Aug 14, 2011

Nebach. He's So Shtark!


Sometimes, I find myself using words that I really don't understand. Words that -- when you're a Jew -- you just use because that's what people do. No one sits you down when you're converting and says, "By the way, Jews use these words, so be sure you study and know them and use them, mmk?"

But maybe someone should.

The other night, while preparing something for Shabbos, I began to wonder if anyone at the table was going to eat it. I thought about my guests and then said in my head, "Of course. So-and-so's a heimish person." And then while out to dinner tonight, I ran into someone who referred to the restaurant as a "heimish" kind of place, so they might not hold to reservations.

It's funny, because I actually couldn't define the word for you if I tried. So let's go to the interwebs and see what they think.
heimish (adj.) having qualities associated with a homelike atmosphere; simple, warm, relaxed, cozy, unpretentious, etc. YourDictionary.com
Okay. So, that makes sense. Is there a reason that a restaurant won't hold to reservations that makes it heimish? This word perplexes me.

And then there are other words like shtark and nebach. Oh, and mamash!

According to Babylon translators, nebach means an unlucky or unfortunate person, but it also means "It's a pity." A good friend always used the word nebach, so I figured out that it had a negative connotation, but I never felt comfortable using it in a sentence, and I still don't.

The same translator has shtark as meaning strong (adj.) and strongly or greatly (adv.).  It's funny to me because I always thought shtark meant sad or unfortunate. Oops. One of my Twitter friends says that shtark often is used when referring to a "yeshiva student who studies a lot and studies well" and another says it's often used simply to mean "frum." So, one might call me shtark. Who knows.

Mamash means really. And people tend to use it a lot in phrases like, I mamash hate broccoli. (Pronounced mahm-ish, as opposed to ma-mahsh in the Hebrew.)

It took me a long time to figure out what Gut Voch meant, but after spending a Shabbos in a community full of Gut Voch folks, I figured out that it meant "Good Week" as an alternative to Shavua Tov. The former is Yiddish, the latter Hebrew.

And here's a bonus: Shkoyach. Now, that's what in the Orthodox world we'll call a mashup. Jews like to take shortcuts for everything (just look at all of the acronyms in Hebrew newspapers for just about every public official out there). So this is a mashup of "Yasher Koach." It simply becomes Shkoyach. (That is, way to go! congrats! way to be, man!) Does it ever end!?

It makes me wonder: Do Sephardim use words like this? Would you hear a Moroccan say that something is heimish?


Maybe I need a crash course in Yiddish. Sometimes, in certain communities, I definitely don't feel like I fit in well. I can't use the words as well as many do, and sometimes I find myself using the words to "fit in" despite not knowing what they mean. It's group-think, Yiddish style.

What are some words that you use and maybe don't full understand? Or words that it took you awhile to understand?

26 comments:

Rivki @ Life in the Married Lane said...

Love this. Mamash and taka (which ALSO means really) got me for a while. Are they interchangeable? Is there a subtle difference I'm missing? Who knows!?

Also kenayna hara. Really, it's just easier to say bli ayin hara (and even I don't really use it, for various reasons). But kenayna hara? I don't know anyone who REALLY knows what it means.

A word I'm happy to know? Geschicht. It means put together, or with-it. That's a word I can get behind.

PamBG said...

I instantly recognize some of these words from German, so I'm thinking that they are Yiddish.

In German - heimlich (homey), stark (strong), gute Voche (good week) (I'm not sure about my endings on that one.)

The other words, I'm thinking, have roots in something other than medieval German.

Sarah said...

A Yiddish word that confuses me is gevaldik. People use it in a positive sense, but I always feel like it should be something negative because it sounds like, "oy,gevalt!"

batya from NJ said...

Hey what happened to my comment: Shkoyach, your post was mamish gevaldik?!! It disappeared into thin cyberspace ;)!!!

Miriam said...

So, I went to college BT camp (the Ivy League Torah Study Program), and we actually did have a "word of the day" with these sorts of words.

"Mamash" is often translated as "really" or "literally", but it has the connotation of "tangibly".

"shtark" is one that I've always sort of associated with spartan (heh, l'havdil) or kind of ascetic, no-frills, just the basics kind of thing. Though I could be wrong, since I haven't actually asked a native yiddish speaker.

Miriam said...

kenanya hara, I remember learning was a contraction similar to shkoyach. I *think* I remember it being k'ein ayin hara.

One that I still haven't quite figured out is 'davka'. I've heard it used kind of like a valley girl would use "totally", but sometimes also with the connotation of "purposefully", but not always.

Modestly Fashioned said...

"Davka" was definitely the word that threw me most for a loop. The best english equilvalent that I can come up with is "specifically". Such as: "She davka did such-and-such because she knew I wouldn't like it" (not the most positive of examples, but one that i think illustrates the usage well). just substitute the word 'specifically' for 'davka' and you can see how its a pretty decent translation (in my opinion).

I also agree that we jews like our yiddish/hebrew 'mashups', and I am definitely guilty of frequently saying "kenna hara" as a mashup of "k'ein ayan hara". Living in the same teaneck community as chaviva, where our peers are starting to have a child or two, I find that it is a very appropriate phrase when telling a new mother or father that their newborn is "kenna hara, beautiful." While I am sure that new parents love being told how precious their babies are, most are uncomfortable with these compliments without an acknowledgment of Jewish superstition, i.e. ayin hara. I have found that sometimes when friends of mine compliment other friend's babies without this phrase, the new parents will likely say it themselves as a response to the compliment.

Mottel said...

Heimish means homely - those imbuing a certain sense of familiarity and comfort - thus implying two meanings: On the positive side, Heimish implies a sense that it's from one of us - the kashrus is our standard, the owner dresses like me etc. On the other hand the same level of familiarity can bread contempt (as the saying goes), thus a heimish store may give poor customer service etc.

I think your understanding of Shtark may have come from its English cognate, stark.

Mark said...

kenayn hora = kein ayin hora (or absence of evil eye).

schtark can also mean "cool" or "smooth", as in "schtark suit" is a "cool suit".

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

Yes, Sfardin have their own slang. My daughter is coming over today, and we will try to conference for youon the subject.

Sometimes they use the word "friedman" to refer to Ashkenazim. The department where my husband works is heavily Sfardic, with the exception of him and another VERY Ashkenazi guy, who happens to be named Friedman.

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret and Her Talented Daughter, Ben Porat Yosef, say:

Ben PoRAT YoSEF: Like "keina hora", but positive; "May G-d protect..."

JEE-fa: dirt, grunge (Yiddish, "shmootz")

JOH-rah: sewage. In Hebrew, generally metaphorical

WAH-lah: big. Often used as explative, like "Great" in English

Ya'Al'lah: literally, "My G-d!", this is less extreme in Hebrew usage than in Arabic, and less serious than the Hebrew equivalents.

Ala EEES-tair: "G-d forbid" in Arabic. Similarly, in Hebrew usage, it comes off as less extreme

It may interest you to note that given the literal meaning of the same Israeli swear words in Russian and in Arabic, the Arabic is always considered much more vulgar.

BONUS: "LEE-fah": Arabic for "loofah". Popularly used to refer to "seh-AHR LEE-fah", "loofa
hair", or what you get on a really bad hair day.

RMG said...

How about dafka, still haven't figure that one out. Spend a few Shabbosim by Chabad and you'll catch on to the yiddish.

Chaviva said...

Here's a great write up on "davka" and its meaning: http://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/davka

Now that I think about it ... it actually makes sense!

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

Rivki--Yes, Taka amd mamish are interchangeable.

Sarah--In Yiddish, and German, "Gevalt" literally means "force" or "powers". In the words of the incomparable Leo Rosten in his gevaltik book, "The Joys of Yiddish", "the exclamation point being, at least psychologically,an inseparable part of the spelling."

"Gevalt" can be either a noun or an expletive. I have never heard "gevaltik" in a negative context, but then I hang with a lot of Carlebach types.

RMG--davka: precisely, exactly, only so, AND "just to spite". Why the contradictory uses? Davka! Kind of like "slim chance" and "fat chance" mean (davka) the same thing.

The inestimal Rosten does not even touch "stam", or "cheyn", let alone its exquisite adjectival form, "becheynefdik".

Chaviva said...

I am guilty of using stam ALL the time. Drives my husband bonkers.

Anonymous said...

Miriam chava says: Chaviva I also use the word stam all the time. It's an most have word :)
And people also use a lot of Nachon :P

SusQHB said...

This post could have been titled "Sounding frum in a nutshell". BTW, shtark is my absolute favorite word. Its even on my Facebook Profile.

Hadassa said...

Shalom!
JOH-rah, is Arabic, not Hebrew (which has no J sound, unless you're Yemenite) and has a few meanings. It had been a general term for well (a place where water is drawn in buckets) and there are places that incorporate it in their names. It later was used largely as term for a sewage well. Someone talking dirty has a peh (Heb. mouth) johrah.
Dafka should be spelled davka (it's the Rivka-Rifka type letter switch) and is Aramaic.
I'm not sure about this, but in my 20+ years in Israel it seems to me that wahla is a bastardization of the French voila!
The adjective form of nebuch is nebish, and means pathetic or weak (Yiddish). In Hebrew nevoch means embarrassed, confused or perplexed, as in the Rambam's The Guide to the Perplexed
In Israel, slang from everywhere is mixed together: Yiddish, Arabic, English, French, Russian and more. We're all coming home and bringing our pet words with us.

Natalie Strobach said...

Could you pretty please put some practice sentences up in the main post? I have (unfortunately) never heard any of these words! =(

Tzipporah said...

When I first moved here I was shopping and someone asked how many kids I had, I answered 3 and she said "kein ayin hara". That one threw me for a loop. I just replied "yeah..." and smiled like a doof. Then she told me the store we were shopping in was very heimish and I said "oh that's good to know". I figured that was a safe response no matter what it meant... and then I asked a friend later.

My husband thought Shovua Tov was a blessing for Shavuous (I mean it sounds the same, so it makes sense!) and he was wishing people a "shovua tov" all during Shavuous and getting funny looks. When I explained to him what it meant he had to laugh at himself.

We laugh at ourselves a lot. It's better than being laughed at by others, right?

Tzipporah said...

When I first moved here I was shopping and someone asked how many kids I had, I answered 3 and she said "kein ayin hara". That one threw me for a loop. I just replied "yeah..." and smiled like a doof. Then she told me the store we were shopping in was very heimish and I said "oh that's good to know". I figured that was a safe response no matter what it meant... and then I asked a friend later.

My husband thought Shovua Tov was a blessing for Shavuous (I mean it sounds the same, so it makes sense!) and he was wishing people a "shovua tov" all during Shavuous and getting funny looks. When I explained to him what it meant he had to laugh at himself.

We laugh at ourselves a lot. It's better than being laughed at by others, right?

Chaviva said...

@Natalie Here are some test sentences!

He had such a bright future ahead of him. I can't believe he got caught up in drugs. Nebach. (It's a pity.)

They're a very heimish couple -- gefilte fish and cholent every week!

I DAVKA refuse to eat herring. It's disgusting.

That yeshiva bochur is so shtark -- smart, good looking, from a good Jewish family to boot!

Anonymous said...

Love it! Thanks!

This just made me chuckle...because there are so many words like this that just end up in our vocabulary one way or another. In particular, I remember teaching a few years ago and going over an overhead without turning the projector on. When I realized my error, I remarked "oh, I'm such a schmuck (sp?)" After class this Chasidic student came up to me and said, "Natalie, you can't call yourself the remainder of a foreskin!." Um, what? Then I ended up having a conversation with my Chazzan that I wish I had avoided with some Googling. lol

Natalie Strobach said...

That was me...the schmuck comment. I forgot to put my name.

judaism.stackexchange.com said...

http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1731/hard-yeshivish-phrases-to-translate

Jeanette said...

Sepharadim have other words too...more specifically syrians
Hadeed perfect
Hazeet is nebach
Haje enough
Dahak hysterical/funny
Jdubs are Ashkenazim

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