22 March 2009

Idioms & Slang: Only a yutz would schmooze with a schmuck like him!

Yiddish words in American English

schmuck Yesterday’s post contained a link to an audio file where you could learn about the history of the Yiddish language as well as the influence this language has had on culture and and the English language in the United States. Today, let’s look at some very common idioms and words in American English that come directly from Yiddish’s rich linguistic heritage. What is quite interesting is that many of these terms are extremely strong and vulgar in Yiddish but the effect and meaning were often somewhat weakened in English (especially since the literal meaning has been lost to most American speakers of English with an exception of New Yorkers maybe) !!  In other words, we use these words quite frequently without even knowing their true meaning and origin. For other uses and meanings, look up the words at http://www.urbandictionary.com/ 

a bagel


a ring-shaped bread roll made by boiling then baking the dough. This New York specialty is a favorite of most Americans and eaten throughout the United States. It is often served with cream cheese (le fromage frais à tartiner).  See the Wikipedia article HERE.

bubkes (also spelledbupkis, bupkus)


of little or no value; absolutely nothing. This word in Yiddish literally means ‘goat droppings’ (les crottes de chèvre).'

EX. I put a lot of hard work into this project, and all I got was bubkes.

chutzpah (also hutzpah)


audacity, nerve (le culot) for good or for bad.

EX. “While American families struggle to keep their jobs and their homes, I question the chutzpah of asking for a $10 million-taxpayer-subsidized bonus,” Senator Reid said.

a glitch


an error in a structured system such as an electrical network or a computer program; a minor malfunction

EX. Services on dozens of Japan’s bullet trains were disrupted Monday due to a computer glitch, delaying more than 65,000 passenger.

a klutz


a clumsy person; a stupid person. In Yiddish, the word means ‘a wooden beam’ (une poutre en bois)

EX. That kid drops everything all the time, he’s such a klutz.



1. (slang) permissible, appropriate, legitimate, OK; 2. conforming to Jewish dietary laws. This word is used in two different ways in English: as a slang term and in its original meaning. Below are two sentences in its slang form.

1. EX. Sleeping with your girlfriend’s sister isn’t very kosher. 
2. EX. Is is kosher for John to come over tonight?

a putz


a fool or an idiot, a stupid person. In Yiddish this term is very vulgar meaning the male sexual organ! In English, it has been somewhat weakened but is still quite strong. It would be the equivalent of calling someone ‘an asshole.’

EX. Mike and Louise are such putzes. They keep compounding their previous errors and dumb moves with worse ones!

a schlong


the male sexual organ. This term is vulgar in both English and Yiddish.

a schlub


a clumsy, stupid or unattractive person; someone with an unkempt appearance. This Yiddish word in English finds its origins in Polish meaning ‘trough’ (une auge, un abreuvoir).

EX. He’s a nice enough guy but he is sort of a schlub. Look at how he dresses!

to schmooze


to make small talk or chat especially with an attempt to gain a personal advantage or a social connection. This Yiddish term for ‘chatting’ comes from the Hebrew term for ‘to gossip’ (faire de commérages).

EX. Let’s schmooze with the professor so he’ll offer us research projects.

a schmuck or a schmo


a clumsy or stupid person; a jerk. In Yiddish the term is very vulgar and has been weakened in English. Literally it means the male penis but more specifically, it refers to the foreskin, that part which is cut and thrown away after circumcision!

EX. My boss yelled at me for something I didn’t even do!! What a schmuck!

schnoz, schnozz or schnozzle


a nose, especially a large nose

EX. That guy has a really huge schnoz!
EX. Keep your schnoz out of my business!

a schtick


1. a comic act; 2. a gimmick (un truc ou une manoeuvre futée) 3. a devious trick, a bit of cheating

1. EX. At last night’s talent show, he did a really funny schtick.
2. EX. Waiters in tropical clothes are part of the restaurant’s schtick.
3. EX. You believed him? How did you ever fall for a schtick like that?

tush or tushy


butt, rear end. This is a very common word in American English!

EX. Jennifer Lopez has a nice tush.

a yutz


an idiot, a stupid person.

EX. You mean I also have to get this document before they give me access!! What yutz thought up this stupid requirement!

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