Yiddish, a language once primarily used by Jews of Central and Eastern European descent, has become heard in more mainstream communities. Brought to many cultures via television shows like “Seinfeld,” Yiddish is a fun way to express unique feelings. Recently becoming more popular, schools like Columbia and Oxford have initiated Yiddish Studies departments. This language, passed verbally through generations is a wonderful means of expression, and a fun gift to give your children. So practice your “ch” sounds with a guttural throat clearing and read on.
When Yiddish is used to cope, it takes on a whole new meaning. Sarcasm reaches new levels, curses take on an enormous strength. Especially when you have little mimics, Yiddish might just be a better medium for cutting right to the point, without worrying about teacher notes coming home from school.
- K’nina hora – This is surely not how it is spelled, but certainly how it is pronounced.
Kein Ayin Hora is the real Yiddish spelling, and means “there should be no evil eye.” This is a surefire way to ward the curse off of anything. Is your child supposed to graduate with honors? Use this frequently when bragging about it. “Maggie is looking forward to her scholarship with Harvard. K’nina hora!”
- Shlep – To drag around.
Think, baby on the hip, purse, plus diaper bag, on a day-long field trip with your second grader. If you are loaded down like a pack mule and have a baby you still carry, you shlep all of the aforementioned around. Can also be used as a verb, “I have been shlepping the kids around all day; to school, then ballet, then ball practice.”
- Shvitz – To sweat.
Can be used to simply explain how hot you are, or to indicate seriousness of a matter, like “Tax season really had me shvitzing this year.”
- Chalish / Chaloshes – To pass out or feel nauseous.
Often used for days you are shvitzing heavily. Can also be used to show an emotional response (ex., “Thought I was pregnant with baby number five. My husband almost chalished when I mentioned it to him.”)
- Meshugeh – Crazy.
Go ahead, wave the crazy flag with this one! “Bist Meshugeh?” (Are you crazy?). Kids make you crazy? Use it with them. Mother-in-law have your making laps? Throw it on out there. Husband temporarily lose his mind? Flag him! Even better if said with a smile, like you are joking.
- Mishigas – Craziness, madness.
Dropping the kids off at daycare and they are short a teacher, one of the kids starts barfing, your kid points out she has just wet her pants, you are way late for work, and just noticed your shoes don’t match? Pure mishigas!
- A broch! – Oh Hell! And, in that vernacular.
Surely meant to curse whoever cut you off in traffic on the way to carpool. Not to be confused with a “broche,” which is a blessing.
- Gantze magilla – Big deal!
Whether someone is making a bigger deal than they need to or your neighbor stops you to tell a winding tale of all the neighborhood mishigas, they are definitely making a gantze magilla!
- Chutzpeh – Guts!
Inner fortitude. This can be a great compliment, noting that someone has a stand-out inner strength, or a put-down saying someone has quite a nerve. This term is parallel to it’s Spanish counterpart, cahones.
- Bashert – Destined.
A term used to remind yourself and others that whatever will be, will be. A term, initially used to mean that two people were meant for each other, has become more widely used to remind ourselves that we are not in control. “I hate that the car was wrecked, but at least nobody was hurt and we have insurance coverage. I guess it was beshert that we get a new bumper.”
Yiddish for kids
Speaking Yiddish with your kids, can soften a blow, add humor, or instill healthy fear. Sharing these funny, simple, and sweet terms with your children will give them a legacy vocabulary they can share with your grandchildren one day.
- Mamale / Tatele – “little mommies” for girls/ “little daddies” for boys.
A gender-specific saying, used lovingly with children when they mirror their same-sex parents actions. “You are such a mamale, carrying around her purse and babydoll.”
- Shayna Punim – A beautiful face.
While this could certainly be used sarcastically when your husband comes in from the yard, with his face covered with dirt, it is typically a loving response reserved for children, male or female, when they are being sweet. This phrase can also be used literally to describe someone with beautiful features.
- Narishkeit – Foolishness.
Very similar to mishigas, but more used in an excusatory sense. When your daughter is having a tantrum about her favorite jeans not being clean because you failed to do laundry last night between ice skating sessions, you would be well-versed to just tell her, “This is narishkeit! Perhaps you need a lesson in how to use the washer and dryer.”
- Oi Vai! –Oh Dear! Also written “Oy Vay.”
This popular term is the abbreviation for “Oi Vai iz mir!” (Oh, woe is me!, pronounced more like one word: “oyvaysmeer”). Feel free to use the full fledged version for a little extra gusto.
- Chap nit! – Back off (“no grabbing” or “mitts off”)
When your teenagers are circling the kitchen like vultures, while you are trying to finish dinner, “chap nit!” would be perfectly placed. When your “littles” are fighting over something in the back seat, reach back, take what they are fighting over, and sternly remind them, “chap nit!” This can also be used for an overly “touchy-feely” husband.
- Chazer – A pig.
The word “chazer” is used in the same way as pig, to either describe the animal or certain piggish behaviors. Easily used on your teenage daughter who eats so much your grocery bill went through the roof. It can even refer to your teenie-tiny who still enjoys overfilling his mouth. Note: This can also refer to a certain bloated feeling after you have eaten so much your pants have to be unbuttoned.
- Vilde Chaye – Wild Animal
This is the Yiddish form of “raised in a barn.” If your kids constantly wipe their noses on their freshly-pressed sleeve, leave the doors open or water running, speak with a mouth full of food, your child is exhibiting “vilde chaye” behavior. Go ahead and tell them: “I raised you better than this. Are you a vilde chaye?”
- Mentsh – Someone well mannered. Basically, the opposite of a vilde chaya.
When you want to give another mom favorable feedback about the character of her child, toss this one out there. “Your little boy is such a mentsh! My Susie said that he shared his lunch when she forgot her sandwich at home yesterday.” One of the highest compliments a mother can receive is to know that she is raising a real mentsh!
- Gei Avek / Avek! – Go away / away.
Typically used to keep kids away from something. Used perfectly when you are cooking in the kitchen and your kids get too close to the stove or when they run toward a mud puddle. Use in multiples for added drama, “Avek! Avek!”
- Tuchas – A rear end.
This one should be taught in Yiddish 101. Knowing how to say rear end in Yiddish helps remind children where your hand might land should they not stay away from the hot stove or mud puddle. This is also a cutesy term for a little round diaper tail. This word was the foundation of the word “tush” and can be used interchangeably.
- Patch – Pronounced more like “potch,” this means a spanking.
Used as a veiled threat when said in Yiddish, “One more time and I am going to give you a patch!” or “Do you need a patch on your tuchas?”
- Bubbe Maisse – Grandmother’s story.
This does not necessarily have to be a story told by someone elderly. Instead, it is a term used like “old wives tale.” A Bubbe maisse can also describe a fib or a long, drawn out story.
- Azoy? – Oh, really?
Used only for moments of the most sincere sarcasm. Perhaps, used after your child tells you a bubbe maisse.
- Tsores – Trouble, stress, grief.
This kind of trouble is synonymous with chronic stress, like a troubled kid or your spouse getting (yet another) speeding ticket. This is also a great term to guilt your children. “This talking back is giving me such tsores!”
- Naches – Joy, immense happiness.
Nothing that has to do with Mexican food. Actually, this means great joy, the kind only a new baby, a wedding, and a beautiful family gives. Our children can give us the deepest kind of naches.
- Gebentshed mit kinder – Blessed with children.
A great reminder to all of us who have the honor of having children. Deep in the familial framework of Judaism is the joy of having and raising children. Write this one down and stick it in your purse as a reminder!
Photo credit – Shopping Bags, Carousel, Story Time: Ashley Sisk Photography