Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No need to noodge (nag)! A little Yiddish couldn't hurt!

A headline from today's Washington Post: "The Audacity of Chutzpah"

"It took a bit of chutzpah [for Princeton professor Dan Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel] to play the anti-Semite for Obama -- but these are tense times for the senator from Audacity."

Please forgive such chutzpah (nerve, gall, supreme self-confidence) from a goy (gentile) like me, but here are some Yiddish words that are now pretty much a part of the English language -- we should be so lucky!

schlub (shlub) noun (also spelled as zhlub or zhlob) A clumsy oaf. [From Polish zhlob (blockhead, trough, manger).]
"This is ... the comedy of the schlub on the barstool who wonders when it all went wrong." Allan Brown; The Joke's Wearing a Bit Thin; The Sunday Times (London, UK) Jun 18, 2006.

All this schmagoogle (big to do) over Yiddish reminds us of the difference between a schlemiel (an unlucky bungler) and a shlemazl (an even more unlucky bungler). A schlemiel jumps out a window. He lands on the shlemazl.

Other Yiddishisms in the "sch" part of the dictionary: A schmo is a fool or a jerk, as is a schmuck. (Both actually refer to a certain body part.)

Schlock is low-quality merchandise, which some poor schnook (a stupid or unimportant person) has to schlepp (drag or haul) because some schnorrer (a beggar, or someone who wheedles others into supplying his wants) got him to do it.

A comedian does his shtick (entertainment routine). A salesmen has his spiel. A shiksa (a non-Jewish girl) might be referred to as "a stick with eyes" in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story.

Albert Einstein sailed a small boat on the north shore of Long Island called Tinif, which is Yiddish for "junk." (He often got hit on the head by the boom when he came about.)

Then there are the "k-" Yiddishisms, like kvell (swell with pride) or kvetch (complain). Whatever you do, don't kibitz (offer unwanted advice) at a chess game. Enough already!

This mishigas (craziness) is giving me shpilkes (nervous energy) and may turn me into a meshugine (a crazy person). For a list of common Yiddish words, click here.

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