List of English words of Yiddish origin

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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 romanization of Yiddish orthography (which uses the Hebrew alphabet); thus, the spelling of some of the following words may be variable (for example, shlep is a variant of schlep, and shnozz, schnoz).

Many of these words are more common in the American entertainment industry (initially via vaudeville), the Catskills/Borscht Belt, and New York City English. A number of Yiddish words also entered English via large Jewish communities in Britain, particularly London, where Yiddish has influenced Cockney English.

Background[edit]

Yiddish is a Germanic language, originally spoken by Jews in Central and later Eastern Europe, written in the Hebrew alphabet, and containing a substantial substratum of Hebrew words as well as numerous loans from Slavic languages.[1] For that reason, some of the words listed originated in Hebrew or Slavic languages, but have entered English via Yiddish.

Yiddish is closely related to modern German, and many Yiddish words have German cognates; in some cases it is difficult to tell whether a particular word was borrowed from Yiddish or from German. Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and Yiddish words may be transliterated into Latin spelling in a variety of ways; the transliterated spelling of Yiddish words and the conventional spelling of German are usually 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 usage in English from the Yiddish originals. For example, chutzpah usually has a negative connotation in Yiddish, meaning improper audacity, while in English it is more positive. In Yiddish, שלעפּ‎, shlep is usually a transitive verb for carrying (or dragging) something else, while the English word, schlep, is also used as an intransitive verb, for dragging oneself, and as a noun for an insignficant person or hanger-on. In Yiddish, גליטש‎, glitsh means 'slip', while in English, glitch means malfunction.

List of words[edit]

These English words of Yiddish origin, except as noted, are in the online editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD), or the Merriam-Webster dictionary (MW). The parentheses-enclosed information at the end of each word's entry starts with the original Yiddish term in Hebrew script, the Latin script transliteration, and the literal English translation (if different than the English definition given earlier). This may be followed by additional relevant languages (mostly Hebrew and German). One or more dictionary references appear at the end.

Bagel, a boiled then baked leavened bread
Blintz, a crepe of Russian origin
Knish, a baked snack, commonly filled with potato
Latkes, potato pancakes


B[edit]

  • Bagel: A ring-shaped bread roll made by boiling or steaming, and then baking, the dough (from Yiddish: בײגל‎, romanizedbeygl; OED, MW).
  • Blintz: A sweet cheese-filled crepe (בלינצע‎, blintse, from Belarusian: блінцы, romanizedblincy, lit.'pancakes' (plural); AHD).
  • Bris: The circumcision of a male child. (ברית‎, bris, from Hebrew: ברית‎, romanizedbrith, lit.'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' (באָבקעס‎, bobkes; of uncertain origin (OED); perhaps originally meaning '[goat] droppings', from a word meaning 'beans', of Slavic origin)[2] (MW, OED)

C[edit]

  • Chutzpah /ˈxʊtspə/: Nerve, gall, guts, balls, daring, self-confidence, audacity, effrontery (חצפּה‎, khutspe, from Hebrew; AHD)

D[edit]

  • Daven: To recite Jewish liturgical prayers (דאַוונען‎, davnen; AHD)
  • Dreck: Worthless, distasteful, or nonsensical material (דרעק‎, drek, from Middle High German: drec, lit.'rubbish'; cognate with German: Dreck, 'dirt, filth'; AHD)
  • Dybbuk: The malevolent spirit of a dead person that enters and controls a living body until exorcised (דבּוק‎, dibbuk, 'a latching-onto'; AHD)


F[edit]

  • Fleishig: Made with meat (פֿליישיק‎, fleyshik, 'meaty', from fleysh, 'meat'; cf. German: fleischig, 'meaty'; MW)

G[edit]

  • Ganef or Gonif: A thief, scoundrel, rascal (גנבֿ‎, ganev/ganef, 'thief', from Hebrew: גנב‎, gannav; AHD)
  • Gelt /ɡɛlt/: Money in general; also the chocolate coins given to children on Hanukkah (געלט‎, gelt, 'money'; cognate with German: Geld, 'money'; related to 'gold'; AHD)
  • Glitch: A minor malfunction (גליטש‎, glitsh, from גליטשן‎, glitshn, 'slide'; cf. German: glitschen, 'slither'; AHD)
  • Golem: A man-made humanoid; an android, Frankenstein monster (גלם‎, goylem, from Hebrew: גלם‎, gōlem; OED, MW)
  • Goy: A gentile, term for someone not of the Jewish faith or people (גוי‎; plural גויים‎ or גוים‎, goyim; from Hebrew: גויים‎ or גוים‎, goyim, 'nations', plural of גוי‎, goy, 'nation'; AHD)

H[edit]

  • Haimish (also Heimish) /ˈhmɪʃ/: Home-like, friendly, folksy (היימיש‎, heymish; cf. German: heimisch; AHD).

K[edit]

  • Kibitz /ˈkɪbɪts/: To offer unwanted advice, e.g. to someone playing cards; to converse idly, hence a kibitzer, gossip (קיבעצן‎, kibetsn; cf. German: kiebitzen, may be related to German: Kiebitz, 'lapwing'; OED, MW)
  • Klutz: A clumsy person (קלאָץ‎, klots, 'wooden beam'; cf. German: Klotz, 'block'; OED, MW)
  • Knish /kəˈnɪʃ/: A doughy snack stuffed with potato, meat, or cheese (קניש‎, from Polish: knysz; MW, AHD)
  • Kosher: Correct according to Jewish law, normally used in reference to Jewish dietary laws; (slang) appropriate, legitimate (originally from כּשר‎, kašer/kasher; AHD)
  • Kvell: To express great pleasure combined with pride (קװעלן‎, kveln, from an old Germanic word; cognate with German: quellen, 'swell'; OED, MW)
  • Kvetch /kəˈvɛ/: to complain habitually, gripe; as a noun, a person who always complains (קװעטשן‎, kvetshn, 'press/squeeze'; cognate with German: quetschen, 'squeeze'; OED, MW)[3] There is also a connection[vague] to the Hebrew and Aramaic radix "k.w.z",[clarification needed] meaning "squeeze".[4]

L[edit]

M[edit]

  • Mamzer: Bastard (from Yiddish/Hebrew: ממזר‎, mamzer; OED)
  • Maven: Expert, aficionado (מבֿין‎, meyvn, from Hebrew: מבין‎, mevin, 'understand'; OED, MW)
  • Mazel tov, also Mazal tov: Congratulations! (מזל־טובֿ‎, mazl-tov, from מזל טוב‎, mazzāl ṭōv: מזל‎, mazzāl, 'fortune' or 'sign of the Zodiac (constellation)' + טוב‎, ṭōv, 'good'; OED, MW:Hebrew)
  • Megillah: A tediously detailed discourse (מגלה‎, megile, 'lengthy document, scroll [esp. the Book of Esther]', from מגלה‎, məgillā, 'scroll'; OED, MW). Usually used in American English as "the whole Megillah" meaning an overly extended explanation or story.[5]
  • Mensch: An upright person; a decent human being (מענטש‎, mentsh, 'person'; cognate with German: Mensch, 'human'; OED, MW)
  • Meshuga, also Meshugge, Meshugah, Meshuggah /məˈʃʊɡə/: Crazy (משגע‎, meshuge, from Hebrew: משוגע‎, m'shuga‘; OED, MW). Also used as the nouns meshuggener and meshuggeneh for a crazy man and woman, respectively.
  • Meshugaas, also Mishegaas or Mishegoss /mɪʃəˈɡɑːs/: Crazy or senseless activity or behavior; craziness (משוגעת‎, meshugaas, from Hebrew: משוגעת‎, məšugga‘ath, a form of the above; OED, AHD)
  • Milchig: made with milk (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. (מנין‎, minyen, from Hebrew: מנין‎, minyān; OED)
  • Mishpocha /mɪʃˈpɒxə/: relative or extended family member (משפּחה‎, mishpokhe, from Hebrew: משפּחה‎, mišpāḥā; OED)
  • Mishmash: hodgepodge, jumble (MW)

N[edit]

  • Naches /ˈnɑːxəs/: The feeling of pride and/or gratification in 1: the achievements of another; 2. one's own doing good by helping someone or some organization (נחת‎, nakhes, from Hebrew: נחת‎, naḥath, 'contentment'; OED)
  • Narrischkeit /ˈnɑːrɪʃkt/: Foolishness, nonsense (נאַרישקייט‎, narishkeyt, from נאַריש‎, narish, 'foolish' + ־קייט‎, -keyt, 'ness'; cf. German: närrisch, 'foolish'; OED)
  • Nebbish, also Nebbich: An insignificant, pitiful person; a nonentity (from interjection נעבעך‎, nebekh, 'poor thing!', perhaps from Czech nebohý or other Slavic source; OED, MW)
  • Noodge, also Nudzh: To pester, nag, whine; as a noun, a pest, whiner, or anxious person (נודיען‎, nudyen, from Polish nudzić 'to bore' or Russian nudit' 'to wear out'; OED)
  • Nosh: Snack (noun or verb) (נאַשן‎, nashn; cf. German: naschen; OED, MW)
  • Nu: A multipurpose interjection analogous to "well?", "so?", or "so what?" (נו‎, nu, perhaps akin to Russian: ну, nu; OED)
  • Nudnik: A pest, "pain in the neck"; a bore (נודניק‎, nudnik, from the above נודיען‎, nudyen; cf. Polish: nudny, 'boring, annoying'; OED, MW)

O[edit]

  • Oy or Oy vey: An interjection of grief, pain, or horror (אוי וויי‎, oy vey, 'oh, pain!' or 'oh, woe!'; cf. German: oh weh, 'oh, woe!'; OED)

P[edit]

  • Pareve /ˈpɑːrəv/: Containing neither meat nor dairy products (פּאַרעווע‎, pareve; OED, MW)
  • Pisher: a nobody, an inexperienced person (פּישער‎, pisher, from פּישן‎, pishn, 'piss'; cf. German: pissen or dialectal German: pischen; OED)
  • Potch: Spank, slap, smack (פּאַטשן‎, patshn; cf. German: patschen, 'slap'; OED)
  • Plotz: To burst from strong emotion; often used humorously to express minor shock or disappointment (פּלאַצן‎, platsn, 'crack'; cf. German: platzen; OED)
  • Putz: (vulgar) A penis, term used as an insult (פּאָץ‎, pots; AHD). Also an insignificant person, incompetent, or loser. As a verb, to idle, bodge, goof off.

S[edit]

  • Schav: A chilled soup made of sorrel. (שטשאַוו‎, shtshav, from Polish: szczaw; AHD)
  • Schlemiel /ʃləˈml/: An inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt (שלעמיל‎, shlemil or שלימיל‎, shlimil, probably from the Hebrew name Shelumiel; OED) 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 (שלעפּן‎, shlepn; cf. German: schleppen; OED, MW). Also a noun, a lackie, hanger-on, or loser.
  • Schlimazel also Schlemazl: A chronically unlucky person (שלימזל‎, shlimazl, from [Middle Dutch: slimp, 'crooked/bad' or Middle High German: slimp, 'awry' or schlimm, 'poor/lacking'] + Hebrew:מזל‎, mazzāl, 'luck'; cf. German: Schlamassel; 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.[6][clarification needed] 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 שלאַק‎, shlak, 'a stroke'; cf. German: Schlag; OED, MW)
  • Schlong: (vulgar) A penis (שלאַנג‎, shlang, 'snake'; cf. German: Schlange; OED)
  • Schlub: A clumsy, stupid, or unattractive person (זשלאָב‎, zhlob, 'hick', perhaps from Polish: żłób; OED, MW)
  • Schmaltz: Melted chicken fat; excessive sentimentality (שמאַלץ‎, shmalts or German: Schmalz; OED, MW)
  • Schmatte: A rag (שמאַטע‎, shmate, from Polish: szmata; OED)
  • Schmeer also schmear: from Polish 'smarowac' to smear, to spread, coll. to bribe; (noun or verb) Spread (e.g., cream cheese on a bagel); bribe (שמיר‎, shmir, 'smear'; cf. German: schmieren; OED, MW)
  • Schmo: A stupid person (an alteration of schmuck; OED)
  • Schmooze: To converse informally, make small talk or chat (שמועסן‎, shmuesn, 'converse', from Hebrew: שמועות‎, shəmūʿōth, 'reports/gossip'; OED, MW). To persuade in insincere or oily fashion; to "lay it on thick". Noun: schmoozer, abbr. schmooze.
  • Schmuck: (vulgar) A contemptible or foolish person; a jerk; (שמאָק‎, shmok, 'penis'; MW)
  • Schmutter: Pieces of clothing; rubbish (שמאַטע‎, shmate, 'rag'; cf. schmatte; OED)
  • Schmutz /ʃmʊts/: Dirt (שמוץ‎, shmuts or German: Schmutz; 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 שנוק‎, shnuk, 'snout'; cf. Northern German: Schnucke, 'sheep'; OED)
  • Schnorrer: beggar, esp. "one who wheedles others into supplying his wants" (שנאָרער‎, shnorer; cf. German: Schnorrer; OED, MW)
  • Schnoz or Schnozz also Schnozzle: A nose, especially a large nose (perhaps from שנויץ‎, shnoyts, 'snout'; cf. German: Schnauze; OED, MW)
  • Schvartze: (offensive) A Black person (from שוואַרץ‎, shvarts, 'black'; cf. German: schwarz; OED)
  • Shabbos, Shabbas, Shabbes: Shabbat (שבת‎, Shabes, from Hebrew: שבת‎, Shabat; AHD)
  • Shammes or Shamash /ˈʃɑːməs/: The caretaker of a synagogue; also, the ninth candle of the Hanukkah menorah, used to light the others (שמשׂ‎, shames, from Hebrew: שמש‎, šammāš, 'attendant'; OED, MW)
  • Shamus: a detective (possibly שאַמעס‎, shammes or the Irish name Seamus; OED, Macquarie)
  • Shegetz: (derogatory) a young non-Jewish man (שגץ‎ or שײגעץ‎, sheygets, from Hebrew: שקץ‎, shekets, 'abomination'; 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 catchphrase of 1940s-1980s television commentator Michael O'Hehir.[7]
  • Shikker, Shicker, Shickered: Drunk (adjective or noun) (שכּור‎, shiker, from Hebrew: שיכור‎, shikor; OED)
  • Shiksa or Shikse /ˈʃɪksə/: (often derogatory) A young non-Jewish woman (שיקסע‎, shikse, a derivative of 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 (שטעטל‎, shtetl, 'town', diminutive of שטאָט‎, shtot, 'city'; cf. German: Städtl, South German / Austrian colloquial diminutive of Stadt, 'city'; AHD)
  • Shtibl: A small synagogue or place of prayer (שטיבל‎, shtibl, 'little room'; cf. German: Stüberl; OED)
  • Shtick: Comic theme; a defining habit or distinguishing feature or business (שטיק‎, shtik, 'piece'; cf. German: Stück, 'piece'; AHD)
  • Shtum: Quiet, silent (שטום‎, shtum, 'mute'; cf. German: stumm); OED)
  • Shtup: (vulgar slang) To have sexual intercourse (שטופּ‎, shtoop, 'push/poke/intercourse'; cf. German: stupsen, 'poke'; OED)
  • Shul: a synagogue (שול‎, shul, 'school', from Middle High German: schuol, 'school'; cf. German: Schule, 'school'; MW)
  • Shvitz: to sweat (v.), a sauna or steam bath (n.) (שוויצן‎, shvitsn; cf. German: schwitzen; OED)
  • Spiel or Shpiel: A sales pitch or speech intended to persuade (שפּיל‎, shpil, 'play' or German: Spiel, 'play'; AHD)

T[edit]

  • Tchotchke: A knickknack, trinket, curio (צאַצקע‎, tsatske, טשאַטשקע‎, tshatshke, from Polish: cacko; OED, MW)
  • Tref or Trayf or Traif /ˈtrf/: Not kosher (טרייף‎, treyf, from Hebrew: טרפֿה‎, ṭərēfā, 'carrion'; AHD)
  • Tsuris /ˈtsʊrɪs/: Troubles, grief (צרות‎, tsores/tsoris,[8] from Hebrew: צרות‎, tsarot, 'troubles'; AHD)
  • Tuchus[9][10] (also Tuches, Tuchis,[10] Tukus, or Tukhus) /ˈtʊxəs/: The buttocks, bottom, rear end (תחת‎, tokhes, from Hebrew: תחת‎, taḥath, 'underneath'; OED)
  • Tummler: An entertainer or master of ceremonies, especially one who encourages audience interaction (טומלער‎, tumler, from טומלען‎, tumlen, 'make a racket'; cf. German: (sich) tummeln, 'go among people' or 'cavort'; OED, MW)
  • Tush (also Tushy): The buttocks, bottom, rear end (תּחת‎, tokes; cf. tuchus; OED, MW)
Carrot tzimmes with honey
  • Tzimmes: A sweet stew of vegetables and fruit; a fuss, a confused affair, a to-do (צימעס‎, tsimes; OED, MW)

V[edit]

  • Vigorish (also contraction Vig): That portion of the gambling winnings held by the bookmaker as payment for services (וויגריש‎, vigrish,[citation needed] from Russian: выигрыш, vyigrysh, 'winnings'; OED)
  • Verklempt: Choked with emotion (פֿאַרקלעמט‎, farklemt, 'depressed/grieving', originally 'pressed, gripped'; cf. German: verklemmt meaning 'uptight' MW)

Y[edit]

  • Yarmulke: A round cloth skullcap worn by observant Jews (יאַרמלקע‎, yarmlke, from Polish: jarmułka and Ukrainian: ярмулка, yarmulka, 'skullcap', from Turkish: yağmurluk, lit.'raincoat/oilskin'; see yarmulke; OED, MW)
  • Yekke: (mildly derogatory) A German Jew; 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. (יעקע‎, yeke, 'jacket'; cf. German: Jacke; OED)
  • Yenta: A talkative woman; a gossip; a scold (יענטע‎, yente, from a given name; OED, MW) Yentl, such a girl.
  • Yiddish: The Yiddish language (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 (יום- טובֿ‎, yontef, 'holiday', from Hebrew: יום טוב‎, yōm ṭōv, 'good day'; OED)
  • Yutz: A fool (יאָנץ‎, yonts, perhaps derived from putz; NPD, AHD)

Z[edit]

  • Zaftig, also Zaftik /ˈzɑːftɪk/: Pleasingly plump, buxom, full-figured, as a woman (זאַפֿטיק‎, zaftik, 'juicy'; cf. German: saftig, 'juicy'; OED, MW)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Bartleby.com: Great Books Online – Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and hundreds more". www.bartleby.com. Archived from the original on 16 October 2007.
  2. ^ Horwitz, Bert (19 August 2005). "A Hill of Bupkis". The Jewish Daily Forward. New York. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  3. ^ See also Wex, Michael. Born to Kvetch. St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005.
  4. ^ Even-Shoshan, Avraham. HaMilon HeHadash (The New Dictionary) (in Hebrew). Kiriat-sefer. ISBN 978-9651701559.
  5. ^ "World Wide Words: The whole megillah". World Wide Words.
  6. ^ Conway, Oliver (22 June 2004). "Congo word 'most untranslatable'". BBC News. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  7. ^ Doyle, Dr Siobhán (20 February 2020). "A short history of shemozzles in the GAA". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Carr, David, "Abramson’s Exit at The Times Puts Tensions on Display", The New York Times, May 18, 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-19.
  9. ^ Mottel Baleston, "Common Yiddish Words", The Messianic Association website
  10. ^ a b Jeffrey Goldberg, "Words That The New York Times Will Not Print", The Atlantic, 2010-06-09. "'Joe Lieberman is too polite to complain, but the Gore questions are getting to be a pain in the tuchis.' ... Though Leibovich's copy editors allowed tuchus to be spelled incorrectly, the Washington Post is obviously more tolerant of Jewish flamboyance ..."

External links[edit]