I am proudly one-sixteenth Jewish. For most of my life, I didn’t even know that. I think I learned of my Jewish heritage in my teens or 20s. However, I realized the other day how many Yiddish words I naturally use! Perhaps Jewish genes are just that strong. Whatever the reason, on this Amaze-ing Words Wednesday I invite you all to add a little Yiddish to your English.
Below are some of my favorite Yiddish words that we English-speakers have incorporated, along with their definitions from Dictionary.com and examples of usage.
bupkes. absolutely nothing; something worthless. Stupid muse. I stared at my screen for hours and wrote bupkes last night.
chutzpah. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall; audacity; nerve. You’ve got a lot of chutzpah to ask me out after I divorced your brother!
glitch. a defect or malfunction in a machine or plan. There is a glitch in SPECTRE’s plan to take over the world.
klutz. a clumsy, awkward person. I am such a klutz that I fell off the stage right after accepting my Oscar.
maven. an expert or connoisseur. I would love to be a maven of words and their origins.
mensch. a decent responsible person with admirable characteristics. My little brother paid for our lunch with his first paycheck; he’s such a mensch.
putz. fool; jerk. (In Yiddish, literally penis.) Get your hand off my knee, you putz!
schmaltz. exaggerated sentimentalism, as in music or soap operas. (In Yiddish, it’s literally chicken fat.) My guy won’t watch chick flicks with me because he says they’re all schmaltz.
schlep. to carry; lug. I schlepped my grocery sacks up the stairs to my apartment.
schmooze. to chat idly; gossip. At every work party, I have to schmooze with the higher-ups for at least an hour.
schmuck. obnoxious or contemptible person. (In Yiddish, literally penis.) My friend’s ex-husband better watch out because I have no patience for that schmuck.
schmutz. dirt; filth; garbage. Hey, you have a little schmutz on your cheek. Want me to wipe it off?
schpiel. (In Yiddish, to play a game.) a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; pitch. The politician gave me the whole schpiel on why I should vote for him.
tuchas. the buttocks. After sitting in this chair for hours, I can barely feel my tuchas.
It might help to practice making your h have a little k sound in it as well. That will help with words like “chutzpah” and “tuchas.” Also, you should note that spellings of these words in English vary. For instance, you might see hutzpah, chutzpah, or khutzpah. Take your pick.
When you get comfortable with Yiddish words, you can start talking in Yinglish (Yiddish/English). For instance, “Rosie schlepped through the mall with her packages, while I got bupkes. Some putz had stolen my card, and the credit company kept saying it was a glitch. I had to schmooze my way up to a manager who had the chutzpah to give me his schpiel about upgrading to a gold card. Oy, what a schmuck. It’s just as well, I suppose. I can’t find any pants these days to fit my big tuchas.”
If you still need some help, perhaps this video will help: Yiddish with Dick and Jane (based on a book of the same name by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman).
Do you have any favorite Yiddish words? Do you find yourself using any of the ones above? What Yiddish words would you add to my list?
Sources: The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know – Daily Writing Tips; Yiddish Phrases – Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara; Some Yiddish Words – HebrewforChristians.com; Dictionary.com