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.”
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.’”