Yiddish typewriter on display at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. (Wikimedia Commons)

Yiddish Words

A brief glossary of important and commonly used Yiddish words and phrases.

A brief glossary of important and commonly used Yiddish words and phrases.

Bissel (bisl)— A little bit, as in “I just want to eat a bissel right now.”

Bubbe (bubby) — Grandmother

Chutzpah —Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption, confidence, as in “It took real chutzpah for him to ask for a raise when he kept showing up late for every appointment.”

Daven — To pray

Klutz — A clumsy person


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Kvell — To experience pride in someone else, typically one’s children, as in “David decided to go into oncology, and I’m just kvelling.”

Kvetch — To complain, whine or fret, as in “He likes to kvetch at me when we serve kasha varniskes, because he doesn’t like it.”

Mensch (mentsch)— Literally “man,” an honorable, decent, stand-up person, as in, “I don’t care who you marry, as long as he’s a mensch.”

Meshuggeneh — Crazy, ridiculous, insane, as in, “He must be meshuggeneh to think he can wear that getup to a funeral.” (A related word is mishegoss, or craziness.)

Mishpocheh (mishpokhe, mishpucha)— Family, or someone who is “like family”

Nosh — To eat or nibble, as in “I’d like something to nosh on before dinner.” Can also be used as a noun to mean any kind of food.

Oy vey—An expression of woe, as in “Oy vey, we left the gefilte fish at the grocery store!”

Putz —A jerk, or a self-made fool, but this word literally means penis.


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Tachlis —Nuts and bolts, practical, concrete matters.

Tchotchke (tchatchke)— Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware.

Tuches (tuchis) — Butt, behind, sometimes shortened to tush or tushy.

Schlep — To carry or travel with difficulty, as in “We shlepped here all the way from New Jersey.”

Schmooze (shmooze)— Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular.

Schmuck (shmuck)—A jerk, or a self-made fool, but this word literally means penis.

Shande (shanda, shonda) — A scandal, embarrassment.

Shmatte — A rag or old garment.

Zayde (zaide)— Grandfather

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