I grew up hearing, using, and loving Yiddish words. Though the language is barely spoken anymore, many of its words and phrases have worked their way into the vernacular of many people (particularly Jews). Yiddish often has a way of describing certain situations in ways that English (and other languages, for that matter) simply cannot. So, for all of our benefit and use, here is an important guide to some of the best and most usable Yiddish words and phrases.

Mishegas: craziness, madness

Perfect for describing any situation in which you have no idea what is going on. For example, all my notes to study for finals before they’re organized.

Oy/Oy Vey: oh, oh no

Another incredibly useful phrase. Can be used any time, for any reason. Wifi isn’t working and you need to watch the next episode? Oy vey! You forgot you had a paper due tomorrow? Oy vey! It’s the night before your first final and you just realized you don’t know anything? OY.

Farklemt: distraught, extremely emotional

I tend to use this one when I’m feeling very out-of-sorts or all over the place. It’s really the perfect way to describe the average college student, particularly during finals. In other words, it is likely that we’re all pretty farklemt right this second.

Schmooze: talk, chat

This is one of my personal favorites. It’s so much more fun to say you’re going to schmooze than saying you’re going to go talk to some important people, right? It just sounds so much more exciting.

Schvitz: sweat

Another one that you’re bound to hear often. Good to describe that one time this month you actually got yourself to go to the gym. Or, you know, to describe walking up Cornell’s hills every day.

Chutzpah: audacity, boldness, nerve

Perfect to use to describe anytime you do something brave. Always aim to have more chutzpah. For example – it takes a lot of chutzpah to finally talk to that professor about fixing your grade.

Kvetch: complain, complainer

My parents have referred to me as this one more than once (all in good fun, but they’re right – I do have a tendency to complain often). “Kvetch” is perfect for so many situations, though. For most of the year, you’ll usually find Cornell students kvetching about the weather.

Mensch: honorable/decent person

This word is ideal to describe that person you look up to and want to emulate. They are amazing and a mensch, and you should try to be, too.

Shtick: trick, an act

The word to use to explain when someone has a very particular “thing” that they do. For instance, my shtick is being extremely organized (even though sometimes my room looks like absolute chaos – don’t worry, I always know where everything is).

Yenta: gossip/gossiper, busybody

I feel like this one can be used to describe many different people. Let’s be real, we all like to yenta.

Farblunget: bewildered, confused

The word to use when you’re just that: bewildered and confused. This is a good one to know, since it’s such a familiar feeling for college students. But don’t worry, have some chutzpah and you’ll get through it.

Schlemiel: awkward/unlucky person

Another good one to know. Perfect to describe that person you saw slip and fall on an icy sidewalk in the depths of an Ithaca winter.

And finally, for when you need a really good insult….

Gay kaken aufen yam: go poop in the ocean

I’m sure you can find a use for this one without me telling you.


So there you have it! Go impress your friends with your new, exciting array of Yiddish vocabulary. I’m sure they won’t kvetch too much.