I dress anything but British--my style is more fashion inept dork--but I am somewhat over half Jewish (We argue about how much is on my dad's side, but my mom is full-blooded) and I practice Judaism, so I like to think that I think Yiddish. To that end, I also love to use Yiddish. It's a rich language with so many wonderful expressions--and heaps of delightful insults--and I think it is an absolute shame that Yiddish is dying out. Therefore, my dear readers, I want to introduce you to the joys of Yiddish with a small sampler of this delightful language.
I will start off by saying that this is by all means not an exhaustive list of Yiddish words. I would also like to add that I have excluded a few words just because, well, to be honest, Yiddish has a lot of profanity in it (Waaaaaay more than you guys would think and some of the more famous Yiddish words--like "schmuck" and "putz"--are actually very vulgar and would never ever be used in polite company. Therefore, for the sake of not having my younger readers' parents try to kill me for corrupting their kids' minds with Yiddish profanity, I have left the more loaded words off.)
And with that, I give you my list of favorite Jewish words, many of which describe specific personality types perfectly. ^^
chazzer--a pig. Chazzer refers to someone who either eats like a pig or acts like one by being slovenly, coarse, or greedy: "Look at that chazzer! He has a banana peel on his suit!"
chutzpah--audacity/brashness. Many people use chutzpah as a synonym for "courage" but actually this word has a very negative connotation in Yiddish. Someone with chutzpah is someone who has presumptuously crossed the line. Being told you have a lot of chutzpah is the equivalent of having an old lady shake her fist at you and shout "You got some nerve!" Feel free to use chutzpah in this context next time you get cut off while in traffic.
draycup--someone who is perpetually confused to a spectacular level. (Like, as one example I read puts it, someone who doesn't just lose her keys but loses her car in the process.) Perfect for describing a spacey airhead: "My sister is such a draycup!"
kibbitz: (verb) to butt in and provide unwanted advice. I believe all mothers do this at some point in their lives. :P Kibbitz describes the act of providing this advice. A kibbitzer is someone who is kibbitzing: "That kibbitzer has kibbitzed for the last time!"
klutz: a clumsy person. I am a klutz. If people look at you when you enter in a room not because of your graceful entrance but because you trip over the carpet and smash Grandma's antique Ming vase, you are also a klutz.
kvell: to be proud of an accomplishment (either your own or others'): The key to kvelling is the intense accompanying urge to tell everyone else about said accomplishment. When your parents embarrass you by telling your next-door neighbor that you won your school spelling bee, they are kvelling. When you tell your cousin that you stole her boyfriend, you are kvelling . . . maybe.
kvetch: to chronically and excessively complain. The noun for someone who kvetches is kvetcher. ("That kvetcher never shuts up!" "Don't kvetch about it anymore!"). This word literally means "to squeeze". Anyone who has ever been subjected to a kvetcher knows exactly what this feels like. :P
maven: an expert. Like many Yiddish words that are not blatant insults, this seems like a relatively innocuous phrase, but it's actually just another insult. (Yeah, we Jews have fully earned our reputation as sharp-tongued.) Maven is rarely used as a compliment, as in "You're such a maven!". Usually it is used as shorthand for "know-it-all." Next time your brother-in-law offers to fix your car and causes $3000 worth of damage instead, congratulate him on being such a maven. :P
meshugganer: a crazy person. This is a fun word, because there are so many variations. The adjective for crazy is meshuggah, and insanity itself is mishegas. Next time you're tempted to twirl your fingers at your ear to indicate that someone is a loon, instead exclaim, "Can you believe this meshuggah mushugganer's mishegas?!"
nebbish: a loser. This is one of my favorite Yiddish words. A nebbish is a someone who is so pathetic you really sorry for him, yet he is so annoying you can't stand him. Woody Allen often plays a nebbish.
noodge: to pester/whine. Noodge is also a noun that refers to someone who noodges. "I heard you the first time! Stop being such a noodge!
nosh: to snack. This is just a cute word! What sounds better: "I am going to eat some pretzels" or "I am going to nosh on pretzels"?
nu: This doesn't have an actual translation. Usually, nu is used to indicate "Well" or "So": "That is interesting, nu?"; "Nu? Why should I care?" Depending on the context, nu can mean anything from "Hello" to "Huh?" to "Duh!" It works for any occasion. Next time you feel like being cryptic, respond to everyone statements with a simple "Nu?"
nudnik: a pest. A nudnik is just annoying. Younger siblings are prime candidates for nudnik status.
oy: Like nu, this is a word with several meanings. Usually it is an outburst that indicates frustration or anger or exhaustion. "Oy! I just got beat up by a zombie ninja penguin!" but it can also be a good outburst: "Oy! I defeated a zombie ninja penguin in hand-to-hand combat!"
plotz: This is a word that has some controversy attached to it. I have always heard it as "faint" usually in frustration/anger--"Don't tell grandma. She'll plotz!"--but sometimes in a good way--"I was so surprised, I nearly plotzed!" During my study for this post, I learned that plotz actually literally means "explode" and some Jews use it solely in this context, which usually indicates anger: "ARGGGGGH! That idiot telemarketer makes me want to plotz!" Either way, it is a cool word to indicate strong emotion. Next time your mother yells at you, beg her not to plotz. (Well, maybe don't do that. She is liable to plotz if you say that.) :P
schlemazel: a born loser. Schlemazels have horrible luck. A schlemazel is someone who, to quote my father, can't win for losing. No matter what he does, it never works.
schlemiel: an incompetent, inept person. A schlemiel is someone who screws everything up no matter how simple the task is. To tie in with the previous entry, an old Yiddish saying says a schlemiel is the guy who always spills his soup. A schlemazel is the guy whom the schlemiel always spills his soup on.
schlep: to drag/carry something. Originally in order to schlep, one had to be carrying/dragging something somewhere. ("I'm schlepping my luggage to the airport.") Now schlep is also used to to indicate that one is dragging oneself. ("I'm schlepping to my next class.") As the definition indicates, the pace of a schlep would not cut it in most P.E. classes.
schlock: junk. There are several Yiddish words to indicate that something is worthless. Some of them literally mean than the object in question is a piece of crap, others--like schlock--just indicate that something is cheaply made and of dubious quality: "What did you pay for that schlock?"
schlub: an unattractive, stupid person. You may have noticed that a lot of Yiddish words call into question one's intellectual abilities, but I am not sure any of them sound quite as insulting as schlub. ("Rachel's boyfriend is such a schlub.")
schmaltz: Literally, this word refers to goose fat drippings, but it is commonly used to describe something that is overly sentimental, like most Disney movies. Next time you watch a heartwarming film and are feeling cynical, disrupt everyone's bragging on it by saying, "I thought it was too schmaltzy." And if you're feeling really mean or just really like Yiddish, try "I thought it was schmaltzy schlock." (or "schlocky schmaltz" if you prefer.)
schnook: an unusually meek/gullible person. You know that kid down the street who bursts into tears if you blink at him? He is a schnook. Your friend who always falls for April Fool's jokes is also a schnook. The guy who believes you when you tell him you have a bridge in Brooklyn that you want to sell is a major schnook.
schnorrer: a beggar/leech. This one is pretty self-explanatory based on the definition. We all know a schnorrer. Next time your no-count brother-in-law tries to borrow money from you, tell him to stop being a schnorrer and get a job.
yekke: a German Jew. I am a yekke. My maternal great-grandparents hailed from Berlin and Munich. You're probably wondering why German Jews have earned themselves their own name. Well, much as how Germans are stereotyped as being humorless and excessively efficient, we yekkes are stereotyped by other Jews as being freakishly obsessed with details and punctuality. This is a stereotype that cuts both ways. On one hand, we yekkes pride ourselves on our reputation. We think our meticulous thoroughness is a good thing. Other Jews think we're overbearing, condescending, and petty. I suppose some yekkes dislike this characterization of us, but I kind of like the look of holy terror that other Jews develop when I tell them I'm a yekke. *crafty smile* I would argue this is just a stereotype, but I fit the yekke stereotype to a tee, so there you go. Next time one of you catch me having an online meltdown over an incorrect fact or a semicolon, you have my permission to say, "Zella, stop being so yekkish!"
yente: a shrew. Many people think this word means matchmaker. Um, no. At one time, Yente was a perfectly respectable Yiddish name for girls. Eventually, it became an insult that describes a woman who gossips and talks incessantly. The confusion comes from the movie Fiddler on the Roof, because the village matchmaker is named Yente. The character's name is actually a play on the name and the insult, but many people incorrectly assumed a yente was a Jewish matchmaker. Never call a Jewish woman this to her face, but feel free to use it to describe a very disagreeable woman behind her back. :P
Now that you have read this list, I believe a party is in order. We shall dine upon bagels and listen to "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" incessantly! *cranks up music*
P.S. In a language that is so rich in insults, you may be wondering if we even have a word that is a genuine compliment without underlying sarcasm. Yes, we do! We really do! No joke. The word is mensch. To be called a mensch by a Jew is the greatest compliment you could ever receive (and, as you may have noticed, is much better than some of the alternatives ^^). A mensch is an honest, honorable person who is a true friend. I consider all of my Blogger pals to be mensches. :)
What is your favorite Yiddish word?