The Yiddish Word Dictionary

Some of the Most Common and Popular Yiddish Words

There are a lot of Yiddish words that have entered the English language over the years, but what do they mean? Check out this quick Yiddish dictionary to find out. 

of 09

What does naches mean?

jewish baby
Ferguson & Katzman Photography/Halo Images/Getty Images

Naches (נחת) is a Yiddish word that means "pride" or "joy." Typically naches refers to the pride or joy that a child brings a parent. For instance, when a child is born people will often say to the new parents "May child bring you much naches."

The "ch" is pronounced gutturally, so it's not "ch" as in "cheese" but rather "ch" as in "Bach" (the composer). Most people recognize the style of the "ch" from its use in the word challah.

Memorial stone reads "Bernard Plishuk, 1928-1999, Mench"
Best. Memorial. Ever." ( CC BY 2.0) by benet2006

Mensch (מענטש) means "a person of integrity." A mensch is someone who is responsible, has a sense of right and wrong and is the sort of person other people admire. In English, the word has come to mean "a good guy." 

Menschlichkeit (מענטשלעכקייט) is a related Yiddish word used to describe the collective qualities that make someone a mensch.

The first known use of the word in American English mensch comes from 1856. 

of 09

What does oy vey mean?

By meesh from washington dc (really?) [ CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Oy vey (אױ װײ) is Yiddish and typically is used when something is causing exasperation or dismay. It means something along the lines of "woe is me." Often it's simply shortened to "​oy" and can be used just about any time something has you upset, shocked, or disheartened. ​

To be especially reactionary, you could say oy vey iz mir (literally, "oh woe is me") or oy gevalt (אױ גװאַלד), which means "good grief" or "oh, God!"

The first known American English use of the word oy appeared in 1892.

of 09

What does mazal tov mean?

Groom stepping on glass during Jewish wedding ceremony
Burke/Triolo Productions / Getty Images

Mazal tov (מזל טוב) is a Hebrew phrase that literally means "good destiny" but is more commonly understood to mean "good luck" or "congratulations." Tov is the Hebrew word for "good" and mazal, or mazel (the Yiddish spelling), is the Hebrew word for destiny or constellation (as in the stars in the sky).

When is the appropriate time to say mazel tov to someone? Whenever something good has happened. Whether someone recently got married, had a child, became a bar mitzvah, or did well on an exam, mazel tov would be an appropriate (and very nice) thing to say. 

The term actually entered the American English language dictionary in 1862!

of 09

What does chutzpah mean?

Guy with a mountain bike, jumping off of a jump.
Daniel Milchev / Getty Images

Chutzpah ( from the Hebrew חֻצְפָּה, pronounced hoots-puh) is a Yiddish word that is used by Jews and non-Jews alike to describe someone who is particularly audacious or has a lot of "guts." Chutzpah can be used in a variety of ways. You can say someone "had chutzpah" to do something, or you could describe them as a "chutzpanik" and achieve the same meaning. 

The first known use of chutzpah in American English was 1883. 

of 09

What does kvetch mean?

Upset tennis player
Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Kvetch (קװעטשן) is a Yiddish word that means "to complain." It can also be used to refer to someone who does a lot of complaining, such as in "Phil is such a kvetch!" Kvetch is one of many Yiddish words that has become popularly used in the English language.

It likely entered normative American English speech in 1962. 

of 09

What does bubkes mean?

Panel of Judges
OrangeDukeProductions / Getty Images

Bubkes (pronounced bub-kiss) is a Yiddish word that means something akin to "hooey," "nonsense," or "baloney" in the English language. It is used to refer to something with little or no perceived value. The term bubkes is likely short for kozebubkes, which means, literally, "goat droppings." It also could originate from a Slavic or Polish word meaning "bean." 

The term first entered American English around 1937. 

of 09

What does verklempt mean?

Verklempt woman
Sollina Images / Getty Images

Verklempt (פארקלעמפט) is a Yiddish word that means "overcome with emotion." Pronounced "fur-klempt," people use it when they are so emotional that they're on the verge of tears or at a loss for words because of their emotional state.

Geber86 / Getty Images

Shiksa (שיקסע, pronounced shick-suh) is a Yiddish word that refers to a non-Jewish woman who is either romantically interested in a Jewish man or who is a Jewish man's object of affection.

It likely entered American English speech in 1872.