Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lost language

Like you, I assume, holidays make me nostalgic for loved ones who are no longer with us. I have written countless times about my grandmother, whose house I was at every Friday night until I was 15 years old, when she became too sick to cook. I was the youngest, so my brothers and cousins and parents and aunt were with her much more than I was for many more Sabbath and holiday dinners. Still the memory of her is so vivid in my mind. Specifically the the smell of her house (matzah ball soup – even when it wasn’t cooking) and her language of choice – Yiddish.

I have learned to recreate her matza ball soup, each batch more authentic than the last. I made it for my second seder (passover meal) on Thursday and it tasted almost exactly like hers except cooked probably with a little less heart and soul.

What I can’t recreate is Yiddish as the lexicon of expression within my family and my surroundings. Remnants of this Hebraic-European-Germanic language can be found on Seinfeld, Woody Allen movies and even on the Daily Show. But as a language goes, it’s not spoken much anymore except in very small ultra-religious circles.

In college, I had the opportunity to study it, but instead minored in Modern Hebrew, a language which after studying since the age of 6, I have still failed to somehow master. Perhaps, even though I travel to Israel all of the time, perhaps even though I love the country and her people, the Hebrew language doesn’t grab me emotionally like Yiddish. Or maybe they are just different: like comparing hummus to cholent.

So, I thought this fifth night of Passover I would write down some Yiddish phrases that I used to hear a lot as a kid and do not hear much anymore. Yiddish was written using Hebrew letters, so pardon my transliteration. Also, I do not actually speak Yiddish, so there may be some inaccuracies due to phrases being out of context. Feel free to add your own in the comments section, or add phrases in the tongue of your grandparents’ native tongue that have been lost in the amalgamation of language.

[so I tried to do this and I couldn’t. I had to cheat. I knew there were so many words that I just couldn’t retrieve. And then I went to and it blew my mind. All of the sudden, all of these words from my childhood came back to me. Not everything was there, but I copied and pasted from this web site what I remembered. What a trip! Now I understand why my friends would come over and say, "I have no idea what your family is saying half the time." Full credit goes to Rabbi Dan S. Wiko, PhD, and his glossary. I only included the words that I remembered hearing during my childhood. His web site has many more. Also note, all the words used in American popular culture. One more thing: I left out some of the more offensive phrases my grandparents used to say.]

A brocheh - A blessing
A chazer – a pig
Meshugeneh - Mad, crazy, insane female.
Meshugener - Mad, crazy, insane man
A langer lucksh- a tall, skinny guy
A volf farlirt zayne hor, ober nit zayn natur - A wolf loses his hair but not his nature. "A leopard cannot change his spots."
Alef-bais - Alphabet; the first two letters of the Jewish alphabet
Alevei! - It should happen to me (to you)!
Alter Kocker - An old man or old woman.
Az och un vai! - Tough luck! Too bad! Misfortune!
Bashert - Fated or predestined
Bentsh - To bless, to recite a blessing
Bentshen lecht - Recite prayer over lit candles on Sabbath eve or Holy Day candles
Boychik - Young boy (term of endearment)
Bupkis - Nothing. Something totally worthless (Lit., Beans)
Chazzer - A pig (one who eats like a pig)
Chochem - A wise man (Slang: A wise guy)
Derech erets – Respect
Drai mir nit kain kop! - Don't bother me!
Drek - Human dung, feces, manure or excrement; inferior merchandise or work; insincere talk or excessive flattery
Emes - The truth
Shpilkes – The condition of not being able to sit still
Faigelah - Bird (also used as a derogatory reference to a gay person)
Farklempt - Too emotional to talk. Ready to cry.
Farkakte (taboo) - Dungy, shitty
Farshtaist? - You understand?
Feh! - Fooey, It stinks, It's no good
Fressing – Making something almost too good, going crazy over something.
Gai gezunterhait! - Go in good health
Gevalt! - Heaven Forbid!
Gut Shabbos - Good Sabbath
Gut Yontif - Happy Holiday
Ich darf es vi a loch in kop! - I need it like a hole in the head!
Ich hob dir lieb - I love you!
Kaporeh, (kapores) - Atonement sacrifice;
Kaynahorah - the evil eye
Ketzele – Kitten
(To) Kibbitz - To offer unsolicited advice as a spectator
Kibbitzer - Meddlesome spectator
Knish (taboo) – Vagina
Kurveh - Whore, prostitute
Lantsman - Countryman, neighbour, fellow townsman from "old country".
Lig in drerd! - Get lost! Drop dead! (Lit., Bury yourself!)
Lokshen – Noodles
Macher - big shot, person with access to authorities, man with contacts.
Mameleh - Mother dear
K'vetsh - Whine, complain; whiner, a complainer
Mashugga – Crazy
Mechutonim - In-Laws (The parents of your child's spouse)
Mentsh - A special man or person. One who can be respected.
Meshpokha - Extended family
Meshugass - Madness, insanity, craze
Meshugeh - Crazy
Mieskeit - Ugly thing or person.
Nebach - It's a pity. Unlucky, pitiable person.
Nebbish - A nobody, simpleton, weakling, awkward person
Neshomeh - Soul, spirit
Nosh – Snack
Nudnik - Pesty nagger, nuisance, a bore, obnoxious person
Oi vai iz mir! - Woe is me!
Oysgeputst - Dressed up, overdressed; over decorated
Patsh - Slap, smack on the cheek
Pipek - Navel, belly button
Ponem - Face
Poo, poo, poo - Simulate spitting three times to avoid the evil eye
Potchke - Fool around or "mess" with
Pulke - The upper thigh
Rachmones - Compassions, mercy, pity
Saykhel - Common sense
Shaineh maidel - pretty girl
Shandeh - Shame or disgrace
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
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
Shmatteh - Rag, anything worthless
Shmendrik - nincompoop; an inept or indifferent person; same as shlemiel
Shmo(e) - Naive person, easy to deceive; a goof (Americanism)
Shmuck (tabboo) - Self-made fool; obscene for penis: derisive term for a man
Shtik drek (taboo) - Piece of shit; shit-head
Tachlis - Practical purpose, result
Tateh, tatteh, tatteh, tatteleh, tatinka, tatteniu - Father, papa, daddy, pop
Tateh-mameh, papa-mama – Parents
Tsores - Troubles, misery
Um-be-shrien - God forbid! It shouldn't happen!
Utz - To goad, to needle
Ver vaist? - Who knows?
Vos hob ich dos gedarft? - What did I need it for?
Zaftik - Pleasantly plump and pretty. Sensuous looking (Lit., juicy)
Zoineh – Prostitute
Kutz- something little
Zei gezunt en laben longiyurn and sheyn vaksen (what my Bubbie used to say after we sneezed)


Ruth said...

Yiddish is a part of ;ewish hearts. Thanks for the lesson update. I miss Bubbie n Zadie too

Eric said...

I always wondered what "Kakumen en shpiel em off" meant. I thought it was something like, don't worry about it and screw him!

Don't forget

Shmeer - I hear it used at einsteins as something you spread like cream cheese, but I think it also was like greasing the wheel with a politician, not a bribe but a gift.

Tuchas - Butt

Shagetz/Shiksa - non-jewish male/female, particularly when your relative is dating or married to one

scarpetta said...

I'll post more as I think of them.


scarpetta said...

plotz- to like go around without a specific purpose, plotz around the house.

Norman said...

A bissel - a little (bit)

dirk1 said...

gornisht: like bupkis

Amy Y said...

Faigelah - I always thought this was like a baby cradle? Maybe it's a similar word. My grandma used to sing a song with this word and I thought it had to do with "in ___'s cradle"

She would also say "kunnah hurrah" which I think roughly translated to "good appetite". When I was little and kept eating and eating she'd say this - kind of a 'may you always have this much food to keep you nourished'.