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Yiddish Glossary

Yiddish is a rich and onomonopoeic language, in that so many of the words sound like what they mean. There’s a certain finality to the hard t that ends the second syllable of “bashert,” suggesting fate is, indeed, inevitable, while the word “shmuck” sounds like someone spitting from the back of their throat in contempt. Pop the term “Yiddish glossary” in your search engine and you’ll find plenty of other words. Also check out The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten. Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex explores the evolution of the language and is worth buying just for the adorable cover photo.

Aliyah – an honor granted in the synagogue, such as reading from the Torah or opening the ark.

Alter cocker – colloquially, a crotchety old man

Babushka - a headscarf tied under the chin

Bashert - fate

Baleboosteh – an excellent homemaker

Bema – the platform where services are conducted in a synagogue

Bubkis – trivial, worthless. Literally, goat droppings

Faygeleh - small bird. Colloquially homosexual man

Flanken - a cut of short ribs

Forward – The Jewish Daily Forward, a newspaper launched in Yiddish in 1897.

Gonif – thief, criminal

Goyim. - plural for non-Jew

Halachic – in accordance with Jewish (Talmudic) law

Hock – “hak a chainik” or strike a teakettle. Colloquially, to talk nonsense or pester.

Kaddish – a prayer praising God. The mourner’s kaddish is said in memory of the dead.

Kibitz – to fool around and wisecrack

Kvell – to feel immense pride

Macher – big shot

Mishpucha - family

Momser – bastard. Often used affectionately for a clever person or scalawag

Pisher – young person

Putz – penis. Colloquially, a jerk or an easy mark

Rotseyekh - murderer

Schmaltzy – overly sentimental. Derived from schmaltz, or chicken fat

Shabbos – sabbath

Shammus – synagogue caretaker

Sheygits – non-Jewish male

Shmuck – penis. A jerk or bumbling fellow.

Shtetl - village

Shtik – piece. Colloquially, idiosyncratic behavior such as that used in a comic routine.

Shul – synagogue

Shvartzeh – female black

Shvitz - sweat

Tallit – prayer shawl

Yiddishe - Jewish