Mozel Tov! Are you a Mensch, Klutz or Schmuck?

“How do you spell schlep?” said a colleague in the office the other day. “Why?” I replied. “Because I’m Whatsapping my friend to tell her I think it’s a bit of a schlep from the bus stop to the bar.”

Schlep or shlep, comes from the Yiddish word shlepn which means an arduous journey (from a bus stop to a bar) or to carry clumsily or with difficulty.

Yiddish, originally a German dialect with Hebrew words mixed with modern languages, is still spoken by about 200,000 fluent speakers living mainly in the US, Israel and Russia. But, of course, tons of Yiddish-origin words have made their way into the English language. These are a few of the clean ones.

Chutzpah: nerve, brazenness or cheek. In English it’s used to denote confidence

Dreck / Drek: junk or rubbish

Gelt: money

Glitch / glitsh: a slip or a nosedive. In English it’s used to denote a malfunction

Kitsch: gaudy or trashy

Klutz: A clumsy person

Kosher: Acceptable or right, often in reference to food. E.g. Lamb and beef is kosher but pork and shellfish are non kosher

Kvatch / kvetch: to whine or complain

Mazel tov: good luck or congratulations

Mensch: a good person or upright person

Nosh: snack

Schmuck: an idiot or foolish person

Shlep / schlep: to carry with difficulty or an arduous journey

Shalom: peace, a greeting

Schlock: cheap, shoddy or inferior

Shmaltzy / schmaltzy: sentimental or corny

Shtick: a routine or gimmick

Shmuts: dirt or mess

Spiel: a long-winded pitch or speech

Tuches: backside


Yiddish words in real life

“This comic has enough chutzpah to ignore the almost constant stream of interruptions.”

“While you can find great bargains at this pound store, most of what they sell is dreck.”

“There were still a ton of glitches in the software.”

“So you sell your grandad’s medals and go on your way rejoicing, with the gelt.”

“Everything on display was multi-coloured crockery, a ceramic graveyard of the most weird and wonderful kitsch I’d ever seen.”

“Not to kvetch too much about the food, the service and the table but…”

“Stop noshing. You’ll spoil your dinner.”

“In the latest loser-makes-good klutz comedy from the unstoppable Adam Sandler…”

“In my opinion this firm were doing things that just weren’t kosher.”

“A chorus of mazel tovs greeted the newly wed couple.”

“He is a familiar Apatow mensch, and somehow Rogen gets away with playing this guy over and over…”

“The show Wicked succumbs to a schmaltzy fairytale ending.”

“I schlepped down to the cash point and all the way back again.”

“There’s a load of schlock on TV at the moment.”

“Some poor old schmuck got it right in the eye.”

“Girls in tight tees are part of this restaurant’s unfortunate shtick.”

“In the art of the spiel, Texas Democrats can’t compete with Donald Trump (Editor’s note: Please try harder Democrats of Texas.)”

“Don’t just sit there on your tuchus! Help me set the table!”

For more on Yiddish language and culture, check out the brilliant Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex.

Check out these other posts on Indian words, French words, German words, Latin words and Polari.

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