It’s Meshuge! Pop Culture Gets Cozy with Yiddish

Having grown up in a family that interspersed Yiddish words quite frequently in casual conversation, it never occurred to me that others didn’t. That is until one day in high school when a fellow passenger on the school bus, who today is still one of my dearest friends, seemed baffled by my use of words such as “putz” and “schmuck.” My explanation of the words being Yiddish prompted her to reply: “I didn’t know you were Yiddishian!”

Of course, “Yiddishian” isn’t a thing, although it could become one if a Kardashian were ever to convert to Judaism.

Since then, my friend and I have shared many a good laugh over the incident. However, thanks to pop culture, some might consider Yiddish to be thriving.

Even if you’re not of Jewish descent, chances are you’ve come across a few Yiddish words in your life. In fact, Yiddish appears so frequently in sitcoms and movies that it’s become commonplace in everyday English. Don’t believe it? Try out these tasty morsels:


Cher: Oh, my God. Do you see how boys are responding? My heart is totally bursting.

Dionne: I know. I’m kvelling!

Kvell = to feel happy or proud.

Futurama – War Is the H-Word (Season 2, Episode 17)

Captain Zapp Brannigan: You’ll be negotiating with the aliens’ mysterious leaders: The Brain Balls. They got a lot of brains and they got a lot of chutzpah.

Chutzpah = nerve (but sometimes used in English as a synonym for confidence).

Saturday Night Live: Coffee Talk with Linda Richman

Linda Richman: Now, this show used to be hosted by my friend Paul Baldwin, but he developed shpilkes in his geneckte gezeugte. For now, he’s in Boca Raton, Florida, recovering, thank you very much.

Shpilkes = pins (the literal definition), but more commonly used to refer to nerves or anxiety.

The Big Bang Theory – The Jiminy Conjecture (Season 3, Episode 2)

Raj: What happened?

Sheldon: Obviously another carnal fiasco with the ‘Shiksee’ goddess.

Howard: Shiksa. Shik-Sa.

Sheldon: Forgive me. Yiddish was not spoken in East Texas. And if it was, it wasn’t spoken for long.

Shiksa (or shikse) = a non-Jewish woman (often meant in a negative connotation).

Scrubs – My Half-Acre (Season 5, Episode 9)

Julie: I think there’s a tchotchke in my bum.

Tchotchke = a collectible or knick-knack.

Laverne & Shirley (later parodied in Wayne’s World)

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”

Shlemiel & shlimazel = used to refer to one who is clumsy or has bad luck.

Of course, these are just a few examples, and there’s plenty more where they came from! Spoiler alert: Wikipedia has a handy list of English words of Yiddish origin.

What are some of your favorite quotes with Yiddish-based words?

Jonathan Zipper is a New York based writer, editor, actor and pop culture aficianado. He’s a contributor to Wetpaint Entertainment and a former Senior Editor at Hollywood Today. OH LOOK, he’s on Twitter: @misterjzip.

(Image via ShutterStock.)

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