10 Yiddish Words Used in English
English is a wonderful language because it can be a bit of a “catch-all” from other languages. We’ve written before about German loan words, and the next language we steal directly from is Yiddish. Yiddish is the language spoken by Central and Eastern European Jews and derives from Hebrew, Slavic languages, and other Germanic influences. I love Yiddish words, partly because they’re so much fun to say. English borrows a bunch of words from Yiddish, so here are 10 of our favorite Yiddish words used in English:
Bagels (yiddish: beygel) are one of my all-time favorite breakfast foods. Did you know that in order to get that distinctive crust and texture of a bagel, they’re boiled before they’re baked?
If you have some chutzpah, you are daring and have guts – good or bad. It’s actually a neutral word when being used in English for being audacious. In short, you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself and say what’s on your mind.
Have you experienced a computer glitch, or something that has slipped out of place? Something that hasn’t gone quite right? Then you have Yiddish to thank for the word to describe it. It’s probably related to the German word gleiten (to glide) and then altered from the German glitsch (slide, glide, slip).
A klutz is someone who can be rather clumsy (but was also the name of a series of great craft books in the 90s). The Yiddish kluts or literally, wooden block, is translated into English into “blockhead” or compared to the Middle High German klotz (lump, ball). So the next time you trip, just shrug it off with a, “I’m such a klutz sometimes.”
The word for the Jewish dietary laws comes from the Hebrew kasher meaning clean, fit, and proper. However, kosher is also a new slang word in American English meaning legitimate or appropriate. As in: “Hmm…I’m not sure we can do that- is it kosher?”
Do you know someone who likes to whine or complain? Then you know someone who likes to kvetch. In Yiddish, kvetshn means to squeeze or press, and in German, a quetsche is a presser or crusher.
“You’re being a noodge!” is something I heard fairly often when I was a kid. My mom brought out this Yiddish word (from nudyen) when I was pestering or nagging her more than she would like.
Have you ever schlepped something up the stairs? Then Yiddish (shlepn) and a bit of German (schleppen) have given you the word for when you’re carrying or dragging something bulky and heavy around.
While my mom called me a noodge, my dad uses the word schmuck when talking about someone who’s kind of foolish or a jerk. Can you tell my family has some Jewish ancestry?? It’s used nowadays in a light way, but its roots are a little more vulgar. I’ll leave you to researching that on your own if you’re interested..
This is one of the best Yiddish words used in English, but also the hardest one to spell (and pronounce!) on this list. If your grandma, for instance, has a lot of little knick-knacks and trinkets around, then you can say that she has a lot of tchotchkes. Do you collect tchotchkes?
Did your favorite Yiddish words used in English make the list? Give us a shout in the comments and let us know what other languages you’d like to hear about!
Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher, yoga instructor, and loves a good bagel with lox!
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