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Practical Yiddish

When you make games you're working in the Entertainment Business, a business that has been around long before you ever entered it. I've been in it for over a quarter century and have always been fascinated at the amount of Yiddish spoken there and managed to pick up quite a bit over the years. And with the so-called "convergence" of Hollywood and the game industry, I thought it will help to know a little practical Yiddish that is spoken around Tinsel Town and, in fact, all over the entertainment industry.

What follows is a glossary of some practical Yiddish words and phrases that I've encountered over my many years in the game business. Remember, the limits of your language are the limits of your world.

Yiddish: An amalgam of medieval German dialects, Yiddish was first used in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe. By the 20th century over 11 million people spoke Yiddish.

Note: Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet thus the spellings in this glossary are transliterations.


Borsht belt: A term used by entertainers to describe hotels in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, with an almost entirely Jewish clientele, who are fond of borsht.

Boychik: A young boy (term of endearment).

Bris: Circumcision.

Broygis: Not on speaking terms.

Bubbee: A friendly term for anybody you like.

Bubeleh: Endearing term for anyone you like regardless of age.

Bupkis: Nothing. Something totally worthless. (Literally "Beans")

Chanukah: Also known as the "Festival of Lights," commemorates the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Chanukah is celebrated for eight days during which one additional candle is added to the menorah on each night of the holiday.

Chutzpeh: Brazenness, gall.

Cockamamie: Crazy; ludicrous

Drek: Human dung, feces, manure or excrement; inferior merchandise or work; insincere talk or excessive flattery

Faigelah: Bird (also used as a derogatory reference to a gay person).

Farkuckt (taboo): Dungy, shitty

Farshlugginer: Refers to a mixed-up or shaken item. Generally indicates something of little or dubious value.

Feh!: Fooey, It stinks, It's no good.

Gelt: Money

Gevalt!: Heaven Forbid!  (Exclamatory in the extreme.)

Glick: Luck, piece of luck

Glitch: A minor malfunction:

Goy: Any person who is not Jewish

Goyeh: Gentile woman

Goyim: Group of non-Jewish persons

Gunsel: A young goose. Also used to describe a young man who accompanies a tramp or a young tramp.

Ipish: Bad odor, stink

(To) Kibbitz: To offer unsolicited advice as a spectator

Kibbitzer: Meddlesome spectator

Kish mir en toches: Kiss my backside (slang)

(A) Kitsel: Tickle

Klutz (klotz): Ungraceful, awkward, clumsy person; bungler

K'nishes: Baked dumplings filled with potato, meat, liver or barley

Kolboynik: Rascally know-it-all

Kosher: Jewish dietary laws based on "cleanliness". Also referring to the legitimacy of a situation. "This plan doesn't seem kosher".

K'vetsh: Whine, complain; whiner, a complainer

Leck, shmeck: Done superficially (Literally, "lick, smell")

L'chei-im, le'chayim!: To life! (the traditional Jewish toast); To your health, skol

Mazel Tov: Good Luck (lit) Generally used to convey "congratulations".

Mentsh: A special man or person. One who can be respected.

Meshugeh: Crazy

Meshugeneh: Mad, crazy, insane female.

Meshugener: Mad, crazy, insane man

Mish mash: Combination, mess, hodgepodge:

Mitzvah: Good deed; a gift to help one in get started in their career or future

Moyel: Person (usually a rabbi) who performs circumcisions.

Nebbish: A nobody, simpleton, weakling, awkward person

Nosh: Eat, snack

Nudnik: Pesty nagger, nuisance, a bore, obnoxious person

Nudje: Annoying person, badgerer (Americanism)

Oi!!: Yiddish exclamation to denote disgust, pain, astonishment or rapture

Oi, gevald: Cry of anguish, suffering, frustration or for help

Oi, Vai!: Dear me! Expression of dismay or hurt

Petseleh: Little penis

Phooey! fooey, pfui: Designates disbelief, distaste, contempt

Plotz: To burst, fall over

Prost: Coarse, common, vulgar

Putz: Slang word for "penis." Also used when describing someone someone as being "a jerk."

Rabbi: Teacher

Rav: Rabbi, religious leader of the community

Reb: Mr., Rabbi; title given to a learned and respected man

Shikseh: Non-Jewish girl

Shiva: Mourning period of seven days observed by family and friends of deceased

Shlang: Snake, serpent; a troublesome wife; penis (taboo)

Shlemiel: Clumsy bungler, an inept person, butter-fingered; dopey person

Shlep: Drag, carry or haul, particularly unnecessary things, parcels or baggage; to go somewhere unwillingly or where you may be unwanted

Shlimazel: Luckless person. Unlucky person; one with perpetual bad luck (it is said that the shlemiel spills the soup on the shlimazel!)

Shlub: A jerk; a foolish, stupid or unknowing person, second rate, inferior.

Shlump: Careless dresser, untidy person; as a verb, to idle or lounge around

Shmaltz: Grease or fat; (slang) flattery; to sweet talk, overly praise, dramatic

Shmaltzy: Sentimental, corny

Shmeer: The business; the whole works; to bribe, to coat like butter

Shmendrik: nincompoop; an inept or indifferent person; same as shlemiel

Shmo(e): Naive person, easy to deceive; a goof (Americanism)

Shmooz; (shmuess): Chat, talk

Shmuck (tabboo):  Self-made fool; obscene for penis: derisive term for a man

Shmuts: Dirt, slime

Shnook: A patsy, a sucker, a sap, easy-going, person easy to impose upon, gullible

Shnorrer: A beggar who makes pretensions to respectability; sponger, a parasite

Shpiel: Play

Shtik: Piece, routine: a special bit of acting

(A) Shtunk: A guy who doesn't smell too good; a stink (bad odor) a lousy human

Shtup: Push, shove; vulgarism for sexual intercourse

Shule: School

Shvantz: tail, penis

Talmud: The complete treasury of Jewish law interpreting the Torah into livable law

Talmud Torah: The commandment to study the Law; an educational institution for orphans and poor children, supported by the community; in the United States, a Hebrew school for children

Tchotchkes: Little playthings, gadgets, ornaments, bric-a-brac, toys; the kind of cheap trinkets you'd pick up for free as a promotion item at a booth in a Trade Show

Toches: Buttocks, behind, fanny (ass)

Tsatskeh: Doll, plaything; something cute; an overdressed woman; a sexy girl

Tshatshki: Toy, doo-dad

Verklempt: Extremely emotional.  On the verge of tears. (See "Farklempt")

Vi gaits?: How goes it? How are things? How's tricks?

Vos iz?: What's the matter?

Yarmelkeh: Traditional Jewish skull cap, usually worn during prayers; worn at all times by observant Orthodox Jews.

Yenteh: Gabby, talkative woman; female blabbermouth

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement (the most holy of holy days of the Jewish calendar)

Zol zein!: Let it be! That's all!