. maven
    Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.
  15. Mazel Tov
    Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”
  16. mentsh
    An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
  17. mishegas
    Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”
  18. mishpocheh
    Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
  19. nosh
    Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.
  20. nu
    A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?”
  21. oy vey
    Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.
  22. plotz
    Or plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.
  23. shalom
    It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”
  24. shlep
    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.
  25. shlemiel
    A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
  26. schlock
    Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
  27. shlimazel
    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.
  28. shmendrik
    A jerk, a stupid person, popularized in The Last Unicorn and Welcome Back Kotter.
  29. shmaltzy
    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.
  30. shmooze
    Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
  31. schmuck
    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.
  32. spiel
    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.
  33. shikse
    A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of “young and beautiful,” so referring to a man’s Gentile wife or girlfriend as a shiksa implies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is possibly blonde. A shagetz or sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the connotation of a someone who is unruly, even violent.
  34. shmutz
    Or shmuts. Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.
  35. shtick
    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.
  36. tchatchke
    Or tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.
  37. tsuris
    Or tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.
  38. tuches
    Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled tuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.
  39. yente
    Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a yente though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yente means matchmaker.
  40. yiddisher kop
    Smart person. Literally means “Jewish head.” I don’t want to know what goyisher kop means.

As in Hebrew, the ch or kh in Yiddish is a “voiceless fricative,” with a pronunciation between h and k. If you don’t know how to make that sound, pronounce it like an h. Pronouncing it like a k is goyish.

Links
Yiddish Language and Culture – history of Yiddish, alphabet, literature, theater, music, etc.
Grow A Brain Yiddish Archive – the Beatles in Yiddish, the Yiddish Hillbillies, the Pirates of Penzance in Yiddish, etc.

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363 Responses to “The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know”

  • ALEX MORRISON

    I was born on the Isle of Skye 1938 and my first language was Gaelic. The people were very Pro Jewish probably because of the Old Testement,Icame to Glasgow at 17 and worked in a variety of jobs.I was bit down on my luck and living in a downmarket hostel when i got a job with a Jewish coalman in the old Glasgow Gorbals which had a big Jewish population.If it was a cash sale Abie would say gelt an fantesh.ITwas mostly the goyim who got credit although some Jews had accounts.They would take me to Geneens for salt beef and cabbage and i was happy although the work was very very hard.I still have a lot of Jewish pals and dear Micheal S ankey and I get shickered now and then He is a Holocost survivor and he is happy in this messugene velt.Mazel to all the Jews in the world and Israel. A L

  • IsraDane

    Regarding the English translation of ‘Kosher’, a better translation than ‘proper’, would actually be ‘fit’.

    Kosher food is ‘fit to eat’, and in Hebrew Cheder Kosher is a fitness centre, and a sportsman can be kashur (same root) for the next game, (fit to play, as in ‘not injured’).

    And for all the obsessive Jew haters here, who appear to prowl the net for any place where they can vent their hatred – go get something inserted up your tuches.

  • alex morrison

    A jew got converted to Christianity and became a minister he used to address his congregation as “my fellow goyim”

  • Papa97

    A real treat and so informative. I suspect like many who gravitate to this site I’m sure we all agree on how important language is. Many of us finding it’s root’s fascinating.
    In all the time I was enjoying the comments I could not shake a comment by Mike *19…… I’m not normally given to political outburst but my cage was rattled…
    ……’Yes, there is definitely overreaching by some Iraeli’s on the part of their neighbours’…..
    Is that what they call the blatant genocide of an ancient people these days where you come from Mike.. ‘overreaching’…..
    Will someone explain where this whole anti-semitic thing comes from since 85%+ of modern day Jewry are descendants of Khazars (7th Century Khazar king went eeny meeny mynee mo….Islam Christianity or Judaism……) with not a single drop of semitic blood in them. Oh.. by the way, the same lie’s that is the basis of the pretext of stealing Palestine.
    Here’s a couple of good words ‘spine’ and ‘accuracy’… So.. let’s ‘av it right shall we …

  • David Quin

    Fascinating list. I think these Yiddish terms have great energy and resonance for English speakers because they are ‘cousins’ of those English words that are derived from Anglo-Saxon.
    English is basically two languages joined together: Anglo-Saxon and French (and most English words come from French/Latin). The French and Latin terms are more abstract and generally those of an overclass (the Norman and French rulers of England). The Anglo-Saxon words are, in general, more earthy, emotional, onomatopoeic, and usually punchily monosyllabic: squelch, slug, stink (compare ‘odour’ from the French!) and so on.
    The Yiddish terms mainly seem to come from the same ancient word hoard, and thus they sound meaningful to us even when we don’t know their exact meaning.
    Add to that an injection of Jewish wit and humour, and you’ve got some gems!

  • IsraDane

    Papa97, can’t you just go hate somewhere else, Adolf? Why come to Jewish places to start with?

    And what ancient people? And what genocide? Had we been genocidal towards the Palestinians (a term invented in the 1950’s) it would have taken us about a week to finish.

  • TLM

    Grew up hearing Yiddish spoken by parents & grandparents, and the only word I never heard was your #1 on the list. I’m afraid I never heard “yiddishe kop” but recall hearing “goyishe kop” more than a few times to mean “idiot.”

  • Papa97

    Isra Firstly I didn’t realize it was ‘Jewish site’ and secondly I don’t hate anyone I was simply stating what I understand are facts. I’m sorry if you were offended. I have no beef with Jews, just the criminal Imperialist Zionist that have hijacked Judaism…..I have read ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion’ and am under no illusions (as perhaps you may be considering simply mentioning a couple of facts get’s me called Adolf) about certain peoples intentions.
    Give it a name. My Arabic is scratchy but I’m know they had a name for the land. I’m talking about the people who have lived there for thousands of years not the racist dopplegangers that stole it.
    Your last sentence was very revealing. No… the world wouldn’t stand for you ‘to finish’… so you play the slow game as you always have. Pls… I’ve been to Israel… save it for the dumb Goy…
    I deeply apologize to anyone upset by my comments.

  • jenn

    anyone who comes to a site that is discussing yiddish and starts talking about israeli politics is obviously ignorant to what yiddish is. please take your arguments elsewhere – this is far from the place. unless you’re discussing shtetl politics in ashkenaz, that is. your hatred, bigotry, and ignorance have no place here.

  • elzeide

    to the urgent attention of the list moderators. This Pap97 is doing a lot of evil. First is telling plenty of lies. Consider that he pretends to know because he read “The Protocols”.
    Second he introduced a lot of hate in this basically “peacefull” list, and including comments that are completely off subject, that is “yidish”.
    Third, regarding the supposed sentence of the ex Tel Aviv mayor, I completely believe it’s a complete antisemite lie, exactly the same as infamous “The Protocols”. Also I couldn’t find references to it in internet.
    And finally he shouts so loud his incredibly hate, I’m sure he’s sick (of hate) and he should be expulsed from the site.

  • ALEX MORRISON

    When I first came to the big city 57 years ago and worked with Jews and amongst Jews I was not aware of any anti semitism. The Jews did there own thing worked hard and minded there own business.Today it is a different story with the Asians and I do not mean the Hindus or the Sikhs but the Muslims who take the slightest thing as an affront to Islam.In one of Glasgows oldest Catholic school which has a large Pakastani attendance they objected to to a statue of the virgin mary in the foyer as an insult to Allah It beggers belief.Britain is now sending millions of pounds to Pakistan in aid where the only christian member of parliment was assasinated.The mullahs are allowed to preach hate and promote terrorism burn our national flag in the street.Iam sure there are many decent peace loving muslims but a stand must be taken against the vermin radicals.If they do not like it here go back to Afganistan,Libyia or whatever uncivilised backward hellhole they want to where they wont get hard working taxpayers keeping them in benifits.Iam so angry at people like that sleazy lowlife scumbag MP toches lecher George Galloway who targets the Muslim vote by cosying up to the likes of Ghadaffi and the unlamented Saddam Hussein.may he burn in hell.I am not a racist but I am sick of it all and wonder what is going to become of our civilisation.

  • elzeide

    As you clearly affirm (even before my first word) taht I will loose, is clearly a demonstration of your health.
    Just the fact that you mention “The Protocols” as a valid source after one hundred years that only people who hate jews believe on it, but not normal people, relieves me of trying to answer you.
    Then you make a difference between “rank and file Jews” and “criminal Zionists”. This is enough, and you don’t deserve any answer.

    Many jews were assasinated or died on fire trying to show the truth to people like you, during 500 years of Spanish Inquisition and before. Millions died at the hands of people following your type of thinking during the German nazi regime, in the Russian and Poland pogroms, the jews murdered by the Cruzaders, and also the jews murdered by the muslims. And countless more.
    However as you believe you are the owner of the truth.
    So I beg to you to take off your lenses and go learn the real story.
    And I insist to the list moderators, to forbid you from accessing this thematic list.

  • elzeide

    Papa97, while I was writing my comment, you vomited a lot more hate. I guess on my first answer to you. You’re full of hate.
    Look for medical advice, before going learn history.
    May be this will help you.
    And you insist that I go and read The Protocols. Are you insane or what???

  • Lars H

    Papa97. I don’t know about other countries, but very few Swedes would ever embarrass themselves by claiming that “The Protocols” in any way was a factual document.
    Like you, I have read it and it should be obvious to anyone that “The Protocols” is a product of someones imagination.
    And I might add since it is not written in Yiddish, it is a bit off topic 🙂

  • Papa97

    Anyone noticed not one person has said a word about the disgraceful comments of Israeli leaders… that should set alarm bells off with any sane person…. but no.. not one……Your arrogance is stunning and you have the effrontery to accuse ME of hate…… oh dear oh dear…. Same M.O… every single time…. attack the messenger….. By the way I’m a Prof of History and Comparative Studies for over thirty years and my information is gathered from a lifetime of academic study…. not the idiot box….Oops… Time will tell….

  • jenn

    for someone who claims to be educated, you are extremely ignorant regarding yiddish. if you didn’t notice, this is a page about yiddish. not israel. not middle eastern politics. yiddish, the language and culture of jews in ashkenaz, an area which encompassed most of europe, stretching west to germany (austria, hungary) and east to belarus, romania, etc. during an extended time period pre-world war I.

    this is not the appropriate outlet for your ranting. please excuse yourself – as an educated person, one would think you would be able to find a more suitable venue.

  • josh

    i think its a really good website

  • Papa97

    Yes… hands down.. your right, this is not the appropriate place but as I said earlier someone rattled my cage. Education has nothing to do with it. I am human with humane feelings and being called Adolf for stating a simple fact just got my goat. I keep coming back here out of optimism I guess just hoping someone might say ‘Aw shucks.. maybe your right about Sharrons comment about rape etc …. but can you shut up so we can get on with the Yiddish…’ I would have some respect for that and I would have done just that… But no…. the muck just keeps on getting brushed under the carpet… and frankly I’m sick to my stomach with it.
    Seriously though.. don’t you get it. It’s only human to vent through frustration. I didn’t stop to think where I was. When one see’s image’s of screaming children scared to death after their father has been shot in front of them preceding their house being bulldozed flat…or to once again sit and listen to Mark Regev and his sickening lies when we know Mossad had seven specific targets for execution on the recent aid floatila……. it kind of sticks in the craw…. get it ?
    But you should know…. the parties over… People ARE waking up so I should expect some more ‘inappropriate’ (ahhemm) responses… Adios amigos..

  • Papa97

    It took a while for the penny to drop.
    You were ALL right. What I said was inappropriate and my words here are not going to be sufficient to communicate how infantile I feel I’ve been. Not very smart was I ?
    I”m sure there’s a whole series of Yiddish words that say it well, as only Yiddish can. Feel free !!!
    I am sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings which I know I have and I ask your forgiveness.
    It won’t happen again.
    With your permission I’ll excuse myself from the site.

  • sima

    my grandmother tought me when my mother yelled at me Farmakhen de pisk, lozen shtil- close your mouse , be quite

  • wildasthewind

    RUBY…. If what you say is true, that yiddish is German and it was stolen from them, Then wouldnt yiddish be german, and then why speak yiddish, if its german. just speak german….
    It is not a stolen language from the germans… it is a mix of german ,polish, russian… and is uniqully jewish….. one of the only languages most jews can speak to one another with, and be understood… unless they speak hebrew… not all speak hebrew… yiddish is almost universal…….

  • Jack

    I’ve just spent an enjoyable hour reading this thread from start to finish. I’ll ignore the silly politics and get back to how this started, just with some love of the language.
    One addition, that surprisingly hasn’t been mentioned so far, is “Lansman,” as in a greeting to a fellow speaker of the language, or countryman.
    One modification I’ll offer is for my very favorite Yiddish word, “kvell.” One reader said it meant swell with pride, which, to my knowledge, is true as far as it goes, but, the extra kick that makes it a favorite is my understanding that it is almost always used to mean to swell with pride at the accomplishments of your child — a lovely and unique Yiddish word indeed.

    One disagreement is with the contributer who felt that “svelt” was a Yiddish word. I checked a dictionary and believe it is French. But perhaps the contributer had an experience similar to my mine, where the word was always used by a Yiddish parent and therefore sounded Yiddish. My similar experience was with the word “tumult'” which I was thoroughly convinced for year was Yiddish since my parents would always talk about some big tumult going on, putting their inflection on the word (which I incidentally never heard used by someone who was not Jewish). Thus a question for the many linguists out there: Is there a name for this psychological phenomenon?
    Thank you for this lovely site.

  • Jim Lacey

    Alas, the quintessential New York accent (think Archie Bunker) my father spoke is fast disappearing. Every New York neighborhood usta have a kosher deli–even the part of Bay Ridge I grew up in which was 90% Irish and 10% Norwegian. At least fifty Yiddish expressions was the inheritance of all native New Yorkers. I’ll add a favorite of my own “zoftig,” usually referring to a well-endowed woman, literally juicy, I believe. In German apple juice is Apfelsaft and saftig means juicy. Many native New Yorkers still speak with an unconscious Yiddish lilt.

  • Anne

    Although “Bubele” seems derived from bubbe, it is usually use in referenced to females younger than the speaker. It’s source is the Hebrew word Boobah which means doll.

  • Jan

    I was born in the Rhineland and remember well how my grandparents’ speech was peppered with words that appear in the list that started this post. Schlamassel (current German German spelling) is used to the present day, but not to refer to a person, but to an unfortunate situation, like when a new soccer coach is hired to pull a team out of the Schlamassel it’s in. Any comment?

    On another note: My grandmother used the word Stiewel (pronounced ‘steevel’) to refer to a state of disorder, like the mess in a room that had to be cleared up. It always sounded Yiddish to me, but I have not found it in any compilation. Again, any comment?

  • Jan

    Correction: Stiewel is pronounced “shteevel”.

    Has anyone mentioned “tacheles”? Used to the present day in Germany, as is in “I have to talk tacheles with him”–meaning “I have to read him the riot act”.

  • pigeonca

    Interestingly, I have always heard Yiddish words that end in “a” elsewhere ending in “ie” where I grew up: mezzuzie instead of mezzuzah, schmattie instead of schmatta, etc. Having moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, I recently learned that these “ie” endings are native to Chicago, which I find really fascinating. Here is a European language with a Chicago variant. Pretty cool, huh?

  • barbara harshav

    in modern hebrew slang, “shvitz” means to brag; a “shivitzer” is an arrogant braggart.

  • Karen

    My dad used to use kibbitz to describe sitting and watching someone else play pinochle. He also used it to describe someone’s way of sitting at your dinner table uninvited and commenting on the food. It was not a compliment.

  • Naftali Arik

    This article has it wrong about treif, which means “torn” and refers to meat that is not properly slaughtered by is killed by “tearing.” Shrimp are not treif, because they could never be kosher. But a cow that has been run over by a truck is treif.

  • LittleBird

    In my family (or maybe this is specific to London…I don’t know), we predominantly use schlock to mean “messy” or “an untidy person”. Anyone else know anything about this?

  • Will

    I checked into this site because I am trying to recall the word that I used to hear growing up in NY which referred to any one of the following categories (generally applied to a man, I never heard it applied to a woman): a strict boss, someone hot-tempered, a “prick”, if you will. Not that I plan on using it, mind you! Any ideas?
    Fascinating dialogue, despite some of the irrelevent and attention-grabbing hate speech. Ruby, your comment re stealing language was shameful and totally incorrect. Listen to Jenn already, she’s the voice of reason.

  • Bibby

    You missed the most important one:
    MESHUGGAH

  • candy

    How do you spell the world phonetically pronounced “Zi-rah-zi or Tsi-rah-zi” meaning like a bum, sleaze, loser?

  • Me

    The reason the ‘bubele’ is not in the dictionary is because, in Yiddish, the suffix ‘ele’ is a diminutive and a term of affection. So, for example, ‘meidel’ means ‘girl’ meidele’ means ‘little girl’ or is something you would call a girl affectionately.

  • Helma

    Me June 7, bubele is an affectional word for a young boy, when approaching him or talking about him. It is a normal word spoken in the south-german language, although never spoken in the north-german language.

  • careful

    Really enjoyed the definitions and had a few laughs too. Was curious and glad to come across this.

    Be careful of those who claim to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, because usually they are not. They are usually caustic people who choose to spread lies to others and twist the scriptures. They have given in to satan.

  • Jared

    I’ve never heard most of these words and yet “schlep” wasn’t in here. I don’t understand.

  • Josh

    Really enjoying the Yiddish words and the linguistic conversations. (not a fan of the politics/hatred/anti-anyone stuff)

    Will, perhaps the word you’re thinking of is “Putz”? Not a polite word (as I believe it’s one of the many Yiddish words for male anatomy) –but could definitely be used to describe a fool or a jerk

    Crystal, I’m not sure what the term would be for a “super salesman” but “Shyster” might be the term used for a con-artist who could sell ice in winter.

    A note about an earlier comment — the term Mazel Tov is generally used to express congratulations –but one of the beautiful things about Yiddish (IMHO) is that it can also be said sarcastically. So sometimes it can mean “that’s just great for you – you must be so thrilled –Not!” as in: “Your daughter is marrying a shvartza/Your son is marrying a shiksa — Mazel Tov.”
    (come on folks –if we’re truly interested in an honest discussion about how Yiddish is used, let’s be frank — “shiksa” and “shvartza” and others have been used in the past with negative connotation. Not suggesting it’s appropriate to continue to do so — but let’s not pretend to be surprised!)

    Thank you for this site — peace to all.

  • me

    In Brooklyn, all the hushed comments about “shvartzers” led to the inevitable talk about all the “vicers”, since the shvartzers might have figured out we were talking about them.

  • bert

    Oy vey already ! (Well, more in the sense of amazement !)

    This site is just loaded with amazing stuff !!

    It’s just a pity that I never have time to read it all 🙁

    Fantastic site !!

    Vielen dank 🙂

    Arigatou gozaimashita 🙂

  • jessiethought

    Wow. Really interesting. I didn’t know klutz was Yiddish.

  • Vendulka

    My mother tongue is Czech.

    “Kibbitz” (or “kibic” in Czech) is used in exactly the same meaning in Czech you say it does not have in English – it is used for someone who is giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game 🙂

    It sometimes goes in phrase “Kibic pod stůl” (“Kibbitz, go under the table” or “Kibbitz belongs under the table”).

    We also have a verb “kibicovat” which means “giving unwanted advice” (not only about a game but generally).

  • MikeCG

    “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods” by Michael Wex is a great audio book (available from audible.com, Amazon.com, which owns audible.com, and probably elsewhere; download it to your iPod). It is also available in hard copy, but to listen to Wex speak the language provides a dimension one can’t get by reading a written text. His explanations of Yiddish origins are erudite and enlightening. Try it, you’ll like it!

  • Harv

    Brand new audio self-learn Yiddish or Hebrew for beginners.

    havin10@gmail.com

  • Richie

    As a young boy, my siblings and I would sit in the back seat of the car on one of the many long drives into the country we would do on weekends. We tended to bother poor Dad quite a bit, so one thing we always got from him just as the good natured bothering commenced was “Don’t huk mik chynik” which sometimes broke down into a simple “don’t huck me to death” or something. To me, it always sounded like he was saying “huk a mecka chinika” I never quite understood it. I was like 5 at the time. Does anyone know the actual phrase? What does it mean? Something to do with being a nudnik I bet.

  • Alice Spacey

    I am an A level student at a high school in England and am currently writing a short story for my EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). The title of my piece is “A short story exploring the life of a homosexual German-Jewish immigrant living in America during the 1950s”.

    This page has been very useful at giving me Yiddish phrases. However, I would like to know if anyone would be willing to read through my work and tell me if I’ve used words/phrases in the right context.

    If you wish to contact me could you please first reply on here, if you’re intersested, and then we can work on it from there.

    Thank you very much, again, for posting this online. And thank you for your time for reading this comment.

  • Yiddishe Kop

    To Richie on July 22, 2011

    What you’re refering to is the phrase ” Hack nisht kien tchienik”, which means “stop bothering”, and is sometimes used in another phrase with the same meaning ” Drie nisht kien kop”.

  • Harv Mayerowicz

    First of all, I grew up in a home where my parents spoke Yiddish to my sister and me, but we answered just in English. I am 65 years old and have not heard much Yiddish in decades, so I can barely understand let alone speak the “mama loshen” (mother tongue).
    To address, the pedigree of Yiddish, let me say, that while it did begin as middle ages High German, it adopted words from each country where Jews lived. As a result, many speakers of many tongues can recognize words from their languages. I absolutely loved the observation by Robert Aitchison (#11) who said that Yiddish is middle age Ebonics. This was true for all Yiddish speakers until today.
    To the person, arguing about the theft of words from other languages, then as English speakers, we must admit to the same thievery. One of the reasons English is so difficult to master is its inconsistent and limited rules. The reason for this is that English is the mutt of the language kennel. We have adopted (stolen) words and rules from almost all the languages and language groups of Europe. This includes all the Romance languages including Latin. We have also stolen from the Greek, Scandinavian, Slavic language groups and others. In fact, I submit we are the most prolific language thieves in the Western world. So any carping about the lack of pedigree for Yiddish is due to a lack of understanding, or perhaps something more odious.

  • Yiddishe Kop

    A most interesting sign appears in Brooklyn just as you leave the Williamsburg area, going onto the Williamsburg Bridge which goes to the East Side/Manhattan. It says “Leaving Brooklyn? Oy Vey !!”.

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