10 Yiddish Words You Have To Know

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Growing up in Europe, I was always surrounded by European Jewish culture. While I was still at university, I once found myself standing in the linguistics department’s library waiting for a friend to finish one of their classes. Browsing through some of the oldest books our alma mater had to offer, I quickly stumbled across a book written in Yiddish. It was a rather unexpected, yet very pleasant, surprise. I couldn’t help but smile. Back then, my university was only in the process of creating a Jewish studies program. Who would have thought that the very same day it was announced, I would hold a collection of Yiddish poetry in my hands?

Hearing, or reading, Yiddish words has always warmed my heart. There is something comforting and deeply familiar about the Yiddish language. As a fluent German and Hebrew speaker, it is not very hard for me to read through a Yiddish book in no time even if I don’t speak the language on a daily basis.

Feeling such a deep connection to the Yiddish language, I would be devastated if it would die out entirely or to only be analysed in academia by University students who are looking to find similarities with other languages and/or their decay.

Being one of the few members of our team having a fully Ashkenazi Jewish background, I want to share my ten favourite Yiddish words and expressions with you:

  1. ChutzpahChutzpah comes from the Hebrew word “חֻצְפָּה” and means “audacity”.
  2. GornishtGornisht comes from the German expression “gar nichts”, which means “nothing at all”.
  3. MenschMensch is the German word for “human being”.  
  4. Mishpoche  Mishpoche comes from the Hebrew word “מִשׁפָּחָה”, which means family.
  5. NoshNosh comes from the German verb “naschen” and means “to nibble”.
  6. Nu Nu comes from the German word “nun” and means “So?”.
  7. ShlisselShlisses from the German word “Schlüssel”, which means key.
  8. SpielSpiel is the German word for game.
  9. ZeeskeitZeeskeit come from the German word “Süßigkeit”, which means “sweet” (as in to eat a sweet) as well as “sweetness”. Zeeskeit ist a common word of endearment being used in the Yiddish language.
  10. Zei Gezunt Zei Gezunt comes from the German expression “Sei gesund”, which means “be healthy.”

Did you enjoy my personal favourites? Then how about adding a new hobby to your list! Your name doesn’t have to be Menachem Mendel for you to speak Yiddish. (No offence third cousin in a distant land!) Here is a great “Yiddish For Fun” course to look into. You will love it!

Not enough time to study Yiddish? No worries.

There is always a way to invite some Yiddish flair into your home …

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Photos: Courtesy of ETSY

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