Marty Fiebert   Department of Psychology   CSULB 

e-mail:mfiebert@csulb.edu

 

GUIDE

TO SELECTIVE YIDDISH WORDS PHRASES1

 

A BI GEZUNT: So long as you're healthy. Expression means, "Don't worry so much about a problem, whatever it is. You've still got your health."

A BISELE: A little bit.

ALTER COCKER: An old and complaining person, an old fart.

AY-YAY-YAY: A Joyous, or at times sarcastic, exclamation.

BALABUSTA: The wife of an important person or a bossy woman.

BEI MIR BIST DU SHAYN: To me you're beautiful.

BERRYER: Denotes a woman who has excellent homemaking skills. Considered a compliment in the pre-feminist era.

BISSEL, BISSELA: A little.

BOBBEMYSEH: Old wive's tales, nonsense.

BOYCHICK: An affectionate term for a young boy.

BROCHE: A prayer.

BUBBA: A grandmother.

BUBBALA: A term of endearment, darling.

BUPKES: Something worthless or absurd.

CHAYA: An animal. "Vilda Chaya," a wild animal, is a term used to describe unruly children.

CHAZEREI: Food that is awful, junk or garbage.

CHUTZPAH: Nerve; gall, as in a person who kills her parents and asks for mercy because she is an orphan.

COKAMAMMIE: Outrageous, ridiculous.

DRECK: Shit. Can refer to the ugliness of objects or people.

ESS: Eat.

FARKLEMT: Choked up.

FAYGALA: A male homosexual. (literally, little bird.)

FERBLUNJIT: Lost, mixed up.

FERCOCKT: All screwed or messed up.

FERDRAYT: Dizzy, confused.

FARPITZS: All dressed up.

FERMISHT: All shook up, as in an acute disturbance.

FERSHLUGINA: Beaten up, messed up, no good.

FERSHTAY?: Do you understand.

FERSHTINKINER: A stinker, a louse.

FERTUMMELT: Befuddled, confused.

FRESS: To eat like an animal, i.e., quickly, noisily, and in great quantity. (Compare with ess, to eat like a human being.)

GANTSER K'NACKER: A big shot.

GAY AVEK: Go away, get out of here.

GAY GA ZINTA HATE: Go in good health. Often said in parting but can be spoken with irony to mean, "go do your own thing."

GAY SHLAFEN: Go to sleep.

GELT: Money.

GEVALT: A cry of fear or a cry for help. Oy Gevalt is often used as expression meaning "oh how terrible."

GONIF: A thief, a tricky clever person, a shady character.

GORNISHT HELFEN: It's beyond help.

GOY: Gentile (goyim is the plural, and goyisher is the adjective). Sometimes used in a derogatory way.

GREPSE: To belch.

GURNISHT: Nothing. Often used in a sarcastic manner, as in what did you get from her? Gunisht.

HAYMISH: Informal, friendly. A haimisher mensch is someone you feel comfortable with.

HOK A CHAINIK: To talk too much, to talk nonsense.

KIBITZ: To offer comments which are often unwanted during a game, to tease or joke around. A kibitzer gives unasked for advice.

KINE-AHORA: A magical phrase to ward off the evil eye or to show one's praises are genuine and not tainted by envy.

KISHKA: Intestines, belly. To hit someone in the "kishka" means to hit him in the stomach or guts.

KLUTZ: An awkward, uncoordinated person.

KOSHER: Refers to food that it prepared according to Jewish law. More generally kosher means legitimate.

KOCHLEFFEL: One who stirs up trouble, a gadabout, busy body.

KVELL: To beam with pride and pleasure, Jewish parents are prone to kvell over their children's achievements.

KVETCH: To annoy or to be an annoying person, to complain.

LE CHAYIM: To life!

LOCH IN KOP: Literally a hole in the head, refers to things one definitely does not need.

LUFTMENSH: A dreamer, someone whose head is in the clouds.

LUZZEM: Leave him be, let her or him alone.

MACH SHNEL: Hurry up.

MACHER: An ambitious person; a schemer with many plans.

MAVEN: An expert, a connoisseur.

MAZEL TOV: Good luck, usually said as a statement of support or congratulations.

MEESA MASHEENA: A horrible death. The phrase "a messa mashee af deer" means a horrible death to you and is used as a curse. Some have suggested that Masheena is the origin for the insulting name for Jews of sheeny.

MEESKAIT: A little ugly one; a person or thing.

MEGILLAH: Long, complicated and boring.

MENSCH: A person of character. An individual of recognized 9; worth because of noble values or actions.

MESHUGGE or MESHUGGINA: Crazy, refers to a more chronic disturbance.

MISHEGOSS: Inappropriate, crazy, or bizarre actions or beliefs.

MISHPOCHA: Family, usually extended family.

MISKAYT: Really ugly (for a person).

MOMZER: A bastard, an untrustworthy person.

MOYL: The man who circumcises baby boys at a briss.

NACH A MOOL: And so on.

NACHES: Joy. To "shep naches" means to derive pleasure. Jewish children are expected to provide their parent with naches in the form of achievement.

NAFKA: A whore.

NARRISHKEIT: Foolishness, trivia.

NEBBISH: An inadequate person, a loser.

NOODGE: To bother, to push, a person who bothers you.

NOSH: To snack. NOSHERYE refers to food.

NU: Has many meanings including, "so?; How are things?; how about it?; What can one do?; I dare you!"

NUDNIK: A pest, a persistent and annoying person.

ONGEBLUSSEN: Puffed up, as in an over-inflated view of oneself.

ONGEPOTCHKET: Messed up, slapped together without form, excessively and unaesthetically decorated.

OY-YOY-YOY: An exclamation of sorrow and lamentation.

OY VEY: "Oh, how terrible things are". OH VEZ MEAR means "Oh, woe is me".

PISHER: A bed-wetter, a young inexperienced person, a person of no consequence.

PLOTZ: To burst, to explode, "I can't laugh anymore or I'll "plotz." To be aggravated beyond bearing.

POTCHKA: To fool around; to be busy without a clear goal.

PUPIK: Belly button.

PUTZ: A vulgarism for penis but most usually used as term of contempt for a fool, or an easy mark.

RACHMONES: Compassion.

SAYCHEL: Common sense.

SCHLOCK: A shoddy, cheaply made article, something that's been knocked around.

SCHMALTZ: Literally chicken fat. Usually refers to overly emotional and sentimental behavior.

SCHMUCK: A vulgarism for penis, strong putdown for a jerk, a detestable person.

SHADKHEN: a professional matchmaker.

SHANDA: A shame, a scandal. The expression "a shanda fur die goy" means to do something embarrassing to Jews where non-Jews can observe it.

SHAYGETS: A gentile boy and man, also means a clever lad or rascal.

SHAYNER: Pretty, wholesomely attractive, as in shayner maidel (woman.)

SHIKSA: A gentile girl or woman.

SHLEMIEL: A dummy; someone who is taken advantage of, a born loser.

SHLEP: To carry or to move about. Can refer to a person, a "shlepper," who is unkempt and has no ambition.

SHLIMAZL: A chronically unlucky person, a born loser, when a shlimazl sells umbrella the sun comes out.

SHLUF: A short nap.

SHLUMP: A person with bad posture; also someone who is a bad dresser.

SHMENDRICK: A weak and thin pipsqueak. The opposite of mensch, a a physically small shlemiel.

SHMEGEGGE: A petty person, an untalented person.

SHMATTA: A rag, often used as a putdown for clothes of the unfashionably dressed.

SHMEER: To spread as in to "shmeer" butter on bread. Can also mean to bribe and can refer to the "whole package", as in I'll accept the whole shmeer.

SHMOOZ: To hang out with, a friendly gossipy talk.

SHMUTZIK: Dirt.

SHNOOK: A meak, ineffective (but still likeable) person.

SHNORRER: A begger, a moocher, a cheapskate, a chiseler.

SHNOZ: Nose. Jimmy Durante was known as the great shnoz.

SHTETL: A Jewish ghetto village.

SHTIK: A stick or thing. Often refers to an individual's unique way of presenting themselves, as in "She is doing her shtik."

SHTUNK: A stinker, a nasty person or a scandalous mess.

SHTUP: An expression for sexual intercourse, to "screw."

SHVITZ: To sweat, also refers to a Turkish bath house. A shvitzer means a braggart, a showoff.

SHVANTZ: A word for penis.

SPIEL: To play, as in to play a game.

TCHOTCHKA: An inexpensive trinket, a toy. Can also mean a sexy but brainless girl. The affectionate diminutive is tchotchkala.

TSETUMMELT: Confused, bewildered.

TSIMMES: A side dish, a prolonged procedure, an involved and troubling business, as in the phrase, "don't make a tsimmes out of it."

TSORISS: Suffering, woes.

TSUTCHEPPENISH: Something irratating that attaches itself like an obsession. She has a tsutcheppenish that is driving everyone crazy.

TUCHES: Backside, ass, "tuches lecker" means ass kisser, one who shamelessly curries favor with superiors.

TUMMEL: Noise, commotion, disorder.

UNGABLUZUM: To look as if one is going to cry.

VER CLEMPT: All choked up.

VUS MACHS DA: What's happening? What's up?

YENTA: A busybody, usually refers to an older woman.

YENTZ: Crude word for sexual intercourse. Also means to cheat or screw someone. Yentzer is the noun.

ZAFTIG: Juicy, plump. Can refer to food, ideas or people. A buxom woman.

ZIE GA ZIND: Wishing someone good health.

ZETZ: A strong blow or punch.

ZEYDE: Grandfather, or old man.

ZHLUB: An insensitive, ill-mannered person, a clumsy individual.

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1 This project was inspired by my daughter Deirdre's interest in her roots. The material, itself, draws on recollections of childhood conversations, input from friends and relatives and information found in Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish, and Arthur Naiman's Every Goy's Guide to Common Jewish Expressions.