20 Yiddish Slang Words European Jews Remember From Childhood
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20 Yiddish Slang Words European Jews Remember From Childhood

My mother calls any sort of insignificant piece of clothing or cleaning rag in the house shmatteh; it is all just scraps to her!

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20 Yiddish Slang Words European Jews Remember From Childhood
In Geveb

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is Thursday, September 21st; are you ready to be kissed on the lips by your grandma? Criticized by your aunts about your sex life? And hit on by your second, third, and fourth cousins? Most likely your answers to these rhetorical questions are "no." However, before you stuff your face with food so that you are chewing Gefilte fish the entire night and are unable to converse, know that you can distract your nosy family with your new knowledge of 20 Yiddish words and sayings!!!

I grew up in a Russian Jewish household where screams of hilarious Yiddish insults and curses would bounce off each corner of the walls and rebound against the slanted mezuzah*, the numerous menorahs*, and the neatly lined Kiddush* cups. Hopefully, you recognize these from your childhood or even the English language!


1. "As long as you're healthy" - Abi Gezunt

And as long as you are healthy, you can be happy.

2. Anything worthless - Shmatteh (literally translates to "rag")

I guarantee that you will understand the humor to this picture above if you've grown up in a European Jewish household. My mother calls any sort of insignificant piece of clothing or cleaning rag in the house shmatteh; it is all just scraps to her!

3. Groan - Ech (Of Disgust) / Oy, Vai! (Of Distress)

At any sign of disgust, you will hear an "ech!" This is where the deep-throated groans can be heard. I, myself, use "oy, vai" every chance I get; it definitely has been inscribed into my tongue.

4. "Very little" - A Biseleh

Tsk, tsk. Anytime I eat it's always a biseleh! Everyone in my family always scolds the amount even if it's three plates full! I swear it will never be enough food for them!

5. "May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground" - Vaksn Zolstu Vi A Tsibele Mitn Kop In Dr'erd

How rude?! Yiddish swears are odd; as an eccentric European Jew, I can say that my family and I are just kooky.

6. Crazy antics - Meshugahss

Anytime my self-esteem weakens and I start to complain about minuscule aspects about myself, my family always announces, "Here she goes with her meshugahss again!"

7. Beet soup - Borsht

My mom loves to introduce borscht to new people, so come on over! It is a popular Eastern European dish that is served hot or cold.

8. A**-licker - Toches-Lecker

No one ever wants to be called a toches-lecker! It is quite taboo among the Yiddish swears.

9. "To life!" - L'chei-im!

Mazel Tov! Cheers! L'chei-im! This is what you will hear when the family is around the table giving toasts.

10. "Go jump in a lake!" - Nem Zich a Vaneh!

I mean why not?! Next time your uncle starts to drink too much and commences to retell the same old story about when he beat your dad in a soccer game when they were in middle school yell at him to "nem zick a veneh!"

11. Living high off the hog! - Lebst a Chazerishen Tog!

No caption needed. I know that my family and I are always living lebst a chazerishen tog!

12. "Don't bother me!" - Tshepeh Zich Nit Tsu Mir! (literally translates to "Don't attach yourself to me!)

It's logical when you think (deeply) about it!

13. Ungraceful person - Klotz

This is almost equivalent to the English word "klutz!" My mom loves to call me a klotz because I'm known for walking into walls, falling off chairs, and tripping on flat surfaces.

14. To designate disbelief/distaste - Phooey!

My dad is a germaphobe. Thus, if you walk into the house without washing your hands first, trust me, you will get "phooy-ed."

15. Really a bargain! - Shoyn Ainmol A' Metsei-eh!

Well, Jews are known for keeping their money close to their hearts!

16. "Don't get excited!" - Se Brent Nit! (literally translates to "It's not on fire!")

Don't worry your mother like that! If it's not burning in flames, you really shouldn't be THAT excited!

17. No-good person - Nishgutnick

I'm laughing as I think back to the times my mom or dad used this to describe a rude individual on the streets of New York.

18. A self-made fool - Shmock

My entire family uses this word way too often. Whether my dad is being a shmock as he hits his head against the car door, my brother is being a shmock as he complains he is too lazy to make his own food, I am being a shmock as I trip on air, my mom is being a shmock as she cuts her finger with a knife, or even my dog being a shmock when he bumps into glass doors.

19. "Kiss my behind!" - Kush Mich In Toches!

Oh my! This curse has been thrown around a few times, and it always seems to generate a giggle rather than a frown.

20. "God will it!" - Alivei! Halevai!

Isn't it just a blast to scream?!

*Mezuzah: Jewish households have a door post inscribed with religious texts to display their faith.

*Menorah: A branched candlestick, usually seven or nine lights, used in Jewish worship.

*Kiddush: The head of a Jewish household will say this prayer over a full cup of wine.

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