Yiddish has survived 1,000 years of upheaval, tumult, tragedy and migration.
Emerging among 10th-century Jews living in Germany, the language is a delicious mishmash derived from a stew of Hebrew, Aramaic, German and Slavic words. Today, there are fewer than 155,000 Yiddish speakers in America, though the language has made a profound impact on our lexicon.
Lest you start kvetching, let’s launch right into a collection of delightful Yiddish terms to spritz into your writing:
1. Schtickle—a small amount, a little bit of something.
“Chrissie, give me a schtickle of fluoride.”
2. Schluff—a nap.
I’m going to need a brief schluff before this bris.
3. Schvitz—to sweat.
It’s so hot, I’m schvitzing over here!
4. Kvell—to swell with pride.
Mona was kvelling after her son won the award.
5. Mensch—a respected person of solid repute.
You’re a real mensch for helping us move that treadmill.
6. Schlep—as a verb, it means to carry something; the noun form indicates an arduous journey.
What a schlep it is from Miami to Delray Beach!
7. Schmutz—an all-inclusive term for gunk.
Come here, you have a little schmutz on your face.
8. Shtick—a gimmick or routine.
Smashing watermelons was Gallagher’s shtick.
9. Tchotchke—a trinket, bauble or small novelty item.
Can you believe all the tchotchkes in this store?
10. Bupkes—originally a term for goat feces, it has become synonymous with “nothing” or something of low value.
I was expecting a big return on our investment, but we got bupkes.
11. Plotz—to collapse or react with strong emotion.
Suzy plotzed when she saw her final grade.
Mom looked fertummelt after making a wrong turn.
13. Grepse—to burp.
Uncle Morty grepsed after eating all the rugelach.
14. Kishka (kishkes)—stomach, guts.
He was talking trash on the basketball court, so I socked him right in the kishkes!
15. Kibitzer—a nosy, chatty person.
You tipped my hand, you lousy kibitzer!
16. Pisher—a catch-all insult for a useless person.
Joe is our office pisher; don’t mind him.
17. Shanda—shame, scandal. (It’s unclear if Shonda Rhimes was inspired by this when she created “Scandal.”)
This Mets lineup is a disgrace—a real shanda.
18. Alter kocker—rude term for an unpleasant older person.
Boy, Uncle Lew sure has turned into a lecherous alter kocker.
19. Verklempt—filled with emotion (now go talk amongst yourselves).
I get verklempt every time I watch old home movies.
20. Zetz—a stout punch or smack.
Bubby gave Jake a zetz for trying to sneak a cookie.