For the uninitiated, Yiddish is a language derived in part from German, and in my family, often used by the older generation to say things they didn’t want the kids to understand. Yiddish is undergoing a revival of sorts lately, spurred on by a younger generation exploring their Jewish roots and by the Yiddish Theater. There was even a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish a couple years back in New York.) I, for one, am very glad for this revival. Doing my little bit to keep Yiddish alive is one way I connect with my ancestors. Plus, they have some creative curses, and it’s always fun to learn how to curse in another language. I do not know why. Also, spelling varies, depending on your source, because the language is phonetic. So don’t blame me if your bubbe spells it differently.
Alta cockers: old men
Babka: a type of leavened cake
Basar bechalav: against kosher law
Boychik: an endearment for a young man or male friend
Chuppah: a canopy under which a Jewish couple is married
Chutzpah: nerve, daring
Ey krem: egg cream
Goniff: bad guy
Goyische: not Jewish
Hadassah: an organization that raises money for various causes
Kaddish: a prayer for the dead
Kibitz: stick your two cents in
Kishkes: colloquially, guts.
Macher: big shot
Mamaleh: an endearment for mother, wife, daughter…literally “little mother.”
Megillah: the whole thing
Mishegas: craziness, shenanigans
Mishpachah: family, including extended family
Nu: equivalent to using “right?” or “you see?” or “you get me?” (or whatever) at the end of a sentence
Pisher: used for an annoying or insignificant person, commonly referring to irritating kids.
Schlemiel: stupid, awkward, or unlucky person
Schmuck: exactly what you think it means
Shayna maidel: beautiful girl
Shiva: traditional Jewish mourning ritual
Shtetl: typically an old-country village
Tateleh: An affectionate name for a child. Grown men do not like being called this by their mothers.
Traif: not kosher
Zei gezunt: go and be well (literally “go with God”)