List of English words of Yiddish origin
This is a list of words that have entered the English language from the Yiddish language, many of them by way of American English. There are differing approaches to the romanisation of Yiddish orthography (which uses the Hebrew alphabet) and the spelling of some of these words may therefore be variable (for example, schlep is also seen as shlep, schnoz as shnozz).
Many of these words are more common in the US entertainment industry, via vaudeville, the Catskills/Borscht Belt, and Hollywood. Others are more regionally oriented, e.g., in the New York City metropolitan area. A number of Yiddish words also entered English via large Jewish communities in Britain, particularly London, where Yiddish has influenced the Cockney dialect.
Most of Yiddish words are related to Hebrew, Germanic or Slavic forms, and some words of those origins have entered English via Yiddish.
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. 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 Latin alphabet. The transliterated spellings of Yiddish words and conventional German spellings are different, but the pronunciations are frequently the same (e.g., שוואַרץ shvarts in Yiddish is pronounced the same way as schwarz in German).
Many of these words have slightly different meanings and usages in English, from their Yiddish originals. 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 (שלעפּ) in Yiddish is usually used as a transitive verb for carrying (or dragging) something else, while in English it is also used as an intransitive verb, for dragging oneself. Glitch simply means 'slip' in Yiddish.
List of words
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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), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD), or the Merriam-Webster dictionary (MW).
- bagel: a ring-shaped bread roll made by boiling or steaming, and 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 ברית brith 'covenant') (OED, MW)
- boychik: boy, young man. (English boy + Eastern Yiddish טשיק -chik, diminutive suffix (from Slavic)) (AHD)
- bupkis (also bupkes, bupkus, bubkis, bubkes): emphatically nothing, as in He isn't worth bupkis (בופּקיס indeterminate, either 'beans' or 'goat droppings', possibly of Slavic, Vlach, or Greek origin; cf. Polish bobki 'animal droppings') (MW, OED)
- chutzpah: nerve, guts, balls, daring, audacity, effrontery (Yiddish חצפּה khutspe, from Hebrew) (AHD)
- daven: to recite Jewish liturgical prayers (Yiddish דאַוונען davnen) (AHD)
- dreck: worthless, distasteful, or nonsensical material (Yiddish דרעק drek, from Middle High German drec 'rubbish') (AHD)
- dybbuk: the malevolent spirit of a dead person that enters and controls a living body until exorcised (from Hebrew דבּוק dibbuk, 'a latching-onto') (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 גנב gannav). (AHD)
- gelt: money in general; also the chocolate coins given to children on Hanukkah (געלט gelt 'money', cf. German Geld) (AHD)
- glitch: a minor malfunction (possibly from Yiddish גליטש glitsh, from גליטשן glitshn 'slide', cf. German glitschen 'slither') (AHD)
- golem: a man-made humanoid; an android, Frankenstein monster (from Hebrew גלם gōlem, but influenced in pronunciation by Yiddish goylem) (OED, MW)
- goy: a gentile, term for someone not of the Jewish faith or people (Yiddish גוי, plural גויים or גוים goyim, adjective goyische; from Hebrew גויים or גוים goyim meaning 'nations', plural of גוי goy 'nation') (AHD)
- haimish (also heimish): home-like, friendly, folksy (Yiddish היימיש heymish, cf. German heimisch) (AHD)
- האַנדל handel //: to bargain ("If you handel long enough, you'll get a good price."); cf. German handeln
- huck; sometimes "hock," "huk," "hak," etc.: to bother incessantly, to break, or nag; from האַקן אַ שײַניק Hakn a tshaynik: "to knock a teakettle." 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.
- kasha: porridges (from קאַשע, the plural form Yiddish קאַש "kash" which is derived from a Slavic word meaning porridge: каша) Polish – buckwheat groats.
- khazeray; also chazeray, or chozzerai (/xazeˈraj/): food that is awful; junk, trash; anything disgusting, even loathsome (Yiddish חזיר, from Heb. חזיר "khazir," pig)
- kibitz: to offer unwanted advice, e.g. to someone playing cards; to converse idly, hence a kibitzer, gossip (Yiddish קיבעצן kibetsn; cf. German kiebitzen, related to Kiebitz 'lapwing') (OED, MW)
- kike : a derogatory slur used to refer to Jews. Possibly from Yiddish קײַקל (kaykl, “circle”) (The common practice among non-English speaking immigrants is to sign documents by making an 'X' mark, which is witnessed. One theory, not universally accepted, is that early 20th century Jewish immigrants to Ellis Island were referred to as 'kikes' by the staff because they would make a small circle (a 'kikel') instead of an 'X', on the belief that writing an 'X' was making a sign of the Christian cross.)
- klutz: clumsy person (from Yiddish קלאָץ klots 'wooden beam', cf. German Klotz) (OED, MW)
- knish: doughy snack consisting mainly of potato (קניש is a Yiddish word that was derived from the Ukrainian Книш)
- kosher: correct according to Jewish law, normally used in reference to Jewish dietary laws; (slang) appropriate, legitimate (originally from Hebrew כּשר kašer,kasher) (AHD)
- kvell: to express great pleasure combined with pride (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) There is also a connection to the Hebrew and Aramaic radix "k.w.z", meaning "squeeze".
- latke: potato pancake, especially during Hanukkah (from Yiddish לאַטקע, from either Ukrainian or Russian латка meaning "patch") (AHD)
- Litvak: a Lithuanian Jew (OED)
- lox: cured salmon (from Yiddish לאַקס laks 'salmon'; cf. German Lachs), often used loosely to refer to smoked salmon (OED, MW)
- mamzer: bastard (from Yiddish or Hebrew ממזר) (OED)
- maven: expert; when used in a negative sense: a know-it-all; enthusiast (from Yiddish מבֿין meyvn, from Hebrew mevin 'understand') (OED, MW)
- mazel tov, also mazal tov: congratulations! (Yiddish מזל־טובֿ mazl-tov, from Hebrew מזל טוב mazzāl ṭōv: מזל mazzāl 'fortune' or 'sign of the Zodiac (constellation)' + טוב ṭōv 'good') (OED, MW:Hebrew)
- megillah: a tediously detailed discourse (from Yiddish מגלה megile 'lengthy document, scroll [esp. the Book of Esther]', from Hebrew מגלה 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 משגע meshuge, from Hebrew məšugga‘) (OED, MW). Also used as the nouns meshuggeneh and meshuggener for a crazy woman and man, respectively.
- meshugaas, also mishegaas or mishegoss: Crazy or senseless activity or behavior; craziness (Yiddish משוגעת meshugaas, from Hebrew məšugga‘ath, a form of the above) (OED, AHD)
- milchig: made with milk (Yiddish מילכיק milkhik milky, from מילך milkh milk, cf. German milchig) (MW)
- minyan: the quorum of ten adult (i.e., 13 or older) Jews that is necessary for the holding of a public worship service; in Orthodox Judaism ten adult males are required, while in Conservative and Reform Judaism ten adults of either sex are required. (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 and/or gratification in 1: the achievements of another(s); 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, also nebbich: an insignificant, pitiful person; a nonentity (from Yiddish interjection נעבעך 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'(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 פּאַטשן patshn; cf. German patschen 'slap') (OED)
- plotz: to burst, as from strong emotion (from Yiddish פּלאַצן platsn 'crack', cf. German platzen) (OED)
- putz: (vulgar) a penis, term used as an insult (from Yiddish פּאָץ pots) (AHD)
- schav: A chilled soup made of sorrel. (AHD) (via Yiddish סטשאַוו from Polish Szczaw)
- schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt (Yiddish שלעמיל shlemil from Hebrew שלא מועיל "ineffective") (OED, MW) The word is widely recognized from its inclusion in the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant from the opening sequence of the American sitcom Laverne & Shirley.
- schlep: to drag or haul (an object); to walk, esp. to make a tedious journey (from Yiddish שלעפּן shlepn; cf. German schleppen) (OED, MW)
- schlimazel also schlemazl: a chronically unlucky person (שלימזל shlimazl, from Middle Dutch slimp 'crooked, bad'—akin to Middle High German slimp 'awry', or schlimm 'poor or lacking'—and Hebrew מזל mazzāl 'luck', cf. German Schlamassel) (M-W;OED). The difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel is described through the aphorism, "The schlemiel spills his soup on the schlimazel." In June 2004, Yiddish schlimazel was one of the ten non-English words that were voted hardest to translate by a British translation company. The word is widely recognized from its inclusion in the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant from the opening sequence of the American sitcom Laverne & Shirley.
- schlock: something cheap, shoddy, or inferior (perhaps from Yiddish שלאַק 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, possibly influenced by Heb. שמו, 'his or its name', indicating either anonymity or euphemism.
- schmooze: to converse informally, make small talk or chat (from Yiddish שמועסן shmuesn 'converse', from Hebrew שמועות shəmūʿōth 'reports, gossip') (OED, MW)
- schmuck: (vulgar) a contemptible or foolish person; a jerk; literally means 'penis' (from Yiddish שמאָק shmok 'penis')
- 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, esp. "one who wheedles others into supplying his wants" (Yiddish שנאָרער shnorer, cf. German Schnorrer) (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: (derogatory) a Black person (from Yiddish שוואַרץ shvarts 'black'; cf. German schwarz). (OED)
- schvitz: schvitz or schvitzing: To sweat, perspire, exude moisture as a cooling mechanism (From Yiddish שװיץ, cf. German schwitzen). (OED)
- Shabbos, Shabbas, Shabbes: Shabbat (Yiddish שבת Shabes, from Hebrew Šabbāth) (AHD)
- shammes or shamash: the caretaker of a synagogue; also, the ninth candle of the Hanukkah menorah, used to light the others (Yiddish shames, from Hebrew שמש šammāš 'attendant') (OED, MW)
- shamus: a detective (possibly from שאַמעס 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.
- shikker, shicker, shickered: drunk (adjective or noun) (Yiddish שכּור 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, from Polish siksa) (AHD)
- shmendrik or shmendrick: 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)
- shtiebel: (Yiddish: שטיבל shtibl, pl. shtiebelekh or shtiebels, meaning "little house" or "little room"; cf. German Stübel, Stüblein) is a place used for communal Jewish prayer. In contrast to a formal synagogue, a shtiebel is far smaller and approached more casually. It is typically as small as a room in a private home or a place of business which is set aside for the express purpose of prayer, or it may be as large as a small-sized synagogue. It may or may not offer the communal services of a synagogue.
- shtick: comic theme; a defining habit or distinguishing feature (from Yiddish שטיק shtik 'piece'; cf. German Stück 'piece') (AHD)
- shtup: vulgar slang, to have sexual intercourse (from Yiddish שטופּ "shtoop" 'push,' 'poke,' or 'intercourse'; cf. German stupsen 'poke') (OED)
- shul: synagogue, typically refers to an Orthodox Jewish place of worship that is also a place of study (from Yiddish שול shul literally 'school'; plural שולן 'shuln'; cf. Middle High German schuol, school; cf. German Schule 'school')
- spiel or shpiel: a sales pitch or speech intended to persuade (from Yiddish שפּיל shpil 'play' or German Spiel 'play') (AHD)
- spritz: (noun) a sprinkling or spray of liquid; a small amount of liquid. (verb) to spray, sprinkle, or squirt lightly, cf. German spritzen 'to sprinkle, spray, inject' (Yiddish שפּריץ "shprits" (the noun) and שפּריצן "shpritsn" (the verb).)
- tchotchke: knickknack, trinket, curio (from Yiddish צאַצקע tsatske, טשאַטשקע tshatshke, from Polish cacko) (OED, MW)
- tref or trayf or traif: not kosher (Yiddish טרייף treyf, from Hebrew טרפֿה ṭərēfā 'carrion') (AHD)
- tsuris: troubles, grief (from Yiddish צרות tsores or tsoris, from Hebrew צרות tsarot 'troubles') (AHD)
- tukhus: buttocks, bottom, rear end (from Yiddish תחת tokhes, from Hebrew תחת taḥath 'underneath') (OED)
- tummler: an entertainer or master of ceremonies, especially one who encourages audience interaction (from Yiddish טומלער tumler, from טומלען tumlen 'make a racket'; cf. German (sich) tummeln 'go among people, cavort') (OED, MW)
- tush (also tushy): buttocks, bottom, rear end (from תּחת tukhus) (OED, MW)
- tzimmes: a sweet stew of vegetables and fruit; a fuss, a confused affair, a to-do (Yiddish צימעס tsimes) (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 and Ukrainian ярмулка yarmulka (skullcap), from the Turkish word yağmurluk (raincoat; oilskin) (OED, MW; see also yarmulke), or possibly a combination of the two Hebrew words yira (fear, awe) and melech (king) which together would mean fear of God.
- Yekke: (mildly derogatory) a German Jew (Yiddish יעקע Yeke (jacket), cf. German Jacke 'jacket.' Its most common usage derives from the British Mandate period to describe Fifth Aliyah German Jews, who were perceived to be more formal in dress and manners. (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, e.g. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach (from Yiddish יום- טובֿ yontef 'holiday', from Hebrew יום טוב yōm ṭōv 'good day') (OED)
- yutz: a fool (NPD)
- zaftig: pleasingly plump, buxom, full-figured, as a woman (from Yiddish זאַפֿטיק zaftik 'juicy'; cf. German saftig 'juicy') (OED, MW)
- List of English words of Hebrew origin
- List of German expressions in English
- Lists of English words by country or language of origin
- Yiddish words used in English
- Bartleby on Yiddish
- Horwitz, Bert (19 August 2005). "A Hill of Bupkis". The Jewish Daily Forward. New York. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
- "Ruby's World of Yiddish". Planetruby.com. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
- Steinmetz, Sol. Dictionary of Jewish Usage: A Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms. p. 42. ISBN 0-7425-4387-0.
- Rosten, Leo. The New Joys of Yiddish. Crown Publishers, New York, 2001. pp. 78, 162. ISBN 0-609-60785-5
- The worthless word for the day is.... Retrieved 7 January 2011.
- See also Wex, Michael. Born to Kvetch. St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005.
- Even-Shoshan, Avraham. HaMilon HeHadash (The New Dictionary) (in Hebrew). Kiriat-sefer. ISBN 978-9651701559.
- In pop culture, George Costanza from Seinfeld is the archetype of a schlimazel. Also, the words schlemiel and schlimazel appear prominently in the Laverne & Shirley theme song.
- Conway, Oliver (22 June 2004). "Congo word 'most untranslatable'". BBC News. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
- Carr, David, "Abramson’s Exit at The Times Puts Tensions on Display", The New York Times, May 18, 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-19.