My experience with Yiddish is limited to exposure to the odd word thrown around during Friday night dinner conversations at my boyfriend’s place. He’s Jewish, and since I’m not, he’s my translator. In fact, not long ago, I found myself in the attic of an antique shop in Victoria’s southeast testing his knowledge through the glossary section of a book I found. The attic itself was so strewn with books that you couldn’t set foot into it without standing on one. Said book caught my eye because of its stark white cover and huge black letters reading The Mazel Tov by Sarah Ebenor (also known as Bronwen Lichtenstein). Upon flicking through it, what struck me most about this book was that just like our dinner conversations, Yiddish words were every so often planted in the middle of grammatical English sentences.
Cross-referencing the meanings of these Yiddish words with the glossary provided, I realised the words were not only a substitute for everyday English phenomena, but they were also onomatopoeic, meaning that the words sounded like what they described and were even better versions of their English counterparts!
My favourite of these was schvitzing, meaning to sweat profusely and schlep, meaning to lug or carry something unwanted or awkward around (including yourself). I’ll also give an honourable mention to chutzpah (the ch is pronounced as an h), a Yiddish word that comes from Hebrew and means having the guts, cheekiness or nerve to do something that is perhaps against the norm or just downright silly. More commonly, words like bagel, glitch, klutz and schmuck have made it into the English language and there’s no doubt that you’ve been using them all along without knowing it.
Happy speaking Yiddish!