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zensky's avatar

English, that glorious, at times under-appreciated language, consists of a base language and many foreign words - one of them Yiddish. What other foreign words should English include?

Asked by zensky (13357points) February 1st, 2013

Before contributing, check with the dictionary lest you discover that English already uses it.

Like angst, from German.

Here is a list of 40 Yiddish words in English you must know.

Feel free to kibitz my dahling jellies.


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33 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

There aren’t too many that English speakers don’t already use. The English language is like Roman religious beliefs, adopting part of whatever it takes over.

I regularly use about half a dozen on that Yiddish word list, and am adept at using almost all the rest.

snowberry's avatar

I know maybe 10 on your list, and I might use 2 or 3 regularly in my speech. I don’t really understand your question.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I wish Hawai`ian pidgin was more widely known than it is. There are many great words. My favorite is a short, two-word phrase, “da kine” (pronounced dah kah een). It roughly translates as “whatchamacallit.” :-)

zensky's avatar

^ GA!

@snowberry – I’ll give you an example: in Hebrew, a hug is an extra-curricular activity. I wish there were a simple, one-word synonym for extra-curricular activity in English like that. Alas, it won’t become a part of English – like Falafel and Shalom.

Read the details again and read @Hawaii_Jake ‘s post. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

gorillapaws's avatar

The Japanese word “Mu” which I learned about from @jerv’s post a little while ago. Defined:

“Mu” is the correct answer to the classic trick question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”. Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer “yes” is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but “no” is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the correct answer is usually “mu”, a Japanese word alleged to mean “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions”. (Source)

zensky's avatar

Loved it.

mattbrowne's avatar

Zuhause = home
Heimat = the home in a region that people really feel they belong to

ucme's avatar

Bouncebackability, okay, not strictly foreign, but I like it.

thorninmud's avatar

In a conversation the other day, I struggled to find an English equivalent for the French noun “planque” (pronounced roughly “plonk”). One sense of it is simply “hideout”, which is straight-forward enough; but it also means a secure, comfortable situation in which one finds shelter from life’s various bothers. It can apply to a very secure, unchallenging job, for instance. Or if I escape an awkward social situation to go wash some dishes, I’m using that chore as a planque.

cazzie's avatar

Unne = a word in Norwegian that means that you are glad that person is getting that good thing, or is going on holiday because they deserve it. The word for ‘envy’ is ‘misunne’ which means to unne someone in a bad/wrong way. A neighbour told me she was going on a trip to Denmark to see her family and I could say, ‘Unne deg’. It is such a good expression.

CWOTUS's avatar

I wish I knew Klingon. I await the Trekkers’ contributions to the list.

morphail's avatar

@cazzie Congratulations?

@gorillapaws 無 mu is “un-; non-; bad…; poor; nothing; naught; nought; nil; zero”

CWOTUS's avatar

Iktsuarpok (Inuit) You know that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet? This is the word for it.

There should be an email variation of the word, like the anticipation of looking for that “lost password?” email you’ve been expecting to reset a site’s password.

CWOTUS's avatar

You’ve probably heard the story that Eskimos have 37 words for “snow”. Actually, they only have four or five, same as we do, but they have a lot of expletive modifiers – same as we do.

morphail's avatar

“iktsuarpok” is from the book The Meaning of Tingo where it is translated as “to go outside often to see if someone is coming”.

Comparing Inuit and English words is very misleading. Inuit is heavily agglutinative, which means it adds affixes to a base to form a “word” which often translates into English as a “sentence”. This means you can make an Inuit “word” which means almost anything you want.

glacial's avatar

@morphail Is there anything you won’t throw cold water on?

zensky's avatar

I think he threw some snowthatmeltsdespitethecoldnessofhisheartintowater onto CWOTUS.

syz's avatar

Have you read The Mother Tongue? Based on this question, I think you would enjoy it.

bookish1's avatar

I like the French colloquial verb “bosser,” meaning to work one’s ass off or hustle. I find myself trying to use it in English conversations where it makes no sense.
“Sorry I can’t go to your party dude, I’ve got to boss all weekend.” (It kind of makes sense if your interlocutor is a video game fan, and understands about fighting boss battles!)

Also, “se débrouiller” means literally, I suppose, “to disembroil oneself” (?) but it is used to mean “to manage,” “get by,” “get out of a tough situation.”

Finally, the word chai means “tea” in what, 14 languages… So you don’t have to say “chai tea” goshdarnit.

glacial's avatar

@bookish1 Oh yeah, I use débrouille all the time – that’s one we definitely need.

ucme's avatar


jaytkay's avatar

I just read a great book that language mavens here might enjoy.

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

The premise is that modern Israel never happened, and the Jews were given an Alaskan homeland. Which sounds crazy but it was an actual proposal in the 1940s.

The book is like all the great American detective fiction but taking place in an entirely Jewish version of big-city America – Yiddish is the official language and the hard-boiled detectives eat hard-boiled eggs and pickles at the bar.

Great book, highly recommended.

The language is very fun, Chabon includes lots of familiar Yiddish terms, but he also dreamed up some clever Yiddishisms for his Alaskans.

CWOTUS's avatar

We have plenty of words in English that don’t get enough use as it is:
disambiguation (a word that Wikipedia thankfully knows and uses);
disabuse – to free from a misconception
defenestrate – to throw out of a window (ask me someday about my Defenenstration List, which is on my Bucket List)

And that’s just a few of the Ds.

bookish1's avatar

@CWOTUS: You can’t really teach the history of the Eastern bloc without using the word ‘defenestrate’...

cazzie's avatar

@morphail no, no… congratulations is a different word in Norwegian and means the same as it does in English. Unne is something different. For someone’s birthday, we say, ‘Congratulations for the day’... ‘Gratulerer med dagen’.. but that is very different from the word ‘unne’.

morphail's avatar

@cazzie “you are glad that person is getting that good thing, or is going on holiday because they deserve it” sounds pretty much like “congratulations” to me. One dictionary says it means “be glad about, not grudge, wish”. If “Dette kan du unne deg” means “you can not begrudge yourself”, how about “Have fun” as an idiomatic English translation?

cazzie's avatar

‘Have fun’ isn’t always appropriate. While I may wish a friend to have fun on their holiday, it does not encompass what unna means. It means, you so deserve that and I am so glad for you. Is there a short expression for that in English? I can’t think of a short way in English to say, ‘You deserve that, and I am so glad for you.’

zensky's avatar

In English slang, there is Fuckin’ A!

morphail's avatar

@cazzie Thanks for explaining. I can see how “congratulations” isn’t an appropriate response to someone who tells you they’re going on holiday.

Jillysback's avatar

NuqneH (pronounced nook-necchhh’)
Klingon greeting which translates “What do you want”

cazzie's avatar

This is helpful when trying to understand Norwegian:

Brian1946's avatar

The Japanese word “Mu”....

…alleged to mean “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions”.

So that’s what the cow meant when I asked her if she stopped being horny for the same old bullshit. ;-)

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