Yiddish was the daily language of many European Jews for about 1,000 years. On the eve of World War II, there were about 11 million Yiddish speakers, but the decimation of European Jewry in the Holocaust greatly decreased this number, and today there about 1.5 million Yiddish speakers in the world. Despite the small number of speakers, Yiddish words have made their way into other languages, and many Yiddish words and phrases can be found in English and Hebrew.
Yiddish is a truthful language and it captures the depth of emotional experience.
That makes Yiddish the perfect language for women who need precise words to describe their emotional reality. Here are Yiddish words you can use to describe how you feel, what you think and observe.
ALTER COCKER: An old and complaining person, an old fart.
- That alter cocker just sits around all day, doing nothing.
- My alter cocker uncle never stops complaining.
- Can you get that alter cocker some tea already?
AY-YAY-YAY: A Joyous, or at times sarcastic, exclamation.
- Ay yai yai, what a mess.
- That girl thinks she’s so ay yai yai.
BALABUSTA: The wife of an important person or a bossy woman, a woman with excellent home making skills.
- That balabusta spends hours making Shabbat meals every week.
- I don’t have the patience to be a balabusta.
- Debbie is a career woman but her sister is a SAHM and a real balabusta.
BUBKES : trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount – less than nothing, so to speak.
- After how hard I worked, I got bupkes!
- My favorite kitchen store is having a sale and I bought a new one-pot for bupkes!
- The portions are the new cake cafe are bubkes!
Chutzpah – Nerve, arrogance, brazenness.
- Asking me to do her laundry after I cooked dinner was really a chutzpah.
- Israelis have that extra chutzpah that helps them succeed in the business world.
- He had the chutzpah to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about.
KVELL: To beam with pride and pleasure, Jewish parents are prone to kvell over their children’s achievements.
- I’m just kvelling over little Johnny’s excellent report card.
- The ladies in the assisted living sit around all day kvelling about their grandchildren.
- It’s embarrassing how much my mom kvells about us to her friends.
KVETCH: To annoy or to be an annoying person, to complain.
- Stop kvetching already, we’re almost there!
- The alter cockers in the nursing home love to kvetch about the food, but they gobble it up.
- He’s such a kvetch, no one wants to hang out with him.
KIBITZ: To offer comments which are often unwanted during a game, to tease or joke around. A kibitzer gives unasked for advice.
- Stop kibitzing and give me some actual help.
- My grandma and her friends kibitz all day long.
- You go ahead and play chess, I’ll just watch and kibitz.
MENSCH: A person of integrity and honor, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
- Joan is a mensch. She is always there when I need help.
- To motivate myself to do the right thing, I ask myself: “If I was a real mensch, what would do?”
- Every parent pray their child will grow up to be mensch.
MISHEGOSS: Inappropriate, crazy, or bizarre actions or beliefs.
- I can’t deal with Eddie’s mishegoss anymore!
- Have you ever heard such mishegoss?
- I don’t want to get involved in their mishegoss.
MISHPOCHA: Family, usually extended family.
- My parents have invited the whole mishpocha, so it will be a big party.
- We welcome our new son-in-law to the mishpocha.
- Where’s your mishpocha from?
NOSH: To snack.
- Don’t nosh now, or you won’t be hungry for dinner.
- We’re not serving a full meal, just some nosh.
- The noshing is destroying my diet.
NU: Has many meanings including, “so?; How are things?; how about it?; What can one do?; I dare you!”
- Nu? When are you getting married?
- So go ahead, nu! I bet you won’t.
- Nu? What’s happening with your mishpocha?
NUDNIK: A pest, a persistent and annoying person.
- The worst clients are the nudniks.
- Don’t be a nudnik, stop asking so many questions.
- My nudnik cousin is insisting that I come visit tomorrow.
PLOTZ: collapse or be beside oneself with frustration, annoyance, or other strong emotion.
- Shira’s children had been kvetching all afternoon and she was about to plotz.
- Lots of people plotz after a final exams.
- I completely plotzed after I ran a marathon.
SCHLEP: To haul or carry something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly.
- She schlepped her groceries home.
- In this age of materialism, going on vacation with children means a lot of schlepping.
- Don’t be such a schlepper!
SHANDA: A shame, a scandal.
- Did you hear about Mel’s daughter? Such a shanda!
- It’s such a shanda that prices at the kosher supermarket are so high.
- It’s a shanda when Jews behave this way.
VERKLEMPT: choked with emotion
- I’m so thrilled he’s finally getting married, I’m just verklempt.
- She’s so verklempt, she can barely speak.
- My mom gets verklempt whenever she starts kvelling.
YENTE: Female busybody or gossip.
- Miriam’s friend called her a “yente” because she was gossiping about her brother.
- My Bubbe was a bit of a yente. She was always meddling in my mother’s private affairs.
- Liora is acting like a yente. Even if her intentions are good, she needs to learn not to give people unsolicited advice.
Your turn: What Yiddish word do you add to this list?