Yiddish expressions


aaaah ... nu
Litterally "nu" means "now". "Nu" is a general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, "so what"; "and?"; "yes?"; "what am I supposed to do about it?"; "therefore?"; “So?”; “Huh?”; “Well?”; “What’s up?” or “Hello?”

ay, ay ... oy vey
Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.

a yiddisher kop
Smart person. Literally means “A Jewish head.” In contradiction to a goyisher kop.


***

babkes

Beans. in the meaning "nothing". "What did he give me? Babkes, he gives me."

baleboste
A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.

bissel

Or bisl – a little bit. Or rather a bit, is usually quite large. "What harm can a bissel fruit cakeleh?"

bubbe

Or bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.

bupkes

Not a word for polite company. Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” – less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”

chutzpah

Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.

feh!

An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.

glitch

Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”

gornisht

More polite than bupkes, and also implies a strong sense of nothing; used in phrases such as “gornisht helfn” (beyond help).

goy

A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, the non-Jewish world in general is “the goyim.” Goyish is the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.

kibbitz

In Yiddish, it’s spelled kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.

klutz

Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.

kosher

Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don’t eat – pork, shellfish, etc. – is called traif. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”

kvetsh

In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).

maven

Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.

Mazel Tov

Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”

mentsh

An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.

mishegas

Insanity or craziness. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”

meshuggener

A crazy person.

mishpocheh
Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”

nosh

Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.

paskudneh

An unrepentant evildoer. "That paskudneh stole my fountain pen! At my bar mitzvah!"

plotz
Or plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.

schlock
Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”

schmuck

It means jewels or decoration. (You thought it meant putz , didn't you? Well, it does.
An insulting word for a self-made fool, but you shouldn’t use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.
)


Schnorrer A plausible bum, esp. witty; overheardinnewyork.com has many examples of schnorrerei.

shoylem

It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”

shlep

To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home,
I shlep it.


shlemiel

A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.

shlimazel

Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.

shmendrik

A jerk, a stupid person.
(How to tell a schlemiel from a schlimazl, without being a schmendrick ?

A schlemiel, a schlemazl and a schmendrick go for a drive. The schmendrick crashes the schlemazl's car and the schlemiel apologises.)

shmaltzy
Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.

shmooze

Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.

spiel

A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for play.

Schnorrer
A plausible bum, esp. witty; overheardinnewyork.com has many examples of schnorrerei.


shikse

A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of “young and beautiful,” so referring to a man’s Gentile wife or girlfriend as a shiksa implies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is possibly blonde. A shagetz or sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the connotation of a someone who is unruly, even violent.

shmutz

Or shmuts. Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.

shtick

Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.

tchatchke

Or tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.

tsuris

Or tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.

tuches

Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled tuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.

yente

Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a yenteyente means matchmaker. though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that

Eyn umglik iz far im veynik
.
One misfortune is too few for him. 


Shteyner zol zi hobn, nit kayn kinde
r.
She should have stones and not children.

Azoy fil ritzinoyl zol er oystrinkn.
He should drink too much castor oil. 

Oyf doktoyrim zol er dos avekgebn.

He should give it all away to doctors. 

Zol er krenken un gedenken
.
Let him suffer and remember. 

Zalts im in di oygen, feffer im in di noz.

Throw salt in his eyes, pepper in his nose. 

Shteyner af zayne beyner
.
Stones on his bones. 

Trinkn zoln im piavkes.
Leeches should drink him dry. 

Lakhn zol er mit yashtherkes.

He should laugh with lizards. 

A hiltsener tsung zol er bakumn
.
He should grow a wooden tongue.

Krugn zol er di (town name here) brokh.
He should get the (town name here) hernia. 

Fransn zol esn zayn layb.
Venereal disease should consume his body. 

Farshporn zol er oyf(tsu)shteyn?

Why bother getting up alive? 

Er zol kakn mit blit un mit ayter.

He should crap blood and pus. 

A kramp (a kram, a kortsh) im in layb (in boyakh, in di kishkes, in di gederem, in di finger).

A cramp in his body (in his stomach, in his guts, in his bowels, in his fingers and toes). 

Meshuga zol er vern un arumloyfn (iber di gasn).

He should go nuts and run around (through the streets). 

Vi tsu derleb ikh im shoyn tsu bagrobn.

I should outlive him long enough to bury him. 

Got zol im bentshn mit dray mentshn: eyner zol im haltn, der tsveyter zol im shpaltn un der driter zol im ba’haltn.

God should bless him with three people: one should grab him, the second should stab him and the third should hide him. 

A groys gesheft zol er hobn mit shroyre: vus er hot, zol men bay im nit fregn, un vos men fregt zol er nisht hobn
.
He should have a large store, and whatever people ask for he shouldn’t have, and what he does have shouldn’t be requested.

Lig in drerd.

To lie in the earth - in the meaning "to die, may G*d forbid".

Ale tsores vos ikh hob oyf mayn hartsn, zoln oysgeyn tsu zayn kop.
All problems I have in my heart, should go to his head. 

A meshugener zol men oyshraybn, un im araynshraybn.
They should free a madman, and lock him up.

Es zol dir dunern in boykh, vestu meyen az s’iz a homon klaper.
Your stomach will rumble so badly, you'll think it was Purim noisemaker. 

Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen.
He should be transformed into a chandelier, to hang by day and to burn by night. 

Ale tseyn zoln bay im aroysfaln, not eyner zol im blaybn oyf tsonveytung.
All his teeth should fall out except one to make him suffer. 

Hindert hayzer zol er hobn, in yeder hoyz a hindert tsimern, in yeder tsimer tsvonsik betn un kadukhes zol im varfn fin eyn bet in der tsveyter.
A hundred houses shall he have, in every house a hundred rooms and in every room twenty beds, and a delirious fever should drive him from bed to bed. 

Vifil yor er iz gegangn oyf di fis zol er geyn af di hent un di iberike zol er zikh sharn oyf di hintn.
As many years as he’s walked on his feet, let him walk on his hands, and for the rest of the time he should crawl along on his ass. 

Zol es im onkumn vos ikh vintsh im (khotsh a helft, khotsh halb, khotsh a tsent kheylik).
Let what I wish on him come true (most, even half, even just 10%). 

In di zumerdike teg zol er zitsn shive, un in di vinterdike nekht zikh raysn af di tseyn.
On summer days he should mourn, and on wintry nights, he should torture himself. 

Finstere leyd zol nor di mama oyf im zen.
Black sorrow is all that his mother should see of him. 

Oyskrenkn zol er dus mame’s milkh.
He should get so sick as to cough up his mother’s milk. 

Gut zol oyf im onshikn fin di tsen makes di beste.
God should visit upon him the best of the Ten Plagues.

Er zol altsting zen, un nit hobn farvos (mit vos) tsu koyfn.

He should see everything, but have no reason (with what) to buy it.

Khasene hobn zol er mit di malekh hamoves tokhter.
He should marry the daughter of the Angel of Death. 

Tsen shifn mit gold zol er farmorgn, un dos gantse gelt zol er farkrenkn.
Ten ships of gold should be his and the money should only make him sick. 

Zayn mazl zol im layhtn vi di levone in sof khoydesh.
His luck should be as bright as a new moon. 

Er zol hobn paroys makes bashotn mit oybes krets.
He should have Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies. 

Heng dikh oyf a tsikershtrikl vestu hobn a zisn toyt.
Hang yourself with a sugar rope and you’ll have a sweet death.
 
Me ois vaxen svi a tsibele miten cup in vant.
You should grow like an onion with your head in the ground.

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