yiddish influence on english

Yiddish is a Germanic/Hebrew hybrid dialect spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in Europe. Most of the Ashkenazi Jews who moved to Israel stopped speaking Yiddish and switched to old fashioned Hebrew, but the Jews that went to America retained their Yiddish dialect. Most of the influence of Yiddish on the English language is due to the prominence of Jewish culture in the American media but some words were adopted earlier in England.
The Jews were banished from England on 18th July 1290 but they were allowed readmission by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. They quickly established a thriving community in East London which continued to grow over the course of the following centuries due to successive waves of migration from Eastern Europe. It is in the Cockney dialect of East London where we find the most obvious influence of the Yiddish dialect on non Jewish speakers of the English language.
Yiddish is primarily German but with many words of Slavic and Hebrew origin added in. It developed in medieval Europe under the Holy Roman Empire which explains why it is predominantly German, but it is written in a Hebrew script and uses Hebrew words to refer to religious  matters.
Here are a few words which demonstrate the Yiddish Influence on English.

  • Chutzpah: boldness (Yiddish חוצפּה khutspe, from Hebrew)
  • Glitch – a malfunction (possibly from Yiddish גליטש glitsh, from גליטשן glitshn ‘slide’, cf. German glitschen ‘slither’)
  • Golem: an man-made animated slave creature. (from Hebrew גולם gōlem, but influenced in pronunciation by Yiddish גוילעם goylem)
  • Goy: (often derogatory) a non-Jew (Yiddish גוי, plural גויים or גוים goyim; from Hebrew גויים or גוים goyim meaning ‘nations [other than Israel]’, plural of גוי goy ‘nation’)
  • Kike : a derogatory slur to refer to Jews. Possibly from Yiddish קײַקל (kaykl, “circle”). (In the early 20th century, Jews immigrating to the USA would sign papers with a circle.)
  • Klutz: clumsy person (from Yiddish קלאָץ klots ‘wooden beam’, cf. German Klotz)
  • Knish: potato snack (קניש is a Yiddish word that was derived from the Ukrainian Книш)
  • Meshuggah: crazy (Yiddish משוגע meshuge, from Hebrew məšugga‘)
  • Nosh: snack (noun or verb) (Yiddish נאַשן nashn, cf. German naschen)
  • Putz: a penis, term used as an insult (from Yiddish פּאָץ pots)
  • Schlemiel: a clumsy idiot (Yiddish שלעמיל shlemil from Hebrew שלא מועיל “ineffective”)
  • Schlep: to carry or walk (from Yiddish שלעפּן shlepn; cf. German schleppen)
  • Schlock: cheap and of poor quality  (perhaps from Yiddish שלאק shlak ‘a stroke’, cf. German Schlag)
  • Schlong: penis (from Yiddish שלאַנג shlang ‘snake’; cf. German Schlange)
  • Schmaltz: melted chicken fat; excessive sentimentality (from Yiddish שמאַלץ shmalts or German Schmalz)
  • Schmo: a stupid person. (an alteration of schmuck; see below)
  • Schmooze: to network and chat (from Yiddish שמועסן shmuesn ‘converse’, from Hebrew שמועות shəmūʿōth ‘reports, gossip’)
  • Schmuck: a foolish person; literally means ‘penis’ (from Yiddish שמאָק shmok ‘penis’, maybe from Polish smok ‘dragon’)
  • Shiksa: (derogatory) a young non-Jewish woman (Yiddish שיקסע shikse. Used in Cockney rhyming slang as “flour mixer”)
  • Shtoom: to remain silent/conceal facts (from Yiddish shtum, Used primarily in Cockney English from East London)
  • Shtick: comic theme (from Yiddish שטיק shtik ‘piece’; cf. German Stück ‘piece’)
  • Tush (also tushy): buttocks, bottom, rear end (from tukhus)


Written by David Smith