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The Yiddish Dictionary of Fools

May 8, 2009 | by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Legend has it that Eskimos (Inuit) have hundreds of words to describe snow. We Jews have hundreds of words for "pains in the neck."

Among the many majesties of Yiddish, is its magical ability to turn words into an emotional thesaurus. Both the "good" and the "bad" alike are not merely "said." No. They're felt – in all their subtle nuance and multiple meanings. This is never more true then when we're talking about a "fool" or a "nudnek," a "shliemel," or a "schnook." Face it. We Jews don't bear fools lightly. Who had time?

So is it surprising that we have more words in Yiddish for fools than there are Golden Arches? These words are so delicious, many have become part of American jargon. Do you have the story about these words, and what they truly mean? In case you don't, as a public service, we from Jewlarious are proud to present the first …

Yiddish-Yinglish Dictionary of Fools

Bulvan: An ox, with no class. He'll move your house on his back – without asking.
Chaim Yankel: A mister nobody. His favorite color is beige.
Chaleria: A shrew. If her pastrami's fatty, she'll make a federal case.
Chazzer: A pig: He'll take home the cheap wine he brought you for Passover.
Draycup: She one not only forgot her address, she's in the wrong city.
Eingeshparht: He's got a head like a rock.
Gantseh Makher: He made a few bucks selling whoopie cushions, so suddenly he's Trump. Synonym: K'nocker
Gonif: Unscrupulous, a thief. His partner's sent out an APB.
Grubber yung: Crude. A big mouth who has dirt (from grabbing) under his fingernails.
Klutz: Clumsy. She falls over her own sneakers– fastened with Velco.
Kvetch: A whiner. The food's salty, the place is chilly, eating out –who needs it?
Luftmensch: A dreamer – who never wakes up. He could paint a masterpiece, if only he had an easel – and knew how.
Meshugener: A loony. Whether he thinks his underwear is after him or barrels over Niagra Falls, he's one letter short of an M&M.
Moishe Kapoyr: Today he'd be called "oppositional." The family votes to hold the reunion in Vegas. He votes for Vilna.
Nar: He left his law practice to become a clown.
Nayfish: A doormat. When he's robbed, he apologizes for being short on cash.
Nebekh: A hapless unfortunate. He gets stepped on by accident a lot.
Nuchshlepper: A hanger-on. She shleps the 200 pound camping gear for the group.
Nudnik: A persistent bore. She doesn't stop with the talking, the asking, the annoying till you want to staple his lips together.
Nudzh: A pesty badgerer. She tells you twelve times to check the locks. Unlike the nudnik, it could be an occasional occurrence.
Ongeblussen: A self-involved blowhard. If his last name is Moses, he thinks the Bible gave him a mention.
Oysvorf: Unpopular outcast. Think David Duke at a Hadassah meeting.
Paskudnyak: A revolting, corrupt person. For him, there would be a very short funeral.
Shikker: A drunk. She has a little chaser with her Cheerios.
Shlemiel: A pathetic, clumsy loser. He drives over – through your living room.
Shlimazel: An unlucky loser. He's the one the shlemiel was visiting.
Shlump: Unkempt, saggy. She shleps, stooped, with her hair in strings.
Shmeggege: And idiotic doofus. Short of a "meshuganah," he's sure he'll make a killing with his musical toilet seat ... and acts like a makher about it.
Shmendrik: Nincompoop. A fraternal twin to a shlemiel, he's thinner and weaker.
Shnook: A likeable patsy. You could sell him a time-share in Area 51, and he'll pay top dollar – for vacationing on an historical site.
Shnorror: A beggar. He's forever borrowing, taking advantage. Bad for a potluck party.
Trombenik: A lazy braggart. Not only does he blow his own horn, he doesn't own one.
Yuchna: A loud-mouthed, boorish female. In Loehmann's dressing room she'll yell "It would fit if you lost a few pounds!"
Yutz: Socially inept. He takes you to a restaurant with a clown face and spends the evening discussing his train collection.
Zshlub: Lazy slob. He shows up with schmutz on his untucked shirt. To Archie Bunker, "meathead" looked like a zshlub when he met him – although he'd never say it.

Marnie Winston-Macauley is the author of Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother" and the award-winning "A Little Joy, A Little Oy" 2008 calendar. Her 2009 calendar can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

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