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List of English words of Yiddish origin

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This is a list of English words of Yiddish origin, many of which have entered the English language by way of American English. Spelling of some of these Yiddish language words may be variable (for example, schlep is also seen as shlep, schnoz as shnozz, and so on). Many of these words are more common in the entertainment industry, via vaudeville, the Catskills/Borscht Belt, and Hollywood. Others are more regionally oriented, e.g. in the New York City metropolitan area.

Yiddish is a Germanic language originally spoken by the Jews of Central and later Eastern Europe, written in the Hebrew alphabet, and containing a substantial substratum of words from Hebrew as well as numerous loans from Slavic languages.[1] For that reason, some of the words listed below are in fact of Hebrew or Slavic origin, but have entered English via their Yiddish forms. Since Yiddish is very closely related to modern German, many native Yiddish words have close German cognates; in a few cases it is difficult to tell whether English borrowed a particular word from Yiddish or from German. Since Yiddish was originally written using the Hebrew alphabet, some words have several spellings in the English alphabet. The transliterated spellings of Yiddish words and conventional German spellings are different, but the pronunciations are frequently the same (e.g., shvarts in Yiddish is pronounced the same way as schwarz in German).

Many of these words are used in English differently than in Yiddish. For example chutzpah is usually used in Yiddish with a negative connotation meaning improper audacity, while in English it has a more positive meaning. Shlep in Yiddish is usually used for carrying (or dragging) something else, while in English it is used more commonly for dragging oneself. Glitch simply means 'slip' in Yiddish.

A list of English words of Yiddish origin is found below. Except as noted, all words listed can be found in the current online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) or Merriam-Webster dictionary (MW).

  • bagel: a ring-shaped bread roll made by boiling then baking the dough (from בײגל beygl) (OED, MW)
  • blintz: a sweet cheese-filled crepe (Yiddish בלינצע blintse from russian "блины" bliny) (AHD)
  • bris: the circumcision of a male child. (from Hebrew brith 'covenant') (OED, MW)
  • boychick: boy, young man. (English boy + Eastern Yiddish -chik, diminutive suffix (from Slavic)) (AHD)
  • bubkes (also spelled "bupkis"): emphatically nothing, as in He isn't worth bubkes (literally 'goat droppings', possibly of Slavic origin; cf. Polish bobki 'animal droppings') (MW)
  • chutzpah: nerve, guts, daring, audacity, effrontery (Yiddish חוצפּה khutspe, from Hebrew) (AHD)
  • dreck: (vulgar) worthless material, especially merchandise; literally: "crap" or "shit" (Yiddish ‫דרעק ‬ drek cf. German Dreck) (OED, MW)
  • dybbuk: the malevolent spirit of a dead person which enters and controls a living body until exorcised (from Hebrew דיבוק dibbuk, that which clings) (AHD)
  • fleishig: made with meat (Yiddish ‫פֿליישיק ‬ fleyshik 'meaty', from fleysh 'meat', cf. German fleischig 'meaty') (MW)
  • ganef or gonif: thief, scoundrel, rascal (Yiddish גנבֿ ganev or ganef 'thief', from Hebrew gannav). (AHD)
  • gelt: money; chocolate coins eaten on Hanukkah (געלט gelt 'money', cf. German Geld) (AHD)
  • glitch: a minor malfunction (possibly from Yiddish glitsh, from glitshn 'slide', cf. German glitschen 'slither') (AHD)
  • golem: a man-made humanoid; an android, Frankenstein monster (from Hebrew גולם gōlem, but influenced in pronunciation by Yiddish goylem) (OED, MW)
  • goy: a Gentile, someone not of the Jewish faith or people (Yiddish גוי, plural גויים or גוים goyim; from Hebrew גויים or גוים goyim meaning 'nations [usually other than Israel]', plural of גוי goy 'nation') (AHD)
  • haimish (also heimish): home-like, friendly, folksy (Yiddish‫ היימיש ‬ heymish, cf. German heimisch) (AHD)
  • huck; sometimes "hock", "huk", "hak". etc.: to bother incessantly, to break, or nag; from hakn a tshaynik (break a china teapot). Frequently used by characters intended to represent residents of New York City, even if not Jewish, in movies and television shows such as Law & Order.[2]
  • kibitz: to offer unwanted advice, e.g. to someone playing cards; to converse idly, hence a kibbitzer, gossip (Yiddish קיבעצן kibetsn; cf. German kiebitzen, related to Kiebitz 'lapwing') (OED, MW)
  • klutz: clumsy person (from Yiddish קלאָץ klots 'wooden beam', cf. German Klotz) (OED, MW)
  • kosher: conforming to Jewish dietary laws; (slang) appropriate, legitimate (originally from Hebrew כּשר kašer) (AHD)
  • kvell: to feel delighted and proud to the point of tears (Yiddish קװעלן kveln, from an old Germanic word akin to German quellen 'well up') (OED, MW)
  • kvetch: to complain habitually, gripe; as a noun, a person who always complains (from Yiddish קװעטשן kvetshn 'press, squeeze', cf. German quetschen 'squeeze') (OED, MW)
  • latke: potato pancake, especially during Hanukkah (from Yiddish‫לאַטקע ‬, from either Ukrainian or Russian) (AHD)
  • Litvak: a Lithuanian Jew (OED)
  • lox: smoked salmon (from Yiddish לאַקס laks 'salmon'; cf. German Lachs) (OED, MW)
  • macher: big shot, important person (Yiddish מאַכער makher, literally 'maker' from מאַכן makhn 'make', cf. German Macher) (OED)
  • mamzer: bastard (from Yiddish or Hebrew ממזר) (OED)
  • maven: expert; when used in a negative sense: a know-it-all (from Yiddish מבֿין meyvn, from Hebrew mevin 'one who understands') (OED, MW)
  • mazel: luck (Yiddish מזל mazl, from Hebrew מזל mazzāl 'luck, planet') (OED)
  • Mazel tov: congratulations! (Yiddish מזל־טובֿ‏ mazl-tov, from Hebrew mazzāl ṭōv: mazzāl 'fortune' or 'sign of the Zodiac (constellation)' + ṭōv 'good') (OED, MW:Hebrew)
  • megillah: a tediously detailed discourse (from Yiddish מגילה megile 'lengthy document, scroll [esp. the Book of Esther]', from Hebrew מגילה məgillā 'scroll') (OED, MW)
  • mensch: an upright man; a decent human being (from Yiddish מענטש mentsh 'person', cf. German Mensch) (OED, MW)
  • meshuga, also meshugge, meshugah, meshuggah: crazy (Yiddish משוגע meshuge, from Hebrew məšugga‘) (OED, MW)
  • meshugas: madness, nonsense, irrational idiosyncrasy (Yiddish משוגעת meshugas, from Hebrew məšugga‘ath, a form of the above) (OED)
  • meshuggener: a crazy person (Yiddish משוגענער meshugener, a derivative of the above משוגע meshuge) (OED)
  • milchig: made with milk (Yiddish milkhik milky, from milkh milk, cf. German milchig) (MW)
  • minyan: the quorum of ten male adult (i.e., 13 or older) Jews that is necessary for the holding of a public worship service (Yiddish מנין minyen, from Hebrew מנין minyān) (OED, MW:Hebrew)
  • mishpocha: extended family (Yiddish משפּחה mishpokhe, from Hebrew משפּחה mišpāḥā) (OED)
  • naches: feeling of pride in 1: the achievements of one's children; 2. one's own doing good by helping someone or some organization (Yiddish נחת nakhes, from Hebrew נחת naḥath 'contentment') (OED)
  • narrischkeit: foolishness, nonsense (Yiddish נאַרישקייט, from nar 'fool', cf. German närrisch 'foolish') (OED)
  • nebbish: an insignificant, pitiful person; a nonentity (from Yiddish interjection nebekh 'poor thing!', from Czech nebohý) (OED, MW)
  • noodge, also nudzh: to pester, nag, whine; as a noun, a pest or whiner (from Yiddish נודיען nudyen, from Polish or Russian) (OED)
  • nosh: snack (noun or verb) (Yiddish נאַשן nashn, cf. German naschen) (OED, MW)
  • nu: multipurpose interjection often analogous to "well?" or "so?" (Yiddish נו nu, perhaps akin to Russian "ну" (nu) or German na='well'; probably not related to German dialect expression nu [short for nun=now], which might be used in the same way) (OED)
  • nudnik: a pest, "pain in the neck"; a bore (Yiddish נודניק nudnik, from the above נודיען nudyen; cf. Polish nudne, 'boring') (OED, MW)
  • oy or oy vey: interjection of grief, pain, or horror (Yiddish אוי וויי oy vey 'oh, pain!' or "oh, woe"; cf. German oh weh) (OED)
  • pareve: containing neither meat nor dairy products (from Yiddish (פּאַרעוו(ע parev(e)) (OED, MW)
  • pisher: a nobody, an inexperienced person (Yiddish פּישער pisher, from פּישן pishn 'piss', cf. German pissen or dialectal German pischen) (OED)
  • potch: spank, slap, smack (Yiddish פּאטשן patshn; cf. German patschen 'slap') (OED)
  • plotz: to burst, as from strong emotion (from Yiddish פּלאַצן platsn 'crack', cf. German platzen) (OED)
  • putz: an idiot, a jerk; a penis (from Yiddish פּאָץ pots) (AHD)
  • schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt (Yiddish shlemil) (OED, MW)
  • schlep: to drag or haul (an object); to make a tedious journey (from Yiddish שלעפּן shlepn; cf. German schleppen) (OED, MW)
  • schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person (שלימזל shlimazl, from Middle High German slim 'crooked' and Hebrew מזל mazzāl 'luck') (OED).[3] In June 2004, Yiddish shlimazl was one of the ten non-English words that were voted hardest to translate by a British translation company.[4]
  • schlock: something cheap, shoddy, or inferior (perhaps from Yiddish shlak 'a stroke', cf. German Schlag) (OED, MW)
  • schlong: (vulgar) penis (from Yiddish שלאַנג shlang 'snake'; cf. German Schlange) (OED)
  • schlub: a clumsy, stupid, or unattractive person (Yiddish ‬זשלאָב zhlob 'hick', perhaps from Polish żłób) (OED, MW)
  • schmaltz: melted chicken fat; excessive sentimentality (from Yiddish שמאַלץ shmalts or German Schmalz) (OED, MW)
  • schmatta: a rag (from Yiddish שמאַטע shmate, from Polish szmata) (OED); also means junk or low-quality merchandise: "Don't buy from Silverman; all he sells is schmatta."
  • schmeer also schmear: noun or verb: spread (e.g., cream cheese on a bagel); bribe (from Yiddish שמיר shmir 'smear'; cf. German schmieren) (OED, MW)
  • schmo: a stupid person. (an alteration of schmuck; see below) (OED)
  • schmooze: to converse informally, make small talk or chat (from Yiddish שמועסן shmuesn 'converse', from Hebrew shəmūʿōth 'reports, gossip') (OED, MW)
  • schmuck: a contemptible or foolish person; a jerk; literally means 'penis' (from Yiddish שמאָק shmok 'penis', maybe from Polish smok 'dragon') (AHD)
  • schmutter: clothing; rubbish (from Yiddish שמאַטע shmate 'rag', as above) (OED)
  • schmutz - dirt (from Yiddish שמוץ shmuts or German Schmutz 'dirt') (OED)
  • schnook: an easily imposed-upon or cheated person, a pitifully meek person, a particularly gullible person, a cute or mischievous person or child (perhaps from Yiddish שנוק shnuk 'snout'; cf. Northern German Schnucke 'sheep') (OED)
  • schnorrer: beggar (Yiddish שנאָרער shnorer, cf. German schnorren 'to beg or steal (usu. a small item of a consumable good) of a friend'[5]) (OED, MW)
  • schnoz or schnozz also schnozzle: a nose, especially a large nose (perhaps from Yiddish שנויץ shnoyts 'snout', cf. German Schnauze) (OED, MW)
  • schvartze: term used to denote black people; can be used derogatorily. (from Yiddish שוואַרץ shvarts 'black'; cf. German schwarz). (OED)
  • Shabbos or Shabbes: Shabbat (Yiddish Shabes, from Hebrew Šabbāth) (AHD)
  • shammes or shamash: the caretaker of a synagogue; also, the 9th candle of the Hanukkah menorah, used to light the others (Yiddish shames, from Hebrew שמש šammāš 'attendant') (OED, MW)
  • shamus: a detective (possibly from shammes, or possibly from the Irish name Seamus) (OED, Macquarie)
  • shegetz: (derogatory) a young non-Jewish male (Yiddish שגץ or שײגעץ sheygets, from Hebrew šeqeṣ 'blemish') (AHD)
  • shemozzle (slang) quarrel, brawl (perhaps related to schlimazel, q.v.) (OED). This word is commonly used in Ireland to describe confused situations during the Irish sport of hurling, e.g. 'There was a shemozzle near the goalmouth'. In particular, it was a favourite phrase of t.v. commentator Miceal O'Hehir who commentated on hurling from the 1940s to the 1980s.
  • shicker or shickered: drunk (adjective or noun) (Yiddish shiker 'drunk', from Hebrew šikkōr) (OED)
  • shiksa or shikse: (often derogatory) a young non-Jewish woman (Yiddish שיקסע shikse, a derivative of the above שײגעץ sheygets) (AHD)
  • shmendrik: a foolish or contemptible person (from a character in an operetta by Abraham Goldfaden) (OED)
  • shtetl: a small town with a large Jewish population in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe (Yiddish שטעטל shtetl 'town', diminutive of שטאָט shtot 'city'; cf. German Städtl, South German / Austrian colloquial diminutive of Stadt, city) (AHD)
  • shtick: comic theme; a defining habit or distinguishing feature (from Yiddish שטיק shtik 'piece'; cf. German Stück 'piece') (AHD)
  • shtup: vulgar slang, to have intercourse (from Yiddish שטופּ "shtoop" 'push,' 'poke,' or 'intercourse') (OED)
  • spiel or shpiel: a sales pitch or speech intended to persuade (from Yiddish שפּיל shpil 'play' or German Spiel 'play') (AHD)
  • tchotchke: knickknack, trinket, curio (from Yiddish צאַצקע tsatske, טשאַטשקע tshatshke, from obsolete Polish czaczko) (OED, MW)
  • tref or trayf or traif: not kosher (Yiddish treyf, from Hebrew ṭərēfā 'carrion') (AHD)
  • tzimmes: a sweet stew of vegetables and fruit; a fuss, a confused affair, a to-do (Yiddish צימעס tsimes) (OED, MW)
  • tsuris: troubles (from Yiddish צרות tsores, from Hebrew צרות tsarot 'troubles') (AHD)
  • tukhus: buttocks, bottom, rear end (from Yiddish תּחת tokhes, from Hebrew תחת taḥath 'underneath') (OED)
  • tummler: an entertainer or master of ceremonies, especially one who encourages audience interaction (from Yiddish tumler, from tumlen 'make a racket'; cf. German (sich) tummeln 'go among people, cavort') (OED, MW)
  • tush (also tushy): buttocks, bottom, rear end (from tukhus) (OED, MW)
  • vigorish (also contraction vig): that portion of the gambling winnings held by the bookmaker as payment for services (probably from Yiddish, from Russian vyigrysh, winnings) (OED)
  • verklempt: choked with emotion (German verklemmt = emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way; stuck)
  • yarmulke: round cloth skullcap worn by observant Jews (from Yiddish יאַרמלקע yarmlke, from Polish jarmułka, ultimate etymology unclear, possibly Turkish) (OED, MW, AHD)
  • Yekke: (mildly derogatory) a German Jew (Yiddish יעקע Yeke) (OED)
  • yenta: a talkative woman; a gossip; a scold (from Yiddish יענטע yente, from a given name) (OED, MW)
  • Yiddish: the Yiddish language (from Yiddish ייִדיש yidish 'Jewish', cf. German jüdisch) (AHD)
  • yontef also yom tov: a Jewish holiday on which work is forbidden, eg. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach (from Yiddish יום- טובֿ yontef 'holiday', from Hebrew יום טוב yōm ṭōv 'good day') (OED)
  • yutz: a stupid, clueless person[6][7]
  • zaftig: plump, chubby, full-figured, as a woman (from Yiddish זאַפֿטיק zaftik 'juicy'; cf. German saftig 'juicy') (OED, MW)

See also

Notes

  1. Bartleby on Yiddish
  2. Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005, ISBN 0-312-30741-1
  3. The difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel is described through the aphorism, "The schlemiel spills his soup on the schlimazel." In pop culture, George Costanza from Seinfeld is the archetype of a schlimazel. Also, the words schlemiel and schlimazel appear prominently in the Laverne and Shirley theme song.
  4. BBC news
  5. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/schnorren
  6. http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Glossary/Yiddish_Words/yiddish_words.html#Y
  7. http://www.m-w.com/info/pr/2005-scrabble-dictionary.htm

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