The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know DAILY WRITING TIPS (2023)

by Michael

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know DAILY WRITING TIPS (1)

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.

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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The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know DAILY WRITING TIPS (2)


What are three common Yiddish words? ›

14 English Words from Yiddish
  • Bubkes. English takes on new words all the time. ...
  • Chutzpah. Definition: ...
  • Glitch. Definition: ...
  • Schmaltz. Definition: ...
  • Klutz. Definition: ...
  • Megillah. Definition: ...
  • Bagel. Definition: ...
  • -nik. Definition:

What is Yiddish for attractive woman? ›

chachka Add to list Share.

What does Farshtunken mean? ›

4. Farshtunkener = Smelly, malodorous person. This insult can apply literally and figuratively. Someone can have a stinky attitude or a stinky body—or both!

What is mishpucha in Yiddish? ›

Mishpuche/ Mishpucha

The Yiddish word 'Mishpuche' stems from the Hebrew “Mishpacha” and means family. Like the word family, the meaning of “Mishpuche” can be extended to close friends.

What is bubala in Yiddish? ›

Bubala is Yiddish, it basically means "sweetie"

What is Yiddish for silly? ›

Meshuggeneh: An adjective or noun describing someone who is silly, crazy, or a troublemaker. Now, it's used mostly as a term of endearment. Example: I must be meshuggeneh to think that I can make it from LA to San Diego on time for dinner.

What is Yiddish for chubby girl? ›

Zoftig women aren't skinny — they are pleasantly curvaceous. It's more common to spell the word zaftig instead of zoftig, but both spellings are correct and come from the Yiddish zaftik, or "juicy." Its root, in turn, is the Middle German saft, "juice."

What is a white guy in Yiddish? ›

In modern Hebrew and Yiddish goy (/ɡɔɪ/, Hebrew: גוי, regular plural goyim /ˈɡɔɪ. ɪm/, גוים‎ or גויים‎) is a term for a gentile, a non-Jew. Through Yiddish, the word has been adopted into English (pluralised as goys or goyim) also to mean gentile, sometimes with a pejorative sense.

What is the Yiddish word for disgusting person? ›

Yiddish Word of the Week: "paskudnyak" - a disgusting, contemptible person; an insult saved for the most odious people.

What does Schick mean in Yiddish? ›

In Yiddish, a shtik is "an act or gimmick," or sometimes "a trick or a prank." Literally, the word means "a little piece" or "a slice," from Middle High German stücke, "piece." Definitions of shtick.

What is kwell in Yiddish? ›

Kvell comes from Yiddish kveln, meaning "to be delighted," which, in turn, comes from the Middle High German word quellen, meaning "to well, gush, or swell." Yiddish has been a wellspring of creativity for English, giving us such delightful words as meister ("one who is knowledgeable about something"), maven ("expert") ...

What does Yaya mean in Yiddish? ›

It means "Mother" or "Mama Priestess." In both cultural traditions, the word "Yaya" represents the highest form of woman, achieved only through initiation, experience and longevity. It represents, literally, the Journey to Womanhood.

What does K Nocker mean in Yiddish? ›

K'NOCKER: Braggart. NUDZH: Pesterer. NUDNICK: Nag. NEBBISH: Sad sack. GONIF: Shady character.

What is Yutz in Yiddish? ›

Definition of 'yutz'

a person variously regarded as ineffectual, foolish, disagreeable, contemptible, etc. Word origin. < Yiddish.

What does Kaker mean? ›

Elderly person, old-timer; "A crotchety, fussy, ineffectual old man" (Rosten).

What is shitza in Yiddish? ›

noun Yiddish: Often Disparaging. a term used especially by a Jew to refer to a girl or woman who is not Jewish. a term used especially by a Jew to refer to a Jewish girl or woman whose attitudes, behavior, or appearance are felt to resemble those of a gentile.

What is Putz in Yiddish? ›

putz (plural putzes) (slang, derogatory) Fool, idiot.

What does Yenta mean in Yiddish slang? ›

The name has entered Yinglish—i.e., become a Yiddish loanword in Jewish varieties of English—as a word referring to a woman who is a gossip or a busybody. The use of yenta as a word for 'busybody' originated in the age of Yiddish theatre.

What is Yiddish for God laughs? ›

The Yiddish expression “Der Mensch Tracht, Un Gott Lacht," means "man plans and God laughs.” While we go about planning our days and lives, we sometimes learn that God or the universe or whatever we call our higher power has another plan for us.

What is Farklempt in Yiddish? ›

far·klempt (fär-klĕmpt) or ver·klempt (vər-) Share: adj. Unable to speak because of emotion; choked up. [Yiddish farklemt, past participle of farklemmen, to clamp, catch (as in a vise), choke up, from Middle High German verklemmen : ver-, pref.

What is the joy of the Yiddish word? ›

How does one say “joy” in Yiddish? The simplest answer is freyd.

What is Yiddish for little mama? ›

Mamele, which uses the affectionate Yiddish diminutive -le, literally means “little mama” and is a term of endearment for moms.

What is the Yiddish word for a snack? ›

In Yiddish, “nosh” means “to snack” and “natter” is generally defined as a casual and leisurely conversation.

What is Yiddish slang for drunk? ›

Borrowed from Yiddish שיכּור‎ (shiker, “drunk”), from Hebrew שיכור / שִׁכּוֹר‎ (shikór).

What language is Yiddish closest to? ›

Language family

While Yiddish does use some Hebrew words and is written in the Hebrew alphabet, Yiddish is actually more closely related to German and Slavic languages than it is to Hebrew.

What is the Yiddish saying if my grandmother had balls? ›

In Yiddish, if my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather. "As di bubbe volt gehat beytsim volt zi gevain mayn zaidah."

What does Dremel mean in Yiddish? ›

in these works, pattern is created by drilling with a small drill called a dremel – which means little dream in yiddish.

What does Bube mean in Yiddish? ›

Bubbe, Zayde. Pronounced "Bubbeh" or "Bubbee" and "Zaydeh" or "Zaydee". The Yiddish words for grandmother and grandfather.

What is payos in Yiddish? ›

Pe'ot, anglicized as payot (Hebrew: פֵּאוֹת, romanized: pēʾōt, "corners") or payes (Yiddish pronunciation: [peyes]), is the Hebrew term for sidelocks or sideburns.

What does Shmata mean in Yiddish? ›

SCHMATA: a Yiddish word meaning a rag or something you throw on the floor, something worthless, an abused person, similar to a "doormat", for instance a spouse who gets berated in public, a person who gets taken advantage of, or a piece of clothing that does not have to be something old and falling apart - could be ...

What is a nosy woman in Yiddish? ›

The Oxford English Dictionary defines yenta as “a woman who is a gossip or busybody; Yiddish origin.” The Merriam-Webster definition is similar: “one that meddles; blabbermouth, gossip.” A slightly different explanation for the word's origin is found at, however: “originally a female name; from Old ...

What does Ungapatchka mean in Yiddish? ›

Ungapatchka means "not too garish or over-the-top" in Yiddish, and it's one of the many words that caused Asner, MA '96, to fall in love with the language.

What is grandpa in Yiddish? ›

Zeyde is the historical Yiddish word for grandfather. See also Bubbe (Grandmother). Though it is a term that is perhaps diminishing in popularity with the 2020 election it came into the vernacular as Bernie Sanders become known as Zeyde or Zayde Bernie.

What does Baba mean in Yiddish? ›

grandmother: many Slavic languages (such as Bulgarian, Russian, Czech and Polish), Romanian, Yiddish, Japanese.

What is Nora in Yiddish? ›

The word נורא (nora) can also be used as an adverb meaning "very," or “terribly.” It can be added to negative adjectives, but also to positive adjectives, like in נורא יפה (nora yafe), “terribly beautiful” or מעניין נורא (me'anyen nora) “very interesting.” It can appear either before or after the adjective.

What does 18 mean in Yiddish? ›

As a result, 18 is a popular number that represents good luck. At weddings, bar mitzvahs, and when making honorary donations, Jews often give gifts of money in multiples of 18, symbolically giving the recipient the gift of “life” or luck.

What does Schul mean in Yiddish? ›

schul. / (ʃuːl) / noun. the Yiddish word for synagogue.

What does cocker mean in Yiddish? ›

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.

How do you say cool in Yiddish? ›

You will frequently here Israelis responding to a proposal or a piece of information with the word 'Sababa' (סבבה). Simply put this means great, cool, or no problem. If someone puts an idea to you and you like it simple say 'Sababa' and get on with the plan.

What is a common Yiddish greeting? ›

The most common of all the Jewish greetings is Shalom, a Hebrew word that means hello, goodbye and peace.

What are common Yiddish words used in America? ›

Some examples of English words that derive from Yiddish words include glitch, klutz, bagel, futza, shlemiel, shlump, shnuk, shmuck, schmutz, schlep, shmo, nebish, tuches, klots, yold, bubbe, oy vey, mensch, nosh, putz, mazel tov, and many more (Steinmetz, 1986).

What are some wise Yiddish sayings? ›

19 Wise Yiddish Proverbs Worth Remembering (WISDOM)

Before you start up a ladder, count the rungs. Words should be weighed, not counted. Better ask ten times than go astray once. In life, each of us must sometimes play the fool.

What is Yiddish for bless you? ›

[ɡəˈzʊnthajt] Yiddish. Yiddish (and German) equivalent of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. Also sometimes "tsu gezunt". Lavriut (or Livriut)

What does Shavua Tov mean? ›

From Hebrew שבוע טוב‎ (shavúa tov, “good week”), from Yiddish אַ גוטע וואָך‎ (a gute vokh).

What is good luck in Yiddish? ›

Etymology. From Yiddish מזל טוב‎ (mazl tov), literally "good luck", presumably originally meant as a wish for the addressee's good luck.

How do you say slob in Yiddish? ›

Rather, it's that English “slob” has influenced the meaning of Yiddish zhlob (pronounced with the “o” as in “soft”), so among some speakers in America today, a zhlob and a slob are practically synonymous.

What is the Yiddish term for good guy? ›

In Yiddish, mentsh roughly means "a good person". The word has migrated as a loanword into American English, where a mensch is a particularly good person, similar to a "stand-up guy", a person with the qualities one would hope for in a friend or trusted colleague.

Is bagel a Yiddish word? ›

The word bagel itself comes from the Yiddish word “beigel” (pronounced like “bye-gel”), which was later anglicized to “bagel” when immigrants introduced the food to the United States during the 20th century.

What do Jews call their aunt? ›

Aunt in Hebrew is דודה, and uncle is דוד. It is pronounced doh-dah and dod, respectively.

What is spaz in Yiddish? ›

Noun. (slang, derogatory, offensive) A hyperactive person.

What is the Yiddish word for so happy? ›

Kvell comes from Yiddish kveln, meaning "to be delighted," which, in turn, comes from the Middle High German word quellen, meaning "to well, gush, or swell." Yiddish has been a wellspring of creativity for English, giving us such delightful words as meister ("one who is knowledgeable about something"), maven ("expert") ...

What is the Yiddish word for cheap stuff? ›

A tchotchke (/ˈtʃɒtʃkə/ CHOTCH-kə, /ˈtʃɒtʃkiː/ CHOTCH-kee) is a small bric-à-brac or miscellaneous item. The word has long been used by Jewish-Americans and in the regional speech of New York City and elsewhere. It is borrowed from Yiddish and is ultimately Slavic in origin.


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