Ten Important Yiddish Words

            January 2014    
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10 Yiddish Words
That Everyone Must Know

By Arlene Swartzberg Weiss

CHUTZPA - Oh, come on - give me a break . every one knows what that means !

FARBLONPZSHET - Confused, Bewildered

Example: The U.S. Congress

KAYN AYNHOREH - Goodness gracious.this is one word is almost impossible to find in any other language! Years ago, people used this phase to ward off the 'evil eye'. Nowadays, however, this phase is said to protect someone or something.

Example: "Since my youngest, Sophie got her driving license, she's been driving just great - 'kayn aynhoreh'.

KVETCH - To complain. . Wait a minute -- I take that back - not just to complain, but to complain bitterly!

Example: Leo Rosten's Joys of Yiddish lists eight different ways of 'kvetching' .so what do you want from ME?

MAVEN - The dictionary sys a 'maven' is a scholarly, clever person. The 'real meaning - and especially to us Jews - is actually a 'smart-aleck', or pompous 'know-it-all'

Example: You may not believe me, but the latest rocket ship to go into outer space is called MAVEN!! I kid you not. There must be a Jew there some place !

MESHUGGE - Craziness

Example - Every time Harry sees a picture of Rita Hayworth, he goes meshugge.

MISHEGOSS - Close cousin to meshugge - but usually in a sort of affectionate way

Example: Eliot got so involved in playing golf it became his mishegoss. Let's just think of it as an obsession, like having to learn to dance.- even though you know you have two left feet.

MITZVAH - a blessing

Example - "My sister's daughter, Emily, 42 years old - the one with the raspy loud voice - just got engaged - it's a mitzvah ."

Editor's note: Mitzvah is the same Mitzvah as in "Bar Mitzvah". As an explanation, let me tell you that famous "Today I am a man speech" plus also a lot of presents for the lucky 13-year old. He used to announce to his adoring relatives, "Today I am a fountain pen." Or maybe better, to bring things more up to date, "-- Today I am an


NACHES - Naches is when your son or daughter graduates from a fancy school like Yale or Harvard. The word 'Naches' has a special place in the Yiddish lexicon. While it literally means that 'extra special joy' a parent gets from their children. you can't really say 'naches', for instance, about your OWN children.

Example: If you were Herbie's mother, you would never say "Herbert has graduated first in his kindergarten class" - it really would not be 'right', but you CAN say, "Look at my nephew, Benny --- he gives my sister a lot of naches. he graduated first in Kindergarten.

SHLEMIEL - A guy who is not only a FOOL - but a

STUPID fool. Hint: He's your next-door neighbor.

Example: The guy who goes into a Kosher restaurant and orders a Taco !

(Now that I think of it - for some reason,

usually applied to men!)

SHTICK - Give me a break ---everyone in show business knows this one. Lucy Ball used it all the time. And if Lucy used it, it's okay by meir !

SHMATTE - literally a "rag."

Example: Any dress your worst enemy is wearing.

"Did you see what Elsie wore to the Sisterhood meeting last night - what a shmatte!"

SHMALTZ - Plain old fashioned chicken fat. In the world of show business, however, it indicates a really, really, really HAM actor.

Example: You see that over-weight actor - what a HAM !

TZIMMES- a tasty soup made of carrots, sweet potatoes and anything else you may find in the frig.

Nowadays, however, the meaning of tzimmes is simple ----- making a 'big deal' over something that's really nothing.

EXAMPLE: "Yesterday Sadie, my neighbor down the hall, found out she lost a few pounds . but I can't understand why she had to make such a tzimmes over it."

YENTA - The local village gossip.

EXAMPLE - Joan Rivers

And finally, I give you the most famous Jewish story of all time: One Jew says to another, "Why, Abe, why do all Jews answer a question with another question?" His friend answers, "Why not ?"

Note: OK, already ! Sure I know that I gave you MORE than 10 Yiddish words - so kill me already!


Arlene Swartzberg Weiss can be reached at balbec@comcast.net. She is a former advertising writer who has written several highly successful radio commercials for Manischewitz Wines.. And now have many stories appearing online on the American Diversity Report.


from the January 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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