A Brief Glossary of Yiddish
Yiddish is a language used by Jews around the world. Originating in Central Europe around the 12th Century, Yiddish incorporates bits of other languages — German, Hebrew Polish and other Slavic languages.
Written with the Hebrew alphabet, Yiddish doesn’t translate directly into other languages. English Yiddish is written phonetically — as it sounds. When reading Yiddish, you may see variations in how words are spelled, e.g. oy and oi. It’s all about how it sounds.
The ch sound, as in macher and chutzpah, can be difficult to vocalize. It sounds a little like hawking a loogie or trying to dislodge a hair stuck in the back of the throat.
Alter kocker (AL-ter KOK-er): A cranky old man. Literally “old fart.”
Bashert (beh-SHEERT): Destined, fated, meant to be. “Beshert is beshert” is the Yiddish version of “Que sera, sera.” As a noun it means soul mate, the person you are destined to be with.
Bubelah (BOO-buh-leh): A term of endearment similar to “darling” or “sweetheart,” often used among family members or close friends. May be shorted to bubbe (BOO-bie).
Bubby, Bubbe, Bubbeh (BUB-bie): Grandmother.
Chutzpah (CHUTS-pa): An attitude of deservedness beyond nerve, well into unmitigated gall. The quintessential example of chutzpah is the child who kills her parents and pleads for mercy because she’s an orphan.
Dibbuk, dybbuk (DIB-bik): An evil spirit, the soul of a dead person residing in the body of a living person.
Drek (DREK): Crap, both literally and figuratively. Refers to worthless items, junk.
Farcockt (far-KOKT): All crapped up, not working correctly.
Farklempt, varklempt (far-KLEMT): Overcome with emotion, overwrought.
Feh (FEH): An interjection expressing disgust, being fed-up, rejection.
Gelt (GELT): Money. Literally refers to gold.
Gonif (GON-nif): A crook, thief, dishonest person, or unscrupulous businessman.
Goyim (GOY-im): People who are not Jewish; gentiles. Singular is “goy.”
Goyish, goyishe (GOY-ish): The culture or mindset of non-Jewish people.
Kokamayme, cacamayme (KOK-a-may-mee): Crazy, silly, or absurd.
Kibitz (KIB-bits): In general, to talk or chatter. More often means to butt in other people’s business. A kibitzer comments on a chess game rather than observing quietly
Klutz (KLUTS): A clumsy, uncoordinated, or accident-prone person.
Kvell (Kuh-VELL): To swell with pride.
Kvetch (kuh-VECH): To complain, gripe, or criticize.
Mensch (MENSH): A good person who is decent, respectable, and honorable.
Mishegoss (mish-uh-GOSS): Craziness, a ridiculous activity or enterprise.
Mishuggah (mish-SHUG-uh): Crazy, deranged, mentally unbalanced.
Mommellah (MOM-eh-lah): A term of endearment for a little girl. Literally “little mother.”
Momzer (MOM-ser): A contemptible person or moocher. Literally means “bastard.”
Nosh (NOSH): A nibble or snack. Can be used as a verb or a noun.
Nu (NOO): An interjection roughly meaning “So?”
Nudje (NOOJ): Pestering, bothering, or annoying. Can be a verb or a noun, referring to the act or the person.
Oy, oi (OY): An interjection meaning “Oh.”
Oy gevalt (OY guh-VALT): An expression of concern or worry, roughly meaning “Oh, heaven forbid.”
Oy vey (OY VAY): An expression of dismay or exasperation roughly translating to “Oh woe!” or “Oh no!” Sometimes used as Oy vey iz mir, which works out to “Oh, woe is me!”
Pish (PISH): Urine. Used to express distain. A baby may be affectionately called a pisher.
Plotz (PLOTS): Literally to explode or burst, e.g. from overeating or excitement.
Potchki (POTCH-ki): To experiment, or dabble.
Pupik (POOP-ik): The navel.
Putz (PUTTS): A stupid or clumsy person. Literally refers to the penis. When used as putzing or putzed, refers to puttering around or wasting time.
Shiksa (SHIK-sa): A non-Jewish woman.
Shlemiel (shleh-MEEL): A person who is clumsy and inept, but still sympathetic.
Shlep (SHLEP): To carry or travel a distance. Can be used as a noun to refer to the person who traveled.
Shlimazel (shleh-MAZ-el): Somebody with bad luck, a perennial loser. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he spills it on the shlimazel.
Shlock (SHLOK): Cheaply made goods.
Shlong (SHLONG): A vulgar term for the penis. Literally means snake.
Shlump (SHLUMP): A slob or untidy person.
Shmaltz (SHMALTS): Literally, fat or grease. Refers to flattery or insincere praise. Also refers to something that is overly sentimental, over-the-top, theatrical, kitschy, or tasteless.
Shmata (SHMAH-tah): Literally meaning a rag or cloth, such as a kitchen towel. Often used derisively to refer to clothing: “Go out now? In this shmata?”
Shmeer (SHMEER): A dollop or smear, generally of cream cheese. Can also mean the whole business or the whole thing. Also refers to bribery, as in greasing the palm.
Shmeggegie (shmeh-GEG-gee): An idiot or foolish person, somebody not playing with a full deck.
Shmendrik (SHMEN-drik) A pathetic loser, nincompoop. Same as a schlemiel.
Shmoe (SHMO): Somebody who is easily fooled or duped. A patsy or sucker.
Shmutz, shmootz (SHMUTS): Dirt, filth.
Shmooze (SHMOOZ): To chat, talk socially, network.
Shmuck (SHMUK): A vulgar term for penis. Literally means “jewel.” Although similar to a putz, a shmuck is a self-made idiot. While you can dismiss or ignore a putz, a shmuck is a person with more prominent status or social standing, harder to ignore, who is deliberately nasty.
Shnook (SHNUK): A gullible fool or a patsy, someone easy to take advantage.
Shnorror (SHNOR-er) A moocher or sponge, someone who always looking for a handout. The shnorror is always in the bathroom when the check comes to the table, always borrowing but never returning.
Shpiel (SHPEEL): A a story, sales pitch or speech.
Shpilkes (SHPILL-kiss): Excitement, impatience, a sense of anticipation. Literally means “pins,” as in being on pins and needles.
Shpritz (SHPRITS): A spray, or a small amount of liquid (e.g., coffee with a shpritz of milk).
Shtick (SHTIK): A routine, act, or mannerism. The suits and dark glasses of the Blues Brothers is shtick, as were Groucho Marx’s wiggling eyebrows. In a broader sense, shtick can refer to a talent, style or habit. Shtick has come to refer to an act that is contrived and over-used.
Shvitz (SHVITS): To sweat. Also refers to a steambath.
Tateh (TA-teh): Father.
Tanta (TAHN-ta): Aunt.
Treyf (TRAFE): Food that is not kosher because it is forbidden (i.e. pork or shrimp) or a mixture of meat and dairy.
Tsooris (TSOOR-riss): Heartache, grief.
Tuchus (TUKCH-us): The buttocks or tush.
Yenta (YEN-ta): A busybody or gossip, somebody always willing to provide advice. Usually a female.
Yutz (YUTS): A clueless, annoying, socially inept person.
Zaideh (ZAY-duh): Grandfather.
Zaftig (ZOF-tig): Pleasantly plump, curvy, buxom. Or just plain fat. Literally means “juicy.”
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