yiddish spelled out in colorful letters

10 Yiddish Words That Went Mainstream

Even as fewer American Jews spoke Yiddish at home, various Yiddish words and phrases were adopted into the American lexicon.

When Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, they brought with them the Yiddish language. Over time, fewer of them spoke Yiddish at home, but many Yiddish words and phrases came into use by Americans generally, both Jewish and not.


Klutz: A clumsy or awkward person

Origin: From the Yiddish word klots, meaning “wooden beam”

Usage: “I’m such a klutz I tripped over my own shoelaces.”


Nosh: A light snack

Origin: From the Yiddish nashn, meaning “nibble”

Usage: “I’m not hungry enough for dinner, but I could go for a nosh.”


Schmooze: To chat lightly

Origin: From the Yiddish shmuesn, meaning “conversation”

Usage: “Thanks for inviting me to Shabbat dinner, I loved schmoozing with your college friends.”


Tchotchke: A small item of little value

Origin: From the Yiddish tchatchke, meaning “trinket”

Usage: “Eh, throw it in the tchotchke drawer with the other magnets.”


Schmutz: Dirt or dust

Origin: From the Yiddish schmutz, meaning “dirt”

Usage: “Take your shoes off, you’re tracking schmutz all over the carpet.”


Maven: An expert or connoisseur

Origin: From the Hebrew mayveen, meaning “understand”

Usage: “She’s a social media maven; she has 3 million followers!”


Shtick: An act, or a gimmick, often relating to comedy

Origin: From Yiddish word schtik, meaning “thing”

Usage: What shtick was your favorite at the sketch comedy show last night?


Spiel: An involved story or tale

Origin: From the Yiddish word schpiel, meaning “game” or “play”

Usage: “I had to listen to this guy’s whole spiel about why he didn’t want whole milk in his coffee.”


Zaftig: Curvaceous or plump

Origin: From the Yiddish word zaftik, meaning “juicy”

Usage: The actress playing the lead role was a zaftig blonde.


Putz: An obnoxious or foolish person

Origin: From the Yiddish word potz, meaning penis

Usage: “What a putz! He backed into my car and didn’t even leave a note.”

 

Discover More

Yiddish: What You Should Know

An overview of the grammar — and the many ways this Jewish language differs from Hebrew.

The History of Yiddish

Yiddish originated in Germany, but was eventually spoken by Jews all over Europe.

How to Learn Yiddish

A guide to courses, tools and programs for mastering the 'mamaloshen.'