How Much Do You Know About Yiddish?

WORLD

Annette Parks

5 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

According to an article in the New York Times, "Yiddish was invented by Jews who had arrived in Europe with the Roman army as traders, later settling in the Rhineland of western Germany and northern France." Yiddish is unique because it mixes Hebrew, Aramaic and Romance with German, and is not just a dialect of German. The similarities between Hebrew and Yiddish are clear when comparing the written language as they use the same set of written letters.  However, the vowels used in the Hebrew language are often omitted in Yiddish. 

What is amazing is how many Yiddish words and phrases are still used in today's language. For instance, go to any deli and ask for a schmear of cream cheese on your bagel and they won't question your order as they spread the cream cheese on your bagel. But don't be a schmuck and ask for white toast at the deli, that's a goyim thing to do. And if you've ever used "Oy vey" as an expression of grief and exasperation, or  "glitch" to describe a minor problem or error, consider yourself knowledgeable in Yiddish. Try this quiz now. You'll be surprised how much you know. Then we can say "matzel tov" because you received such a high score.  

Where does Yiddish come from?

Yiddish was spoken by Eastern and Central European Jews. It was brought to the United States by immigrants.

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What do you call a non-Jew?

To be "goyish" is to be a non-Jew! One Gentile is a "goy," and a group of Gentiles are "goyim." A sandwich with white bread is goyish.

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What's a "schnoz"?

Look at the "schnoz" on that guy! Jimmy Durante is an example of a man who had a tremendous schnoz.

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What's a "mensch"?

When someone calls you a "mensch," they're paying you a compliment! It means you're honest, helpful and good.

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How do you say, "Oh, woe is me,"' in Yiddish?

"Oy vey" is a proclamation of "Woe is me" or an expression of grief and exasperation. This is one of the most well-known expressions in Yiddish.

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What is a "schmuck"?

This one shouldn't be used in polite company. It definitely doesn't sound like a compliment.

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How do you say "good luck" or "congratulations" in Yiddish?

"Mazel tov!" This expression is used at events and celebrations. No Jewish wedding is complete without saying "mazel!"

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Which alphabet is Yiddish written in?

It's written in the Hebrew alphabet. But common Yiddish words got a translation into the Roman alphabet! Yiddish features creative spelling, with many variations for some words.

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What is kosher?

Anything that is acceptable to Orthodox Jews is "kosher." This can be food or otherwise. Pork is definitely not kosher!

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What event ended Yiddish as a living language?

Before the Holocaust, Yiddish was used throughout the world. Jews could communicate with one another through Yiddish alone.

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Do you "shmear" butter on bread?

To "shmear" is to spread something, such as butter. You can also shmear peanut butter and jelly.

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What's a "bissel"?

To have just a "bissel" of something is to have a little bit. It is also spelled as "bisl."

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What is a minor problem or error?

A "glitch" is a minor problem or error. As you can tell, this is used in common English today!

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What is "nosh"?

Having some "nosh"? This means that you're having a little nibble of something. This phrase is commonly used in modern English.

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What does "shalom" mean?

To greet someone by saying "shalom" is rather profound, isn't it? Deep peace sounds like something we could all use.

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Who is a "boychick"?

Young boys are called "boychicks"! This is a term of endearment in the Yiddish language.

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What's a "bubbala"?

"Bubbala" is a term of endearment, and it means darling. (My mother actually calls me this)

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What is "bupkes"?

"Bupkes" is utter nonsense. It's absurd. It can also be something that is worthless.

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What is "dreck"?

"Dreck" is sh#t. It is something that is ugly and can refer to a person or thing.

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Do you want more "gelt"?

"Gelt" is money! Doesn't everyone want more of that? Everyone except Buddhist monks, perhaps.

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What is a "maven"?

Yes, there are society "mavens." This refers to someone who is an expert or connoisseur. You can be a wine maven, for instance.

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What is a "nebbish"?

A "nebbish" is a loser or weak person. You don't want to be thought of as a nebbish.

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What's a "shmatta"?

"Shmatta" refers to the clothing of someone who is unfashionably dressed. It also refers to a rag.

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What's a "yente"?

A "yente" is a busybody, who always is doing something. This is often used in reference to older women.

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What does "chutzpah" actually mean?

Although we think of it as a compliment, "chutzpah" actually means arrogance or brazenness. If you've got some nerve, then you have some chutzpah.

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When you say "feh," what do you mean?

This is an expression of disgust or disapproval. It is supposed to be like a spitting sound.

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Use your "saykhel"!

"Saykhel" is common sense. It's easier said than done, but the Jewish people seem to have a lot of good sense. It keeps you from creating a "shanda."

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What's all the "tummel"?

Any kind of noise and commotion is "tummel." So next time at a party, be sure to say, "what's with all the tummel?"

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What do you call your grandfather?

That's a hard one! Be sure to call your grandfather "zeyde" and not "zhlub"! There's a huge difference.

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What do you call grandma?

"Bubbe" is a term of endearment for your grandmother. You can also call her "bubele," which means sweetie or darling.

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What is "mishegas"?

"Mishegas" is insanity or craziness. We should all pray to have less mishegas in out lives!

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What's "nu"?

"Nu?" is a general term, like "so?" or "well?" You can even use it for "hello!" Talk about concise and to the point.

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What is a "tuches"?

When you get hit in the "tuches," you get hit in your backside. Tuches is often used in modern English, as well.

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What is a "balabosta"?

"Balabosta," not to be confused with ball-buster, is a woman who keeps tight reigns on her household. Get to work!

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What is "bei mir bist du shein"?

So many little words to say such a simple thing! But this is perhaps some of the loveliest Yiddish you can use:) It's an old song lyric, popularized by the Andrews Sisters. Say it to your "bubbala."

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