Mom was a great lover of Yiddish. Even though she was born in Winnipeg, she spoke Yiddish, sang in Yiddish, recited in Yiddish and breathed Yiddish. When we moved to Ottawa in the early 1950’s she helped establish the Ottawa Modern Jewish School which was a Sunday School (if you can call a Jewish school that).
Mom wanted us to get a full Jewish education so we ended up going to Hillel Academy, which taught religion and Hebrew. We learned the ins and outs of the religion together with the modern Hebrew language. Mom made a valiant effort to teach us Yiddish at home. But we weren’t all that keen at the time. And Mom was busy working and simultaneously raising four rambunctious kids.
Mom and Dad used to speak Yiddish to one another when they didn’t want us to understand. So we learned the rudiments. And of course, Mom’s many (and I mean many) Yiddishisms, which we learned to love. Here are the ones that we recall. Enjoy! I mean, why not? They’re free! And if you see one that you like, you’re welcome to use it, Gezunder heit’.
They are transliterated, the way we remember Mom pronouncing them. If you know how to write in Yiddish, feel free to help us out! And many thanks to this amazing website!
And most of all, we love you Mom. Every day without you is a great aveyda for all us sibs. Miss you and love you always, Mel, Reen, Mir and Dave.
Scroll down to see them all. After all, ‘far vos nisht’?
Avada – a fact
Aveyda – a loss
A mentsh tracht und Gott lacht – A person plans and God laughs.
abi gezunt! – You should only be healthy (sometimes “good luck on that”)
abi me lebt – We’re doing ok (at least we’re alive)
alter kacker – old fart
Azoy gait es! – That’s how it goes!
Baleboosteh – the lady of the house
boychik: young man
bubbeleh: sweet term for a young boy
bubbameisse: a yarn, a tall tale, apparently not connected to grandmothers.
Az och un vai! – tough to translate – that’s the way the cookie crumbles
Aroisgevorfene gelt – wasted cash (used often in our house)
Boorviss – Barefoot, as in how the cobbler walks
Chaloshes – awful, making you want to faint or throw up
chap a zetz – grab a chair, c’mon sit down
Chazzerei – garbage, junk, pig’s stuff
De shuster geit burvess – the cobbler walks barefoot
Drai mir nisht kain kop! – Don’t drive me nuts
Drek mit Leber – garbage, something valueless
Epess is epess, gurnisht is gurnisht – something is better than nothing at all
For gezunterhait! – Travel in health
Forshpeiz – Appetizer, often chopped liver
farshtopte kop – Absent minded (a filled head)
farshtunkeneh – Anything fishy
farpitzed – dressed real fancy
Farblonjet – Lost, bewildered, confused
gay avek – get out of here
Gay gleich – walk straight (don’t bend over, a favorite of Bobi Regina)
Gay shlof’n – go to bed
Gay kaken oifen yam! – Get lost (go take a crap in the sea)
Geferlech – in our house, it meant terrible
Gelaimter – A clumsy person
Gelt – Money
Gelt gait tzu gelt. – Money goes to money.
Gib a shokl – get a move on (Give yourself a shake)
Grobber yung: a badmouthed, impolite person
Goggle moggle – A drink with raw eggs. I seem to recall that I had a cold and a hoarse voice before my bar mitzvah and Auntie Rochel made me one. Perhaps it worked great, but tasted lousy.
Gurnisht mit gurnisht – nothing with nothing
Haloshes – terrible, and I mean really bad
Her oyf! – bug off
Hack mir nisht kein chainik – Don’t bug me
Hartsvaitik – heartache
Ich ken haleshin – I could faint
Ich loif – I’m flying (running out to do this or that)
kaduches – like bubkes- nothing, turns out there are a lot of expressions for nothing, or almost nothing
kein ein hora – the evil eye shouldn’t get you
kibbitz – to sit in, especially when the folks played kaluki (Polish card game)
kim shoin Shimshoin – get a move on
klutz – clumsy, awkward
And here, from nowhere at all, is one of Mom’s favorite ditties in Yiddish mit English (we have no idea why Mom used to sing it, or where it’s from)
“Tsu whom are you speaking, tsu whom
Tsu whom are you speaking, tsu whom
if you’re speaking to I’m
it’s a vaste of your time,
I’ll give you a knak, you pasgudnyak
You villain you better be dead,
I’m filling you full mit lead
Go take a hike, you big bakayk…”
a Leben oif dein kop! – Well done, a life on your head!
Lomir zach iberbeten – let’s make up (name of a song)
Mach nisht kein hoyzeck – don’t make fun (something I continue to do daily, sorry Mom, it’s in the gene pool).
Moisheh kapoyer – Someone who does everything backwards.
Nahrishkeit – foolishness
Nebbish – someone with shall we say, not much character
Nechtiker tog! – that’ll be the day.
Nisht a hin, nisht a hair – neither here nor there (a family favorite)
Nisht geshtoygen, nisht gefloygen – neither here nor there
Nisht geferlech – not so terrible
Oif tsaloches – For spite
Oyfen ganuf brent dos hittel – Literally, the hat burns on the head of the thief.
Oiver botel – all farmished
Oysgemootshet – petered out
Oysgeputst – dressed to the teeth and beyond
paskudnyak – bastard
patsch in ponim – slap in the face
Pisk – Slang, for mouth; insultingly, it means a big mouth, loudmouth
Patchke – Fool around or “mess” with
A shayneh ponim – compliment meaning a beautiful face, usually of a woman
Shpatzir – A walk without a particular destination, often with semitchkes (sunflower seeds)
Shmutzik – Dirty, soiled
Shmutzikeh vesh – Dirty laundry
Shver tzu zein a Yid – It’s hard to be a Jew (life is tough)
Ti mir nisht kayn toyves – “Don’t do me any favours”
Toches oyfen tish! – Put up or shut up! Put your money where your mouth is.
Tsimmes – Sweet carrot compote making a big deal out of bubkes.
Tuches-lecker – ass-licker, sycophant
Ti mir a toyveh. – Do me a favor (often using sarcastically)
Ti mir nisht kain toives. – Don’t do me any favors (always used sarcastically).
Tzedrait – Scattered
Vi gaits? – How’s it going?
Vos vilste du foon mir? – What do you want from my (miserable little) existence?
Vos mainst du? – What do you mean?
Vilde chaya – a brat for a child, something worse for an adult
Vos machst a yid? – How’s it going?
Vus noch? – What else? What then?
Yenner velt – The other world; the world to come
Yenteh – a female gossiper
Zaftik – plump, often pleasantly so
Zey mir nisht gezundt, ich for nisht kain avek (approx. this one needs help)
Ziskeit – sweetheart, darling
shpilkes – pins and needles (now known as ADHD)
Zitsflaysh – Patience (Lit., Sitting meat) – what people with shpilkes don’t have
Zorg zich nisht! – Don’t worry!