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The Dish on Yiddish

The Dish on Yiddish

What is Yiddish?

Yiddish is a language created by European Jews, and it sounds like a mix of German and Hebrew. Way back, Jewish men would be the only ones allowed in synagogue, so Hebrew, the language of the Torah, was “their” language. The women at home created Yiddish, which was like their language counterpart to the men’s Hebrew. As a result, Yiddish is a very informal, but hilarious, language that mostly died off with most of its speakers during the Holocaust. However, some Yiddish survives to this day, including a few more mainstream words (like “klutz”), and these amazing gems:

The List:

1. Chutzpah--arrogance, nerve. In English, it has a more positive connotation (i.e. “Wow, Rosa Parks sure had a lot of chutzpah to stand up for what she believed in”), but it’s much more negative in Yiddish.

2. Schlep--dragging around something. As in, “I can’t wait for this school year to be over so I don’t have to schlep my massive backpack everywhere.”

3. Schmooze--to chat, especially with someone you want to impress. What happens at the Oscars.

4. Meshuggen--Crazy.

5. Nebbishy--dorky, socially awkward.

6. Schpilkes--A restless feeling. Most first graders can’t sit still because they have severe schpilkes.

7. Bubkes--Nothing. Usually, it’s used to talk about worth. Like, that time you spent trying to get Drake and Josh to make a fifth season? It’s worth bubkes. They were in high school for about five years. That show is not coming back.

8. Verklempt--choked up, speechless. Reading the end of The Book Thief had me verklempt.

9. Mensch--Just a good person. It’s a really big compliment. This word is often paired with the word “real”, as in “Wow, he’s a real mensch.” To distinguish from the fake mensches, of course.

10. Schlump--A pathetic person. Generally not mensches, although they can sometimes be.

11. Yente--A chatty, usually older, gossip. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named for having these qualities.

12. Schtick--A gimmick. It seems like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde only has a schtick of being this airhead California blonde, but at the end of the movie the audience realizes that she’s also an intelligent lawyer who doesn’t take crap.

13. Spiel--A quick, usually persuasive speech that someone gives all the time. Like a door-to-door salesman would have a spiel, or when you’re trying to recruit people for a school club, you give them your spiel about how great the club is.

14. Nosh--to eat, especially snacks.

15. Abi gezunt dos leben ken men zikh ale mol nemen--It’s obviously more than one word, but it means “Stay healthy, because you can kill yourself later.” Yiddish is a rather dark, sarcastic language.

If you liked this list, you’ll probably enjoy the hilarious book, Yiddish with Dick and Jane. (I promise this isn’t an advertisement, I just genuinely liked the book.) It’s like a standard book for small children, but it has some slightly more mature moments (some scenes involve margaritas, cheating on spouses, oy gevalt), and has some Yiddish words mixed in on every page. There’s also a teacher for Progressive Feminist Ceramics, so it’s worth the read.


Celia is a rising sophomore at New Trier High School. She is passionate about human rights, gender equality, and service learning. She is also an ambassador to UNICEF and volunTEENnation, and has served on DoSomething.org's Youth Advisory Council. Celia contributes to the Huffington Post and volunTEEN nation's blog. She loves to read, debate, and spend time with family and friends. You can find her on Twitter: @celiabuckman


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