The Yiddish Quiz of Fools

January 3, 2019

6 min read


Gonif? Chazzer? Bulvan? What do they all mean?

We Jews don’t bear fools lightly. A group that admires and insists on intellect has no time for idiots, especially when we’re running. We need someone tripping? More, in the small shtetls of Eastern Europe, we “labelled” within. Knowing who’s who was a tradition. What was created was more words for “fool” than other languages have for snow or rice.

For millennials who may have missed the miniscule but all-important details of those fools in our midst, let’s have a go at it and see if you’re up to the finer points.


Choose the best definitions!


Usage: “You invited Gideon for the whole weekend? The man’s a bulvan. Even your mother runs from him and he’s your side of the family. Uninvite.”

  1. He’s a secret thief. When you’re not looking, he’s putting your Chagall painting over your couch, on Craig’s List.

  2. A poo-pooer, he’s a critic. As for your Chagall, he broke matza with the artist … and says: “Your painting’s a fake, done by H. Iskowitz, a Chagall impersonator!”

  3. He’s an ox, with no class. He'll move your “phony” Chagall and your couch to the basement – in one trip.

Answer C. A crude, loudmouth, oaf who will act like a manners-impaired Sasquatch. [Note: B is close, but who’s counting?]


Usage: “That Sylvia is now on the synagogue play committee. Of the 15 women, 12 resigned. I’m making it 13. Who can work with that chaleria?!”

  1. Of a bad personality or good personality, she has “no” personality. In her presence, others fall asleep as she goes on and on about the history of challah or forgets why she’s there altogether.

  2. What a witch! When you suggest that your son, a gifted singer and dancer on Broadway, try out for Perchik in “Fiddler” she’ll say: “Please! You know, I know, everyone knows he has no talent! Ten years ago, when he was in High School he stunk in “Milk and Honey!”

  3. She’s a show-off, whatever your ideas, or what you have, she has better, more, or you’re wrong. Even a headache. If you have migraines, she’ll announce proudly: “They suspect I may have a brain tumor.”

Answer: B. A shrew! Not only does she argue, put-down, and humiliate, if her pastrami's fatty, she'll make a federal case.


Usage: “Marvin, the chazzer, is coming for Pesach?! Quick, Google if Home Depot sell locks for appliances?!”

  1. He'll take home the cheap wine he brought you for Passover, not to mention all the leftovers.

  2. He’s an idiot who thinks he can do or fix anything. “The last time he visited when my mouse needed cleaning, he took apart my computer and left it in a million pieces.

  3. He’s a lunatic dreamer with no talent. He “invents” by taking things like appliances and finding new uses for them, for example: “He turned my toast into a hummus warmer!”

Answer: A. While not exactly a Jewish thief, he’s a pig. He may even ask: “May I help myself?” and he’ll “help” himself to the contents of your refrigerator, freezer and your soy sauce collection.


Usage: “I heard Irving, the gonif, is finally home again. He’s starting up a new investment company. Should we invite them to our Purim party?”

  1. Half genius, half brain-dead, he not only forgets his address, he’s in the wrong country.

  2. The IRS paid him a visit and he mysteriously disappeared for two years.

  3. He’s a secretive world traveler who may leave his wife and family when he gets an idea but comes back a millionaire.

Answer: B. Unlike the chazzer, the gonif is an unscrupulous thief. His partners sent out an APB and the IRS found him.


Usage: “I don’t mean to be a kvetch but is this pastrami a little lunghy?”

  1. A perfectionist who only knows from and accepts the very best. Difficult maybe, but also to be admired.

  2. An “EA” (for “Enough Already”). A little OCD, the kvetcher notices every tiny detail or imperfection and is nauseated until the situation is corrected.

  3. A whiner. The food's salty, the place is chilly, eating out – who needs the traffic?

Answer: C. A constant complainer, his/her answer to the proverbial question “Is anything all right?” is “Never!”


Usage: “Harvey, you hired cousin Myron, that schlemiel? You want your button business to go bankrupt?!”

  1. He drives through the factory, destroying your best button machine – by mistake.

  2. A master manipulator, he’ll organize a union against you, and become the head of it.

  3. He’ll put your “irregular” buttons on his E-bay seller account and charge $20 for each lot of “Assorted Buttons.” Yours.

Answer: A. A pathetic, clumsy loser, he is the idiot upon whom things fall (with a little help from his “schlemieldom”).


Usage: “You hired him, which makes you such a schlimazel when he ruined your button machine!”

  1. You’re a good-hearted soul, but an idiot. You said: “He has skills.” You didn’t become the Button King by hiring idiots and thieves.

  2. “You are an unlucky loser who let’s schlemiels in your business.”

  3. “You let a meshuggena mess with your business! A chazzer! A gonif. “

Answer: B. An unlucky loser. You hired the schlemiel who destroyed your business – by accident.


Usage: “Morris, you gave that schnorrer $100?! To ‘invest?!’ Not to mention our leftover brisket!? Are you meshuggah?!”

  1. He plays fast and loose. He’ll invest in Area 51!”

  2. He’ll wine and dine you promising if you invest, you’ll be set for life!

  3. He’s a beggar. He's forever borrowing, taking advantage.

Answer: C: He’s a borrower! He’ll “borrow,” will schmooze you to lend him your house, then charge Jewish strangers for Jewish Meet-Ups.


Usage: “Pssst, Sheld’n. In the kitchen. (CONTINUES) You see who our Rosala brought home? That hair, the schmatte (rags) he’s wearing. It wasn’t enough she was dating that schnorrer, Bruce, then the schlemiel, Ira. Now she’s dating a yutz.

  1. He’s an out of work outcast who is looking to find himself.

  2. He’s a social disaster. He brought you a “hello” gift: a collection of photos he took of the Myrtle Avenue L train.

  3. He’s a liberal you-know-what. “I bet he takes those marijuana Gummy Bears.”

Answer: B: An inept jerk, this one will take you to a restaurant with a clown face and spends the evening discussing his train picture collection.

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