A Dictionary of Common Yiddish Words in English

Some of the Most Popular Yiddish Words

Plenty of Yiddish words have entered the English language over the years; sometimes words in the crossover are referred to as "Yinglish." Many of these Yiddish words have no direct equivalents in English. They capture the warmth, strong family connections and expectations, hardship, and an irony distinct to the Eastern European Jewish culture from which the language arose.

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What Does 'Naches' Mean?

jewish baby
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Naches (נחת) is a Yiddish word that means "pride" or "joy." Typically naches refers to the pride or joy that a child brings a parent. For instance, when a child is born, people often say to the new parents, "May your child bring you much naches." Or some may sarcastically comment on the heartache or disappointment a child is giving them, rolling their eyes and saying, "Such naches."

The "ch" is pronounced gutturally, so it's not "ch" as in "cheese" but rather "ch" as in "Bach" (the composer). Most people recognize the style of the "ch" from its use in the word challah.

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What Does 'Mensch' Mean?

Memorial stone reads "Bernard Plishuk, 1928-1999, Mench"
Best. Memorial. Ever." ( CC BY 2.0) by  benet2006

Mensch (מענטש) means "a person of integrity." A mensch is someone who is responsible, has a sense of right and wrong, and is the sort of person other people admire. A mensch shows up for her friends. In English, the word has come to mean "a good-hearted, dependable, solid person." 

Menschlichkeit (מענטשלעכקייט) is a related Yiddish word used to describe the collective qualities that make someone a mensch.

The first known use of the word "mensch" in American English comes from 1856. 

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What Does 'Oy Vey' Mean?

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Oy vey (אױ װײ) is typically used when a situation is causing exasperation or dismay. It means something along the lines of "woe is me." Often it's simply shortened to "​oy" and can be used just about anytime something is especially upsetting, shocking, or disheartening. ​

Extremely upsetting situations might elicit the stronger phrase oy vey iz mir (literally, "oh woe is me") or oy gevalt (אױ גװאַלד), which means "good grief" or "oh, God!"

The first known American English use of the word oy appeared in 1892.

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What Does 'Mazel Tov' Mean?

Groom stepping on glass during Jewish wedding ceremony
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Mazel tov (מזל טוב) is a Hebrew and Yiddish phrase that literally means "good destiny, stars" but is used to say "good luck" or "congratulations." Tov is the Hebrew word for "good" and mazel (the Yiddish pronunciation) is the Hebrew word for destiny or constellation (as in the stars in the sky).

When is the appropriate time to say "mazel tov"? Whenever something good has happened. If someone recently got married, had a child, became a bar (or bas) mitzvah, or did well on an exam, "Mazel tov!" is an appropriate and very nice thing to say. 

The term entered the American English language dictionary in 1862.

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What Does 'Chutzpah' Mean?

Guy with a mountain bike, jumping off of a jump.
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Chutzpah (from the Hebrew חֻצְפָּה, pronounced hoots-puh) is a Yiddish word that Jews and non-Jews alike use to describe someone who is particularly audacious, nervy, or has a lot of guts. Chutzpah can be used in a variety of ways. You can say someone "had chutzpah" to do something, or you could describe them as a "chutzpanik" and achieve the same meaning. 

The first known use of "chutzpah" in American English was in 1883. 

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What Does 'Kvetch' Mean?

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Kvetch (קװעטשן) is a Yiddish word that means "to complain" or "to whine." It can also be used as a noun to refer to someone who does a lot of complaining, as in the phrase, "Phil is such a kvetch!"

It likely entered normative American English speech in 1962. 

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What Does 'Bubkes' Mean?

Panel of Judges
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Bubkes (pronounced bub-kiss) is a Yiddish word that means something akin to "hooey," "nonsense," or "baloney" in the English language. It is also used to refer to something with little or zero perceived value, as in, "What did we get after all that work? Bubkes!" The term "bubkes" is likely short for kozebubkes, which literally means "goat droppings." The word also could originate from a Slavic or Polish word meaning "bean." 

"Bubkes" first entered American English around 1937. 

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What Does 'Verklempt' Mean?

Verklempt woman
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Verklempt (פארקלעמפט) is a Yiddish word that means "overcome with emotion." Pronounced "fur-klempt," people use it when they are so emotional that they're on the verge of tears or at a loss for words because of their emotional state.

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What Does 'Shiksa' Mean?

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Shiksa (שיקסע, pronounced shick-suh) is a Yiddish word that refers to a non-Jewish woman, generally in a context where she is either romantically interested in a Jewish man or is a Jewish man's object of affection.

It likely entered American English speech in 1872. 

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Your Citation
Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "A Dictionary of Common Yiddish Words in English." Learn Religions, Sep. 20, 2021, learnreligions.com/the-yiddish-word-dictionary-2076346. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2021, September 20). A Dictionary of Common Yiddish Words in English. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/the-yiddish-word-dictionary-2076346 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "A Dictionary of Common Yiddish Words in English." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/the-yiddish-word-dictionary-2076346 (accessed March 27, 2023).