As I was researching some sites for fun stuff for Christmas and Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah), I saw a list of Yiddish words and just had to use it.
This is a list — I doubt it’s an exhaustive list — of commonly used Yiddish terms and phrases. I grew up hearing a lot of these in my grandfather’s house up in Maine. There was more Yiddish spoken there than in my own house, although my mom did use a few of these phrases.
I’m just picking out a few here that I am familiar with; if you grew up hearing any of these or the others on the original list (link at bottom), feel free to weigh in!
And even if you’re not Jewish or didn’t grow up with many Jewish friends, you probably have heard several of them; they’re part of the English language now in many areas. But you might not have known what they meant . . . or that they had their roots in German / Yiddish.
ALTER COCKER: An old and complaining person, an old fart
BOYCHICK: An affectionate term for a young boy
BUBBA: A grandmother
BUBBALA: A term of endearment, darling
BUPKES: Something worthless or absurd; nothing (I got bupkes.)
CHUTZPAH: Nerve; gall, as in a person who kills her parents and asks for mercy because she is an orphan
DRECK: Shit. Can refer to the ugliness of objects or people
FERCOCKT: All fucked up
KIBITZ: To offer comments which are often unwanted during a game, to tease or joke around. A kibitzer gives unasked for advice
KLUTZ: An awkward, uncoordinated person
KVETCH: To annoy or to be an annoying person, to complain
LOCH IN KOP: Literally a hole in the head; refers to things one definitely does not need
MAVEN: An expert, a connoisseur
MAZEL TOV: Good luck, usually said as a statement of support or congratulations
MENSCH: A person of character. An individual of recognized worth because of noble values or actions
MESHUGGE or MESHUGGINA: Crazy
NOODGE: To bother, to push; a person who bothers you
NOSH: To snack
NU: Has many meanings including, So?; How are things?; How about it?; What can one do?; I dare you!
OY VEY: “Oh, how terrible things are.” OH VEZ MEAR means “Oh, woe is me.”
SHLEMIEL: A dummy; someone who is taken advantage of; a born loser
SHMATTA: A rag, often used as a putdown for clothes of the unfashionably dressed
SHMEER: To spread as in to “shmeer” butter on bread or cream cheese on a bagel. Can also mean to bribe and can refer to the “whole package,” as in “I’ll accept the whole shmeer.”
SHVITZ: To sweat, also refers to a Turkish bath house. A shvitzer means a braggart, a showoff
TUCHES: Backside, ass, “tuches lecker” means ass kisser, one who shamelessly curries favor with superiors (Tuches is pronounced took-us.)
YENTA: A busybody, usually refers to an older woman
ZEYDE: Grandfather, or old man
If for some reason the above words weren’t enough . . . here’s the link to the entire list.
So, while this is likely more than you ever wanted to know about Yiddish, at least it’s window into a world that is fast disappearing.
Oh, the picture is of dreidels, small spinning tops that are often played with at Hanukkah, which starts December 24, 2016 (the same night as Christmas Eve this year!): The dreidel is a Jewish variant on the teetotum, a gambling toy found in many European cultures. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (He), ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for “נס גדול היה שם” (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – “a great miracle happened there“).