Friday, July 26, 2013

Yiddish Loanwords: Part 1

In the past we've looked at loanwords that have made their way into English from languages across the globe, from Hebrew to Chinese. Over the next few days, we'll be looking at some great loanwords from Yiddish, which is actually a Germanic language.

Yiddish is an interesting language in that it developed when Ashkenazi Jews moved to Central Europe. Various German dialects intermingled with their Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic vocabulary, and eventually Yiddish was born. Unlike other Germanic languages, Yiddish is written using the Hebrew alphabet.

While it had about 12 million native speakers before World War II, in present times the vast majority of speakers learn Yiddish as a second language. Most live in Europe and North America, with approximately a third living in the United States. The majority of Yiddish terms that became a part of the English language did so due to large Yiddish populations in New York that influenced the local dialect. Eventually, many of these words became popular across the U.S., though they are also found to a lesser extent in British English.

There's nothing like freshly baked bagels.
Without further ado, we have some of our favorite Yiddish words to share with you. 

Bagel - One of our favorite breakfast foods (though really, they're great any time of day), these ring-shaped bread rolls get their name from the Yiddish term beygl, which in turn came from the Middle High German term boug, meaning "ring".

Kvetch - If you're ever in need for a great word instead of "complain" or "whine", why not try this out? It comes from the Yiddish term kvetshn, meaning "press" or "squeeze".

Glitch - It has a much better ring to it than "minor malfunction", doesn't it? Originally used as technical jargon by engineers, this term probably comes from Yiddish glitsh meaning "a slip", from the German term glitschen, "slide". 

Maven - Most commonly seen in the term "fashion maven", this word means that someone is an expert. It's usually heard in a positive light in English, but in Yiddish it can also be used to refer to a know-it-all. It comes from meyvn in Yiddish, which originated in Hebrew as the word mebhin, which literally translates as "one who understands".

Putz - You may want to avoid using this Yiddish word, as it's considered vulgar. It's an insult that usually translates as calling someone a "fool", but it can also be used to refer to the male genitalia!

Nosh - This one means "snack", and can be used as either a noun or a verb. It's from the Yiddish term nashn, meaning "nibble".

Tomorrow, we'll have even more Yiddish loanwords to share with you.

Part 2

Part 3