Happy Hanukkah: 8 great Yiddish words you should learn


dreidels-20347_960_720by Eric Ginsburg

1. Bupkes

I didn’t grow up in a bilingual household — family members littered their lingo so sparsely with Yiddish, that I often didn’t realize the shift. Now, a couple nights into Hanukkah 2015, I’ve got one stellar Yiddish word for each of the eight crazy nights, beginning with “bupkes.” It’s a noun, used to mean less than nothing, or a trivial amount.

2. Mishegas

Generally used in my house to refer to chaos or insanity, like a total cluster traffic jam. Related: meshugener, or one who perpetrates craziness. (See also: Donald Trump)

3. Shmendrick

I admit to never knowing what this meant, but I definitely remember my dad using it towards me more than once. Apparently it means a jerk or idiot. See, Yiddish can be a great way to insult your kids with them being none the wiser!

4. Tokhes

You probably know a handful of Yiddish terms, like shlep, schmaltzy, and schmooze. But how about tokhes (pronounced took-es)? It means butt. I’ve only heard it used literally rather than as an insult, but don’t let that stop you.

5. Kishka

This one’s a newbie for me, but I already love it. Kishka means guts or stomach, and I can’t wait for the next time I see Luke Kuechly tackle someone and praise the Carolina Panthers linebacker: “Ooo! He hit ’em right in the kishka!” It just sounds right. Also, dibs on this as the name of my forthcoming food blog.

6. Tsaytung

That thing you’re holding in your hands (or reading online)? It’s a tsaytung. Triad City Beat, the tsaytung of goys, menshes, shikses and schmucks alike! But not shmendricks, to be sure, though plenty of shayna punims (see below) are big fans.

7. Schvitz

To sweat. I prefer the English bastardization of the term, adding “ing” on the end. As in, my girlfriend and I can’t agree on where to set the thermostat, and now I’m practically schvitzing!

8. Shayna punim

Alright, this is two words, but nobody cares. (Oh you do? Fine, use this: “vashtimer” means bathroom. That might be useful someday.] A shayna punim is a pretty face, and I figured this list could use at least one compliment, right? Otherwise, relying on this list might land you with bupkes for Hanukkah.