Many Yiddish words have entered American English. This is not only due to the influx of European Jews to America in the early and mid-20th century, but also because Yiddish is an expressive language, which can capture the essence of a situation in one word.
Yiddish is a Germanic language with many Slavic words mixed in. It is written using the Hebrew alphabet. Many Yiddish words entered common US English conversation due to the entertainment industry, via vaudeville, the New York Catskills/Borscht Belt, and Hollywood.
Though some Yiddish words have acquired a slightly different meaning when used in English, most are still near their original definition.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews explained, “We are witnessing a revival of interest by many non-Jews around the world in ancient Jewish teachings and life. At the core of it all was the ‘mama loshon,’ Yiddish. This was the world of the past which is mostly forgotten. Today, we are seeing a revival. But it will never ever be able to replace the music and soul that Yiddish conveyed for centuries. Unfortunately, that world was murdered in the Shoah [Holocaust].”
Here are 10 Yiddish words that you might be using without even knowing that you are speaking a foreign language.
- Bagel – a round bread roll made by boiling the dough and then baking. From the Yiddish word beygl.
- Chutzpah – In Yiddish, chutzpah has a slightly negative connotation, like audacity. However, in English, it can imply someone daring or having guts.
- Glitch – a minor malfunction.
- Klutz – a clumsy person, from the Yiddish word klots.
- Kvetch – someone who overly complains habitually, from the Yiddish word Kvetshn which means to press or squeeze.
- Lox, – cured or smoked salmon
- Mensch – a decent and proper human being.
- Nosh – a small snack
- Shmeer – a food spread like cream cheese
- Tush (Tushy) – the buttocks, from the Yiddish word tukhus