Do You Know These Yiddish Words?

The Yiddish language is the language of the Ashkenazi Jews that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland and then spread to central and eastern Europe and eventually to other continents. Besides German, Yiddish also borrows words from Polish and Russian. In the late 1960’s, there were apparently about 10 million speakers of Yiddish.

In Yiddish itself, the language is known as “Mame-loshen” which literally means “mama’s tongue” or “mother-tongue”. “LASHON” is the Hebrew word for “tongue” or “language”, and the Hebrew language calls itself “LASHON KODESH” – the “Holy Tongue”. The Yiddish language is written with Hebrew letters.

Dozens if not hundreds of Yiddish and Hebrew words have adopted by American English. Some of the words include: kindergarten, schmooz (to talk or chat), shtik (piece, a special bit of acting), and shnook (a dolt), a “toches” means a person’s behind.

This article will take a closer look at some fun Yiddish words and phrases. Es tut mir laid – I’m sorry. Farstunken means stinky, but farshvitst means sweaty.

A famous phrase is “Oi vai” – which means “Dear me, or “woe is me”. Another “OI” phrase you might have heard is “Oi gevald”, which is a cry of frustration.

Some words are specific to Judaism, “Milchiks” (similar to our word “milk”) refers to dairy foods and cooking utensils (as Jews separate meat from milk). On the other hand, “flaishik” means “meet” foods (compare to the English word “flesh”). A “pushkeh” is a charity box used to collect money.

The word “NIT” is the equivalent of the English word “NOT”, and “NISHT” is also a negating word. “Nisht gut” simply is “Not Good!”. “Nishtgutnick” is a “no-good person”. A “nishtikiet” is a “nobody”. “Nit oif undz gedacht!” means “It shouldn’t happen to us”.

Some of the “SH” words are interesting. A “shnorrer” is someone who is a parasite, always glad to ask for money. A “shtarker” is a tough guy, and to “shushkey” means to whisper or gossip. A “shvegerin” is a sister-in-law, and to “shvindel” means to “swindel” or fraud.

Finally, here are a few “Z” words. “Zaft” means “juice”. “Zaftik” literally means “juicky”, but figuratively refers tp a pleasantly plump and pretty woman. “Zaier shain gezogt” means “well said” (literally “very well said”). “Zorg zich nit!” translates to “Don’t worry!”.

We carry a few Yiddish books and songs in our Learn Yiddish (Product Catalog)

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