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Yiddish Expressions Everyone Should Know

Language makes me smile, and sometimes laugh. Maybe you'll laugh, too!

Yiddish has been confusing people for a very long time.

Yiddish has been confusing people for a very long time.

What is Yiddish?

Yiddish is a hybrid language born in Eastern and Central Europe during the Middle Ages. It is comprised of German, Hebrew, and Slavic, with Romance language and other elements too.

The Yiddish language has pervaded other cultures so much so that the odds are high that almost everyone you have spoken with has used Yiddish at some point, perhaps without even noticing!

The following list is just a sample of the myriads upon myriads of Yiddish words and phrases used in everyday language... with a little Yinglish thrown in for good measure.

Yiddish Words and Phrases and Their Meanings

Alevay: (ah-le-VAI) May it be so; if only...; as if (ironically)

All right already!: It's enough!, Shut up!, I can't take any more of this!, an expression of exasperation

Jewish appetizing.  Looks appetizing, yes?  Just don't be a chazzer.

Jewish appetizing. Looks appetizing, yes? Just don't be a chazzer.

Appetizing: Not an adjective, this word refers to the dairy and fish goods of a deli (i.e. herring, lox, cheeses, etc.) but not meat. Traditionally served with bagels.

Ay ay ay!: This all-inclusive and eloquent expression can be used to signify regret, happiness, surprise, scorn, worry, admonition, rebuke, or congratulations. Just don't confuse it with oy oy oy!

Blintz: A thin pancake rolled around cheese or fruit filling, served with sour cream

Borscht: Beet soup, or cherry soup

Bris: Circumcision

Chak: (KHAHK) To nag.

Chazzer: (KHAHZ-er) A glutton; a cheapskate; someone who takes advantage of another person

Chutzpah: (KHUTZ-pah) Boldness, shamelessness, or absolute gall

Daven: (DAH-ven) To pray

Dreck: Cheap, worthless, trashy

Eppes: (EPP-es) A little, something, kind of. But it also can mean large, very, or remarkable. It can also mean perhaps or maybe, debatable, or inexplicable. (I don't know why people get so confused about Yiddish. It's perfectly clear!)

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Her and her fancy-schmancy necklace. Feh!

Her and her fancy-schmancy necklace. Feh!

Fancy-schmancy: (Yinglish) Overdone, pretentious, or trying to be classy but failing

Feh! (Yinglish) An expression of disgust, disapproval, or rejection good health: A common phrase to end statements like "use it...", "wear it...", "take it..." etc. It's used to signify favorable feelings of the lender to the borrower.

Kibitzer: (KIB-itzer) Someone who offers unwelcome advice, jibber-jabbers, fools around, ticks his nose in where it doesn't belong, or wastes time

Klutz: A clumsy oaf, or someone without grace

Kvell: To beam with pride.

Kvetch: Complain, whine

Live a little: Used when you are telling someone not to be stingy, or skimp on what makes them feel good.

Mazel: (MAH-zil) Luck

Mentsch: An honorable, decent person; someone to look up to

Mishegas: (MISH-eh-goss) Craziness

Oy! He's a real shtarker.

Oy! He's a real shtarker.

Ongepatshket: (UNGa-potch-gut) Overdone, in excess, or having far too many of.

Oy: Another expression-of-all-expressions. Use this to indicate relief, worry, joy, revulsion, awe, pain, shock, surprise, outrage, contentment, dismay, disbelief, concern, irritation, or irony.

Oy oy oy!: An expression of suffering

Plotz: To explode; to be extremely aggravated or infuriated

Schlep: To carry or be burdened by

Shtarker: Musclebound, strongman, tough guy

Sha!: Shh!

Tsuris: (TZUHR-is) Troubles, problems, worries or afflictions

Examples of Yiddish Curses

Some old standbys are:

  • He should have 100 houses, with 100 rooms in each house, and in each room ten beds each more luxurious than the last, and insomnia.
  • May he own a large shop stocked full of expensive goods! And what he has, may no one want; and what they want, may he not have.

But if you're looking for something a bit more up to date, consider these instead. I’ve whipped up a couple short modern-day Yiddish-style curses. Use them in good health!

  • She should have 1000 pairs of Manolos, and none of them fit.
  • Shall your smartphone's notification sound constantly... and may it be your mother.
  • May his posts go viral the day the Internet crashes.

How to Build a Curse, Yiddish-Style

The art of Yiddish curses originated in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, where even if the inhabitants didn’t have much, they still had their pride… and the desire to outdo each other, at least in words. Think of it as old-school dance-offs.

So the next time someone insults you, try thinking in Yiddish instead of flinging back a swear word or flipping them the bird. That’s too good for the schmendrick! Here’s how to build a proper curse, Yiddish-style.

It’s all about planning: for a successful curse, one must act as soothsayer. As the curser, you must lull the cursee into a false sense of security and pride, then hit 'em where it hurts!

Also, consider the insult you have received, and don’t overdo your response curse. Never throw out curses without reason, despite the possible fun. (That’s just bad karma!)

Again, my mother?  Oy oy oy!

Again, my mother? Oy oy oy!

What Do These Words Mean, Literally?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What does "boo boo" refer to, literally?
    • Urine
    • Bowel movement
    • A minor cut
  2. What does "l'chayim!" mean, literally?
    • To life!
    • To cheeses!
    • To Charles!
  3. What does "oy vey" mean, literally?
    • Oh, no
    • Oh, yes
    • Oh, joy
    • Oh, pain
  4. What does "mazel tov" mean, literally?
    • Good luck
    • Bad luck
    • No luck
  5. What does "mamaleh" mean literally?
    • Little mammal
    • Little mama
    • Little marmalade

Answer Key

  1. Bowel movement
  2. To life!
  3. Oh, pain
  4. Good luck
  5. Little mama


  • Rosten, Leo. Hooray for Yiddish: A Book About English. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982

For a wonderfully appropriate short story about Yiddish curses, read:

  • My Mother Was a Witch, by William Tenn (Philip Klass), 1966

Your pet, too?

So you want to learn Yiddish?


Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 25, 2012:

Hey, GC! I'm glad you liked the Hub... it was so much fun to write! :-)

Anna from New York, NY on July 25, 2012:

Oy! I didn't even know my vocabulary is so full of Yiddish words and I didn't know that it's a language that a mix of a bunch of European languages. This was a really good read.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 25, 2012:

Hi, teaches! My mom tells me that my great-grandma (my namesake!) made the best cherry borscht... unfortunately, I never got to taste it. Thanks for stopping by! :-)

Dianna Mendez on July 24, 2012:

Very clever! Learned some fun sayings. I recently had some Borscht soup at a friends house. Have to say that I thought I would not like it. I was so wrong. It is very tasty.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 24, 2012:

Hey, K9! Great to see you. :^) I hope your friend enjoys the hub. If he doesn't... well, let's just say you two can practice your curses together. HubHugs right back atcha!

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 24, 2012:

Yinglish! Hilarious! My real life is more than full of these Yiddish expressions on a daily basis. I am going to muster up some chutzpah and send this to a friend of mine who speaks more Yiddish than he thinks he does. He is a real mentsch, but oy, is he going to like this hub!


Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 24, 2012:

Thanks, Sashe! I'm glad you liked it! :-)

sashenikainderby on July 24, 2012:

Thank you for this article. I have read it all and found it very interesting. Now I can boast that I speak not two languages but three!! Good luck!!!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 24, 2012:

Hiya, Suelynn! Hahaha, Clever Katz. I LOVE IT!

Rereading my list though, I realize I have left off some of my favorites. I'll be updating tonight with those, and maybe examples on how to use some of the lesser-known words.

Great to see you and thanks for the smiles and the votes! :-)

Suelynn from Manitoba, Canada on July 24, 2012:

Hi Clever Katz... errr clevercat... LOVE the hub! Nothing is quite as expressive as Yiddish terminology. The Yiddish curses are the best and I love your modernised ones. :) Voted UP and across.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 24, 2012:

Hahaha! Once you start thinking in Yiddish for responses to insults, it's hard to stop. Its also totally fun! :-) Thanks for stopping by!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on July 24, 2012:

Wow, I did not know I spoke that much Yiddish. Very fun hub CC. I have a few people to try a curse on he he!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 23, 2012:

Thanks, Doc! I love words and language, so I figured I'd crack the spines of some of my reference books. :^)

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on July 23, 2012:

Funny stuff, clevercat! Yiddish is very expressive, and your new curses are good additions to the idiom.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on July 23, 2012:

Thanks, BB! I had fun thinking those up. :^)

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2012:

I love the Yiddish-style curses updated for the modern day—so funny!

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