Weekend Word Wrap: Yiddish 101


With the start of the Jewish holidays coming up next week, I thought I'd use the Word Wrap to drop some Yiddish on you all. For those who don't know, Yiddish is about 1000 years old and developed over centuries in Europe and Eastern Europe as Jews migrated, or were forced from country to country. Though it has a Germanic core, it is written in Hebrew and contains thousands of words from many other Slavic languages. For millions of Jews, it was the vernacular, their every day language, and they only spoke Hebrew in religious contexts.

When my great grandparents immigrated to Brooklyn from Rumania and Poland, respectively, Yiddish was the unifying language that united them until they could learn English. As a result, my grandparents spoke a little Yiddish and I heard it as a kid growing up. So here, then, are some of my favorite Yiddish words. Some you know already and probably use often in casual conversation. Some you need to know, and some you kinda know but may have been using incorrectly? (It's okay, all those Sch words can get pretty confusing!)

Okay then, after the jump, with a little further ado, my favorite 25 Yiddish words of all time (pay close attention because three of them are going to return in this afternoon's Celluloid-Stumper):

1. Chutzpah: gumption or balls, guts or audacity

2. Kitsch: trash, especially gaudy trash

3. Kishke: a cow's intestine stuffed with matzo meal, fat and spices (not as tasty as it sounds, trust me!)

4. Klutz: a clumsy person

5. Kvetch : to complain incessantly, also a person who complains incessantly

6. Lox: smoked salmon usually put on a bagel (also Yiddish)

7. Macher: a bigwig, a mover and a shaker

8. Putz: a stupid person or a jerk

9. Schlemiel: an inept or clumsy person

10. Schlep: to drag or carry

11. Schlock: shoddy merchandise, poorly made

12. Schmaltz: excessive sentimentality or saccharine, cheesy

13. Schmeer to spread, or as a noun, a spread

14. Schmuck: a putz or a schlemiel (Yiddish is full of dolts!)

15. Schmutz: dirt, grime

16. Schmo: yet one more stupid person

17. Schnook: a meek person

18. Schnorrer: someone who's always asking for handouts

19. Shtick: a distinguishing feature or device, usually comic

20. Shvitz: to sweat, also a steam bath

21. Shpilkes: an upset stomach, or simply nervous energy

22. Tchotchke: a knickknack or trinket

23. Tuchas: butt, tushy

24. Verklempt: choked with emotion

25. Zaftig: pleasingly plump, buxom