The Top 10 Yiddish Phrases You Need To Know

Yiddish: a dead language, the voices of previous generations, a tradition. Not all Yiddish-speakers or scholars agree or disagree with these concepts, but Yiddish has been a language associated with Jews for generations.

Yiddish is a language that combines mostly Hebrew and German, among other influences. It was the language of Central and Eastern European Jews, and it has no boundaries of space or time. Some say it is a dead language, while others may still practice the tradition. Today, most people associate Yiddish with Orthodox Jews who speak it in their religious communities. Yiddish is essentially German-sounding with Hebrew letters as the characters. Though not as commonly spoken, it is still significant today because it represents a community of people that were bounded through this word of mouth.

But nowadays, have you ever wondered what your bubbe is complaining about as she rants on in half English, half Yiddish? Well in order to fully comprehend the gibberish, here is a list of the top 10 Yiddish phrases you need to know to make your grammy happy.

1. Oy vey

Definition: exclamation of fear, shock or excitement

This phrase is probably the most well-known Jewish phrase around the globe. “Oy gevalt” is another variation of the phrase.

Example: “The movie starts in 10 minutes and we haven’t left the house yet. Oy vey, we are going to be late.”

2. Meshuganah

Definition: crazy, craziness

This word is a common accusation among people who you just don’t agree with, or just a light jab about someone for doing something stupid.

Example: “Stephanie ate 15 matzo balls at Shabbat dinner last night. She is meshuganah!”

3. Goy

Definition: a non-Jew, often referred to as a gentile

Though hopefully rarely used in a derogatory way, this word distinguishes stereotypical Jews from stereotypical non-Jews.

Example: “He ordered a roast beef sandwich at Katz’s Deli instead of the pastrami. He must be a goy.”

4. Kvetsh

Definition: commonly understood in English as complaining or whining

This is probably the most used verb in Yiddish that people actually act out. I guess complaining about nonsense is just in our nature.

Example: “Grandma would not stop kvetshing about how hot South Florida is.”

5. Schlep

Definition: to carry an unnecessary item; to slouch

Basically, Jews like to complain, and this is just a particular opportunity to complain.

Example: “You brought an entire piece of luggage filled only with shoes, and now I have to schlep is upstairs.”

6. Mensch

Definition: someone who is a do-gooder, honorable, honest, genuine

Being called a mensch is a great recognition. If your parents made a resume for you, this would one of your top skills.

Example: “That wonderful mensch Jacob helped the old lady cross the street.”

7. Schmuck

Definition: a fool

This word is generally an insult for being idiotic, so use it wisely in others’ company.

Example: “Don’t be a schmuck and embarrass me at dinner tonight.”

8. Schmooze

Definition: chit-chatting with friends or guests, usually about nothing

At family get-togethers, beware of infinite schmoozing. When your parents say you will leave in five minutes that really means they will schmooze for another half hour.

Example: “Noah and I schmoozed at the party for over an hour.”

9. Shmutz

Definition: a little bit of dirt

Having some grime on you usually results in your mother wiping it off with a saliva-covered thumb. Hand sanitizer is a better option, in my opinion.

Example: “You have some shmutz on your face. I’ll wipe it off.”

10. Nosh

Definition: a light snack; to nibble

Noshing usually starts off as a light snack, but ends up becoming a meal after munching for so long.

Example: “Grandma said, ‘I’m not hungry, so I’m just going to nosh a little bit.’”


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