Common Yiddish Words: Defined and Explained


Yiddish speakers love to schmooze – or to shoot the breeze, that is. Shmoozing is simply chatting, and doesn’t carry a positive or negative connotation. But if you’re dubbed a shmoozer, you’re someone who just sits around and talks all day without doing anything productive with your time.


If you know a Yiddish speaker, you’ve probably heard her complain about the mishigas in the world these days. The word mishigas literally means “craziness,” and it refers to anything that the speaker thinks is ineffective or over the top.


Have you ever been to a party with a bunch of Yiddish speakers? If so, odds are you heard plenty of them shouting “L’ayim” as they made a toast. The word L’ayim literally means “to life,” and it is a blessing of hope that the people at the party will enjoy a long and happy life. In fact, this word has even been used as a noun, as in “Let’s have a couple of l’ayims, shall we?”


The term “balabusteh” is one of the most complimentary terms that a housewife can receive. Although it literally means “mistress of the house,” it connotes a good cook who makes everyone feel welcome.


This term has possibly become the most accepted Yiddish word in the English language. If someone has utzpah, they have the gall to say or do something that no one else would dare to. Interestingly enough, the original Yiddish word has a mostly negative connotation, and utzpah usually referred to “talking back to your elders” or “disrespecting others’ property.”


In the Yiddish-speaking world, family has always been a central and essential component. The word mishpoeh, meaning “family,” carries with it a feeling of security and well-being.


Has your Bubby or Zaydie ever called you “Zeeskite”? Literally meaning “little sweet,” Zeeskite is a common Yiddish term of endearment.


Kvetch is one of those words that doesn’t have a direct translation to English. The closest translation would probably be “complain” or “gripe,” but kvetch can mean much more than that as well. For example, if you have a squeaky wheel on your bike, you might say that the wheel is kvetching.


For those who stick to the traditional Jewish laws, the word kosher most commonly refers to food. Food that is kosher conforms to the an>Jewish dietary laws. However, the word has become a metaphor for other “acceptable” things. For example, if a business practice is “not kosher,” it means that it is not acceptable, or possibly illegal.

Learn these common Yiddish words, and you’ll surprise your Yiddish-speaking friends or relatives.