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Interesting Etymologies 24: Yiddish

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

"Hello again Word Lovers!" Today we look at words we use in English that come from Yiddish.

This episode is available on Youtube or as an audio podcast to accompany this article.

Yiddish is a curious language, it is not actually based on Hebrew although it has many Hebrew words, it is in fact Germanic. A clue is in the name of the language itself which is derived from the German for Jewish.

Bagel, nosh or gnosh, Kosher are just some of the words that are fully fledged parts of our vocabulary that have made their way to our language. (Ed: All about food we notice Charly, are you hungry?)

Chutzpah: A cheekiness, arrogance, impudence which is absent from the original meaning. This comes from Classical Arabic for "sound judgement". This itself emerges from Aramaic.

Dreck: Anything dirty or filthy. This is connected to the English word Dreg which comes from Proto-Germanic. There is more detail on the root of this word in the accompanying podcast/programme, but the connection to the PIE root (s)ker will be investigated in a later programme.

Glitch: An error. From German glitshn to slide or glitschen to slither.

Kvetshn - Someone who continually complains, (verb to Kvetch) from German quetschen - to squeeze.

Putz - Yiddish for the male member. More common in America. Also Schlong. But schlemiel is part of a double act, meaning a clumsy person. More information on the programme.

Shtik/Schtick - an act or gimmick. Literally Middle High German stücke - a piece of art.

Mensch - A good or real man

Shalom - Understood to mean peace, from Hebrew, but also has the meaning of completeness/Well being. From Shalam to mean intact or complete. Arabic Salima (safe) aslama (submitted) leading to the word islam.

Jerusalem - Widely understood to mean City of Peace : Yarah he threw Shalom - peace (Yarah Shalom) But an alternative etymology traces to Sumerian as a structure of settlement of the God Shalem (Yerew Shalem)

Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

SkipDeLirio's Worst Ever Gig : A novel by Charly Taylor

Caesar’s army has returned from the long campaign in Gaul and the enemy has been all but defeated. Some of Pompey’s army, however, remains in Africa. Together with straggling Roman rebels and the local king Juba, they are gathering forces to prepare one last attack on what is now Caesar’s Rome. But there is one problem – a descendant of Scipio Africanus is fighting on the side of the Africans. And without a Scipio of their own, the superstitious Romans refuse to go to Africa to fight.

So Caesar sends out soldiers to find himself a Scipio. Luckily, there is a man of such name right there in Rome – a local drunkard and tavern entertainer distantly descended from the legendary warrior. Kidnapped solely on account of his ‘heritage’, the lowly clown is forced to lead out the troops in the battle of Thapsus. There, ‘history’ tells us, Scipio ‘disappears from the historical record’.

Until now.

This is the story of how ‘Nobody’ Skip DeLirio, with the cards finally all dealt in his favour, still managed to fuck it up. History will only take you so far. The rest is make-believe.

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