Posted by: episystechpubs | December 7, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Some Yiddish for Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah!

I’m pretty sure I shared some of these words with those of you who were with me since the early Editor’s Corner days. My apologies if there is repetition here. I stumbled on this revised version of 40 Yiddish words we should know (from Daily Writing Tips) and I thought it was a good time to look at the expanded list. Here are a few for you today, along with a note on pronunciation.

As in Hebrew, the ch or kh in Yiddish is a “voiceless fricative,” with a pronunciation between h and k. If you don’t know how to make that sound, pronounce it like an h.

1. bubbe
Or bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshi is the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.

2. chutzpah
Or khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpah often connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.

3. glitch
Or glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”

4. klutz
Or better yet, klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel. [KC – We will see schlemiel tomorrow.]

5. 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. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”

6. kvetsh
In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click”.

7. maven
Pronounced meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.

8. Mazel Tov
Or mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a 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 sponging off your parents.”

9. mentsh [KC – I have only ever seen it spelled “mensch,” unless you are talking about Menchie, the frozen yogurt mascot.]
An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.

10. nosh
Or nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagiarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself. [KC – Can’t say I’ve ever heard anybody use plagiarism in a good sense!]

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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