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Jewish Guide

Jewish Words

Baleboste A home economist, a woman who's in charge of her home and will remind you of it.

Bissel or bisl a wee bit.

Bubbe or bobe It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the affectionate form. Bubele is a similar affectionate word, though it isn't in Yiddish dictionaries.

Bupkes Impolite company, Bubkes or bobkes may be related to the Polish word for "beans", but it really means "goat droppings" .It's often used by American Jews for , worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount" : less than nothing, so to speak. "After all I did, I got bupkes!"

Chutzpah Or khutspe Nerve, extreme arrogance, incompetent. In English,chutzpah translates to courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.

Feh! An expression of disgust, disapproval, similar to the sound of spitting.

Glitc or glitsh Literally "misstep," "glides," or "spill," which was the origin of the common American usage as "a minor problem or error."

Gornisht More polite than bupkes, and also referred to zero; used in phrases such as "gornisht helfn" (beyond help).

Goy A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, and the non-Jewish world in general is "the goyim." Goyish is the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.

Kibbitz In Yiddish, it's spelled kibets, and it's related to the Hebrew "kibbutz" or "mutual." But it can also mean verbal joking. It didn't originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else's game : that's an American innovation.

Klutz Improved, klots. Literally means "a block of wood," so it's often used for a dense, unwieldy or socially awkward person. See schlemiel.

Kosher Something that's acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also "eat kosher" on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don't eat : pork, shellfish, etc. : is called traif. In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, "That doesn't sound kosher."

Kvetsh In popular English, kvetch means "complain, whine or fuss" but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means "to press or squeeze.

Maven Pronounced meyven. Skilled, often used sarcastically.

Mazel Tov Or mazltof. Literally "good luck". Iit's congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean "it's about time," as in "It's about time you finished school and stopped living with your parents."

Mentsh An honorable, prudent person, an reliable person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.

Mishegas Insane or crazy. A meshugener is a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them," "How does it feel to be crazy?"

Mishpocheh Or mishpokhe or mishpucha. It means "family," as in "Calm you're mishpocheh. I'll sell it to you at a good price."

Nosh or nash To nibble; a small snack. Can also describe plagiarism, though not always in a bad sense; you knowing, picking up little pieces.

Nu A generic word that calls for a reply. It can mean, "So?" "Huh?" "Well?" "What's up?" or "Hello?"

Oy vey Exclamation of frantic , grief, or aggravation . The phrase "oy vey iz mir" means "Oh, woe is me." "Oy gevalt!" is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement.

Plotz or plats Literally means to explode, as in aggravation. "Well, don't plotz!" is similar to "Don't have a cow!" Also used in expressions such as, "Oy, am I tired; I just ran a marathon. I could just plotz." That is, collapse.

Shalom It means "unfathomable peace," and is a more meaningful greeting than "Hi, how are ya?"

Shlep To drag, something you don't really need; to carry unwillingly. When people "shlep around," they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I'm the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.

Shlemiel A clumsy, inefficient t person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his drink at a party.

Schlock Cheap ,shabby , or inferior, as in, "I don't know why I bought this hat as a souvenir."

Shlimazel Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom "Laverne and Shirley" remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.

Shmendrik A jerk, a dumb person, popularized in The Last Unicorn and Welcome Back Kotter.

Shmaltzy Excessively sentimental, flattering, over-the-top. This word describes some of Hollywood's most famous films. From shmaltz, this means chicken fat or grease.

Shmooze Chat, l talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to make an impression on.

Schmuck An insulting word for a fool, but you shouldn't use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.

Shikse A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of "young and beautiful," so referring to a man's Gentile wife or girlfriend as a shiksa implies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is most likely blonde. A shagetz or sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the meaning of someone who is unruly, even violent.

Shmutz or shmuts Dirt : a small amount of dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean foul language. It's not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, "schmitzig," means a "thigamabob" or a "doodad," but has nothing to do with filth.

Shtick Something you're known for doing, an entertaining , an actor's routine, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.

Spiel A long, sales pitch, as in, "I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted." From the German word for play.

Tchatchke or tshatshke Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or gift. It also appears in sentences such as, "My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke." You can figure that one out.

Tsuris or tsores Serious troubles. Plagues of lice, war, hurricanes, hail, death now, those were tsuris.

Tuches Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it's spelledtuchis or tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang wordtush.

Yente Female or gossip queen At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as "gentle"), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of "she-devil". The matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof" was named Yente (and she certainly was a yente though maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yentemeans matchmaker.

Yiddisher kop Intelligent person. Literally means "Jewish head."