Friday, February 17, 2012

Yiddish Loanwords in English

A bus stop sign in English and Yiddish, in the U.S.A. (Image Credit)

Hello, and Happy Friday! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about loanwords. You might remember that a few months ago we talked about loanwords in English. Basically, a loanword is a word that starts in one language, and eventually is adopted into another language. Examples include words like:

*cotton, hashish, and sheikh (from Arabic)

*gung-ho, feng shui, and kung fu (from Chinese

*gulag, samovar, and babushka (from Russian

And there are many, many more examples of loanwords from many other languages. In this blog we looked at some examples of English loanwords from French, Spanish, and German, and today I want to talk about another interesting language that provided quite a few loanwords for English: Yiddish. 

Yiddish is a language that is closely related to German in many aspects, and it was originally spoken by Jewish people in central and eastern Europe. Immigration to the United States in the last 100 or more years also increased the number of people there who spoke Yiddish, and there are now a few hundred thousand people who speak Yiddish in the U.S.A. 

Yiddish loanwords are often found in entertainment like movies and TV shows, but there are also some words that many people use commonly, without knowing they're from Yiddish. When you say something is "schmaltzy," you mean that it's overly sentimental. If you call someone a "klutz," you mean that he or she is uncoordinated and clumsy. And if you eat a "bagel" with "lox," you're eating a type of round bread with some salmon inside. All the words in quotes came from Yiddish. Also, since Yiddish is closely related to German, it's possible to see similarities between the two languages (for example, "schmaltz" in Yiddish is "Schmalz" in German, and "lox" in Yiddish is "Lachs" in German).

A Yiddish sign in the U.S.A. from World War I. It tells people to not waste food. (Image Credit)

There are many Yiddish loanwords in English, but not all of them are very common. You can see lists here and here. Here are


Ryan's Top Five Favorite Yiddish Loanwords in English:

5. schmaltzy: As mentioned above, this means something is overly sentimental or "cheesy." "Schmaltz" actually refers to chicken fat used for cooking, so the word just seems gross in general. Example sentence: "I got my girlfriend a big bouquet of roses and a really schmaltzy card for Valentine's Day."

4. chutzpah: Apparently it's not very positive in Yiddish, but in English it generally means super-confidence or arrogance, but it's not always negative. Example sentence: "Jenny told her boss to her face that she didn't feel like working because it was Friday. She's really got a lot of chutzpah!"

3. klutz: As mentioned before, it's an uncoordinated or clumsy person. Example sentence: "I was a waiter but I got fired because I dropped four plates in a single week. I guess I'm just a big klutz."

2. schlock: Usually used to refer to something that is cheap or of bad quality. Example sentence: "My parents went to Paris and all they brought back was this schlocky plastic statue of the Eiffel Tower." 

1. schlep: This means to carry something heavy, annoying, big, or difficult over a long distance. Example sentence: "I thought I would need my laptop while I was on my trip, so I had to schlep that heavy piece of schlock all over the place with me."

Do you know of any other Yiddish loanwords in English, or in other languages? If so, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

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-Ryan