Suffering threats of persecution during the First Crusade, many Jews migrated to Eastern Europe beginning in the 10th century. As such, various Jewish communities settled in Germany and other Slavic countries, and the continuous oppression they endured by virtue of their religion led them to hold adamant ties to their Jewish faith, and to develop their own, separate culture. Respectively, they modified the German culture to conform with their Jewish standards—language being no exception—thus allowing for a relationship between the German and Hebrew languages that would ultimately result in their own Ashkenazi language: Yiddish.
Thereafter, Yiddish gained a renowned reputation and became pivotal to Jewish life. In fact, Yiddish became an ubiquitous language for a multitude of Jews throughout Europe for thousands of years, allowing for a strong network among them. However, many Jews assimilated to their country’s cultures as a result of European nationalism and Jewish emancipation in the 19th century, and so their countries’ native languages were favored over Yiddish. Moreover, as the Zionist movement ensued, many preferred Hebrew over Yiddish.
The Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), however, did not necessarily rid the Ashkenazis of their language. During the 19th century, many Jews utilized Yiddish as an outlet for their creative work, through various forms of literature and music. It was not until the Holocaust that Yiddish encountered its demise, seeing as many Yiddish-speakers were fallen victims of the Holocaust. Although some Charedi communities still speak Yiddish and a Yiddish class is taught at UCLA, Yiddish is still considered a dying language, and only six students are enrolled in the UCLA class this quarter.
That being said, Yiddish has nonetheless made a lasting impact, in that various Yiddish words, such as “bagel,” have been added to the English dictionary, and many phrases, such as “oy vey,” are used in many Jews’ daily lives. Yet, Yiddish is full of many intriguing and whimsical words and phrases, and deserves to be revived! Therefore, I’ve included a list of my favorite Yiddish words and phrases, Urban Dictionary style.
*Alter Cocker: old fart.
Person 1: “Why do you always take the elevator at Hillel instead of the stairs?”
Person 2: “What can I say? I’m an alter cocker.”
Person 1: “There’s a stampede of people stumbling over each other to get to the nearest kiosk for Ha’Am’s Winter print-edition newsmagazine.”
Person 2: “Yes, its complete mishegas! But then again, can you blame them?”
“Michelle ate so much gefilte fish she could plotz.”
*Shmutz: small amount of dirt.
Person 1: “What’s that white shmutz on your face? Did you get a doughnut on Bruin Walk?”
Person 2: “No…”
“It’s flour! I was challah baking at JAM, silly.”
*Shlimazel: person with bad luck.
Person 1: “I’m a shlimazel when it comes to dating. I can’t find someone who shares my love for matzah balls.”
Person 2: “Have you tried JSwipe?”
*Kvell: beam with pride.
“I’m kvelling because I’m on the UCLA Snapchat story! Mama, I made it!”
*Nuche Bess: even better (satire)
Person 1: “Did you save me any of the schwarma?”
Person 2: “No, and I also finished the hummus.”
Person 1: “Nuche bess, you alter cocker!”
“Bobby really says such bobbemyseh sometimes.”
*Hotseplots: the middle of nowhere.
Person 1: “Will you walk me to my car”
Person 2: “Where’d you park?”
Person 1: “Lot 9.”
Person 2: “I’d rather not. That’s in hotseplots.”
Person 1: “Are you a south campus major?”
Person 2: “Yeah, why?”
Person 1: “Oh. I heard south campus is farchtunken.”
“These people on campus with their clipboards who still try to talk to me even when I have my headphones in have such chutzpah! What if I don’t want to save the animals?”
And now, I challenge you to put these works into good use.