A combination of Hebrew, phonetics, Yiddish, and just general culture mush, here are some of the more classic and widely recognized Jewish words and phrases in alphabetical order:
- Bubbe or Bubbele means grandmother [in affectionate terms.]
- Bupke would be what my father mutters under his breath about a person who is useless or an idiot.
- Chutzpah is what someone has who is [slightly obnoxiously] confident, in other words doesn’t let politeness get in the way of their mission!
- Goy means a non-Jewish person. It’s also used in reference as Goyim or Goyish.
- Klutz Someone with two left feet.
- Kosher Is officially the term that references acceptable Jewish food traditions. These traditions include not eating meat that came from an animal with a pronged foot [i.e. pig] nor eating bottom feeders, i.e. shellfish, etc. but also include the rules to maintain a clean kitchen. These rules include keeping meat and milk separate, both in preparation and when eating, washing everything in your kitchen with fresh water [officially known as the mikvah] and preparing food with the utmost hygiene. However, ‘kosher’ is definitely a slang term that refer to any thing when not in order, as in, that’s not kosher!
- Kvetch is what my husband does all the time! It’s kind of a combination between complaining and whining. It’s pretty much defined in my house as anything that will drive you to put your hands over your ears and start singing ‘la la la I’m not listening!!’ just to get them to stop.
In popular English, kvetch means “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetsh literally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
- Mazel Tov means congratulations!
- Mentsh is a good person. Someone who really helps when you need them to, without any tit-for-tat.
- Meshugener is a crazy person, as in looney.
- Nosh means to eat, but more like a snack rather than a feast. I’d liken it to ‘graze.’
- Oy or Oy vey is an exclamation equivalent to ‘Sheesh’ or ‘Oh My!’ depending on how it’s uttered. My husband also sometimes say ‘Oy gevalt!’ if it’s a big Oy!
- Plotz means to explode, not literally but figuratively, as you would in a fit of anger.
- Shalom is used as an expression to say hello, but I learned from an Israeli friend that it actually means officially, peace.
- Shlep is what you do when you carry too much around, you shlep it. This could be anything from overpacking to the metaphorical, as in proverbial baggage.
- Schlock officially means low quality, as in crappy, but often is a slang reference for imitation stuff, anything from handbags to food flavorings.
- Shmooze or shmoozing is to butter someone up with compliments or to win a person over with witter banter.
- Schmuck is a jerk. I think it’s actually hebrew for male bits!
- Spiel a long-winded pitch, usually uttered by used car salesmen, not to be trusted!
- Shmutz is a little bit of dirt, usually on a person, as in a bit of mud on a kids face.
- shtick is the ‘thing’ that you’re known for, a gimmick or trick that defines your personality. It can be good or bad!
- Tchatchkes are little things that a person collects that others may see as clutter.
- Tuch [pronounced Tush] means your rear end. I tell my son Jack to sit on his Tuch all the time! My grandmother used to call it Tuchis. [pronounced Tu-kiss.]
Have I missed any? I’ll keep updating this list so please send me yours if they are missing! Thanks!!