Ten Fun Yiddish Words You Should Know

As freelance writers, we often get asked to write on a wide variety of topics, and in many different styles.  This can be very difficult at first, especially trying to adjust your writing style.  One of the things that I’ve found helps with altering style, is including some words that you normally wouldn’t.  Whether these are foreign expressions, or some type of slang, they can help adjust the style.  Of course, it is important to know when to use them, and when they should be avoided, but it is a nice tool to have available.

The following ten Yiddish words can help to spice up your writing.  While they aren’t typically going to be used in a formal setting, or even in most website articles, there is a time and a place for them.  Plus, some of them are just fun to say!

  • Chutzpah (sometimes spelled khutspe)- Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption.  For example, “The chutzpah on that boy is disturbing.  He has no respect for anyone.”  This word is sometimes used in English settings to convey courage or confidence, but in Yiddish, it is not a compliment.
  • Glitch – You’ve likely heard this word many times without even knowing it was Yiddish in origin.  It literally means a ‘slip’, ‘skate’, or ‘nosedive’.  It has become associated with minor computer errors in English, though it can be used for other minor problems.
  • Maven – This word, pronounced meyven, means “An Expert” though it is typically used sarcastically.
  • Mazel Tov – Literally translated it means good constellation, but essentially it means ‘good luck.’ Unlike the English phrase ‘good luck,’  however, Mazel Tov is meant as a congratulation for what was just accomplished, rather than a wish for luck on a future event.  For example, you would use it when someone had just passed a hard exam, not when they were about to take it.
  • Oy Vey – This is an exclamation of dismay, grief or exasperation.  An example of where it might be used is if your child comes in and says they failed a test that they didn’t study for properly.
  • Shalom – This means ‘deep peace’ and is often used as a greeting.
  • Schmuck – While this word is often used, it is technically somewhat crude and shouldn’t be said in formal settings.  It refers to the male anatomy, but has developed so today it is used as an insulting word for someone who makes bad decisions, resulting in bad consequences.  A “Self-made fool.”
  • Tuches – This word is where we get the word ‘tush’ in modern English.  It refers to someone’s bottom.  Typically this would be used in a nonsexual reference, for example, you might refer to a child’s tuches, though normally you would not say something like ‘check out the tuches on her,’ referring to an adult.
  • Shmutz – This refers to a small amount of dirt, or can also be used to mean dirty language.  For example, “the little boy with shmutz on his face was talking shmutz with his friends.”
  • Klutz – Literally it means ‘a block of wood’ and it is often used to describe someone who is clumsy or awkward (in a derogatory way).

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  1. says

    I sent my non-Jewish mother-in-law a pack of Yiddish magnetic poetry once… she loved it. BUT she used it to write out, “Oy, vey, my Bubby is a shikse.” I always raised my kids to know that that word should NEVER be used, in any context, so they snuck into the kitchen and changed it to “Oy, vey, my Bubby is a sandwich.” 🙂
    Thanks for a smile!
    Jennifer at WriteKidsBooks recently posted…Photo picture books: good, bad, UGLY.My Profile

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