Lessons from WJWE: Yiddish!


Just because school is out for the summer, doesn’t mean you can’t learn something new, right? Today WJWE brings you a lesson in Yiddish. A fun way to impress your friends! You probably already use some Yiddish in your everyday vernacular and don’t even know it. Oy!


Yiddish is a language used by Ashkenazi Jews similar to German, with some Hebrew and other Slavic languages thrown in for kicks. It is mostly filled with insults and loud expressions much stronger than English equivalents. How many ways to call someone an “idiot” does one need? Apparently a lot! Here are a few of my fave Yiddish words!

  • Baleboste: The ultimate Jewish homemaker – she cooks, she cleans, she fries latkes, and don’t you forget it!
  • Bubbe: Grandmother – Usually old, not cute and sassy like my Bubbe. Picture flapping granny arms.
  • Bubbeleh: Term of endearment, darling. Bubbe often calls her Grandkids “bubbelehs”.
  • Bupkis: Worthless or nada. As in, “I schleped you putzes all over town and I got bupkis for it!”
  • Chutzpah: Nerve. As in, “It took a lot of chutzpah for you to ask my boyfriend out!” (Not a compliment.)
  • Klutz: A clumsy person. As in, “That klutz knocked over my freshly made challah!”
  • Kvell: To beam with pride. As in, “Shlomo’s parents were kvelling when he was accepted to Cornell!”
  • Kvetch: To complain. As in, “If Mordechai had studied as much as he kvetched about the SATs, he would have done better!”
  • Mazel Tov: Literally means “good luck” but it is an expression used to express “congratulations”. I like to shorten it to Mazel!
  • Mensch: A good person who helps a brotha out. As in, “What a mensch you have been for schlepping me all over town!”
  • Meshugenah: Craziness. As in, “This ish is meshugenah!”
  • Nosh: To snack. As in, “Oy, vey, I can’t stop noshing on these delicious rugelach!”
  • Oy vey: An expression of dismay. As in, “Oy, vey, I can’t believe you ate all my rugelach!”
  • Oy gevalt: An expression of shock or fear. As in, “Shlomo failed his SATs? Oy gevalt, now he will never get into Harvard!”
  • Plotz: To collapse. As in, “I just ran all the way to Ess-a-Bagel to pick up bagels before they closed. I am so tired I could plotz!”
  • Putz: A vulgar word for a part of the male anatomy, or an idiot. Ironically it means both.
  • Schlep: To drag. As in, “I schlepped these bagels all the way from Bubbe’s, the least you could do is toast me one with some schmear!
  • Shlemiel: A clumsy person, similar to a klutz. As in, “You shlemiel! You knocked over my fresh out of the oven challah!
  • Shlimazel: Someone with bad luck. As in the person whose challah got knocked over! Fun fact: On “Laverne and Shirley”, they sing “shlemiel” and “shlimazel” in the show opening hopscotch chant.
  • Shmooze: To make small talk. You would often shmooze at a cocktail party.
  • Schmuck: See putz.
  • Schmutz: Dirt. As in, “You have a little schmutz on your face.”
  • Shtupping: To have sex with. I don’t think you need a sample sentence…
  • Tchatchke: A knick-knack, or a young floozy. Either way!
  • Yenta: A female gossip. As in, “She yaps non-stop about who is shtupping who. What a yenta!

There are so many more too! What are your favorite Yiddish words and phrases?



  1. says

    “Manischewitz” – what the rest of the world thinks is kosher food. As in – “Hey, so I went shopping in Wegman’s the other day, and the Kosher aisle was all Manischewitz stuff, what gives??”

  2. Bubbe says

    Oy vey, Rabbi Jody and I are so Verklempt – choked with emotion (German verklemmt = emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way) take that for a nice Yiddish word!!!
    Mazel tov dahlink on such a creative post!!!

    Your kveling bubbs

  3. says

    Love the thesaurus! Especially Shlemiel and Shlemazel! Hope you had a good 4th of July! Many people use words like putz and shlep. They don’t know they are yiddish words.

  4. Shaina says

    these are all good ones! I also like schmata (a rag or ratty clothes). And the body parts, usually referring to those of kids: punim (face, see also – shaina punim), pupic (belly button), tuchas (behind), pulkes (chubby thighs)