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Common Yiddish Terms
Yiddish is a language spoken by millions of Jews throughout the world for hundreds of years, sometimes referred to as the "mother tongue" (distinguishing it from Hebrew, the "holy tongue") of Ashkenazic Jews. It originated with Ashkenazic Jews in Europe, based on German, with some Hebrew terms, and adding parts and terms from other languages, often from the host country or region where the Jews speaking it lived. Written Yiddish uses Hebrew script to phonetically write non-Hebrew terms. There are several dialects of Yiddish, and there is a further problem of correctly transliterating Yiddish into English, especially in view of the different pronunciations from the various dialects. But Yiddish does still have relevance in both Jewish religion and culture. Here is a list of some common terms:
  • babkes - nothing, beans
  • balebosteh - housewife/hostess/capable homemaker/matriach
  • chavurah - group of friends, prayer group
  • chaza - a pig
  • chazerai - junk (lit. "pig stuff")/unpalatable/rotten
  • chutzpah - audacity/utter nerve
  • drek - trash/manure or excrement
  • facacta - lousy, rediculous
  • famisht - confused
  • fardeiget - distressed/worried/anxiety
  • farklempt - in a bad mood/bummed out
  • Gai avek! - Go away!
  • gedempte fleisch - a soft meat, usu. Brisket
  • gelt - money
  • gonnif - thief/crook
  • haken a tsheinik - [lit: banging a teapot]. Someone who startles, jars,annoys by repeated intrusive speech or action. Also can mean boring, long-winded and annoying conversation, sleep-inducing,understimulating, hard to keep paying attention.
  • kibitz - to meddle
  • kvel - to swell with pride
  • kvetch - complain/one who complains
  • landsman - a neighbor/someone from the same town
  • macher - A big shot/man with contacts
  • Mashgiach - A person who certifies that food is kosher.
  • mavin-connoisseur
  • mensch - a nice gentleman or person
  • meshuginah - crazy person
  • milchig- dairy. Used to describe kosher foods that contain dairy products and therefore cannot be eaten with meat.
  • mishigas - craziness
  • mishpacha - family
  • nachas - joy
  • nebbish - little nerd
  • nosh - eat a little something
  • Nu? - So? Well?
  • nudnik - pesty nagger, a bore, obnoxious person
  • Oy vay iz mir! - Woe is me!
  • ongapatchka-a little too much
  • plotz-burst
  • Rav - Rabbi/religious leader of the community.
  • Rebbe - Usu. translated Grand Rabbi. The leader of a Chasidic community, often believed to have special, mystical power.
  • schlemazel-unlucky person
  • schlep-to drag or lug around clumsily, as an object/a long, difficult journey
  • schlepper - a clumsy or stupid person
  • schmaltzy - sentimental/corny
  • schmendrick - a jerk
  • schmootz - dirt
  • schnorrer-beggar
  • schvitz - perspire
  • shayna punim - a pretty face
  • shicker - a drunkard
  • shnorrer - A beggar who makes pretensions to respectability; moocher; a parasite, but always with resourcefulness in getting money from others as though it was his own.
  • Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath Observer)It refers to one who observes Shabbat all day.
  • shpilkes - Lit. needles - nervousness, hyperactivity
  • shtetl - Small Jewish Village
  • shtick - routine
  • treyf - non-kosher
  • tsures - triouble
  • tumul- noise, confusion

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