The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Yiddish Word of the Day

Look for a new word added daily. New listings are marked NEW!

  • baleboosteh: “lady of the house” or housewife, especially if she is a very good housekeeper (e.g. “What a baleboosteh!”)
  • bissle: a little bit (might also be spelled “bissel” or “bisl.”)
  • bubbe: (or bobbe depending on where in the Jewish diaspora the speaker is from.) Grandma. Babushka means “old lady” or “grandma” in Russian and is also the word for an old-world headcovering that ties under the chin.
  • chazerai: junk food (literally “pig food”; chazer means “pig.”)
  • chutzpah: nerve or “balls.” The boy who kills his parents then begs for mercy because he’s an orphan has a lot of chutzpah. He is chutzpadik. (There is that Bach “ch” again.)
  • dreck: garbage, trash (“Who wrote this dreck?!  Who green-lighted this project”)
  • NEW!!!  haimish:  homey, inviting, warm; can also mean unpretentious and down-to-earth
  • kaynahara: This literally translates to three separate words: “no evil eye.” (Similarly, in Hebrew, “ken” means “no,” “ayin” means “eye,” and “hara” means “evil.”) This is said to ward off the evil eye resulting from realizing your family is healthy, your house didn’t burn down, etc. You might also hear “poo poo poo” which is supposed to sound like spitting three times, and is used in the exact same way. (There is a very old Jewish joke about a woman who asks a five year old, “What’s your name, sweetie?” and she answers, “Shayna maidelah (pretty little girl) poo poo poo.“)
  • mensch: a good person (usually honest, honorable, righteous, strong, dependable, but the overriding idea is of goodness.) A mensch can be male or female. I had a non-Jewish boss who once slipped out of a meeting to ask me, “My client just called me a mensch. That’s good, right?
  • NEW!!!  schmaltz:  chicken fat.  Yup, chicken fat!  It means corny or hammy.  Picture Bert Parks crying into his hanky as he sings, “There she IS, Miss Am-EEEERRRRR-ica.”  Very schmaltzy.  I have no idea why an overly emotive actor is compared to chicken fat, but there you go.  I remember both my grandmas storing fat in an old coffee can to harden it.  Maybe they cooked with it?  I don’t know.  I just remember it being something sort of scary and mysterious to find when you opened the fridge at Grandma’s.
  • schmatte: rag (“What a lovely dress.”  “This old schmatte?  It’s nothing.”)
  • shanda: disgrace, shame (“It’s a shanda!”)
  • shandehoiz: brothel, whorehouse (literally “house of shame”)
  • NEW!!!  shikker:  drunk.  Shikker is either a noun or an adjective:  a person “gets a little shikker” or a wino can be described as “a shikker.”  There is a cake called “shikker cake” that is made with rum.
  • vilda chaya: wild animal (usually used to describe unruly kids; “Stop running around like a vilda chaya!”) The “ch” is pronounced in the throat like the “ch” in Bach
  • yenta: nosy, talkative woman
  • zaftig: plump, juicy (calling a woman “zaftig might not seem like a compliment, but it’s not bad either.)
  • Advertisements

    4 Responses

    Subscribe to comments with RSS.

    1. jf palamara said, on November 25, 2010 at 2:28 AM

      I love this site.
      Other than the “Joy Of Yiddish” , are there any fun books on the subject you recommend?
      Frank p

    2. […] out my Yiddish Word of the Day page here: now with schmatte and dreck! New words are added all the time so make sure to come back often to […]

    3. Juliet said, on January 5, 2011 at 9:08 AM

      Hi Frank P — there is a new, updated version of the late Leo Rosten’s classic Joy of Yiddish.

    4. Anonymous said, on July 15, 2011 at 11:11 AM

      there is no word “kaynahara” its: “ayn-hara” (evil eye).
      “ken” in hebrew means “yes” and “lo” means no, maybe you mean “ke-ayn-hara” wich means “like an evil eye” or “as an evil eye”.
      and its not “poo poo poo” its: “tfoo tfoo tfoo”.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: