Some love our food. Some love our holidays. Others appreciate our ideas. But the unsung heroes of the unique Jewish experience are our words. Sure, there’s a lot of great stuff in the literary world out there, but there are some terms you’ll only find among Yidden — simply put, we have the best words for those concepts that could spin your tongue in circles
Help me complete this Top 10 list. I’ll start with the first 5.
Today is the day Winston Churchill died. Wait, that can’t be right — was he like a hundred and fifty? Pretty sure he’s been dead a while. No, no, no, I mean it’s the anniversary of the day he died. Anniversary? You getting him a pearl necklace? In the outside world, they’re forced to couple the idea of anniversary with death, making it seem like some morbid marriage commemoration. But not us! As the word yahrtzeit is about memorializing others, it’s about time we took a moment to appreciate what this term has done for us.
Wait, those are your in-laws?! Did you marry a teenager? No, they’re my child’s in-laws — they’re our son’s wife’s parents. By the time you are done describing this relationship, you’ll have barely enough time or energy to describe why it irritates so much you how they treat your son. Ashreichem Yisrael, we have the word mechutanim! With this word we can neatly condense a wordy relationship, saving your time and energy to enjoy (as well as kvetching about) your mechutanim.
Here’s a trick: Want to spot the law school guy who came from kollel with a bachelor’s in Talmudic Law? Look for the fellow who keeps sneaking his old Talmudic buddy bedieved into legal conversations. And you can’t blame him — for all of the world’s innovations, there’s still no sensible alternative for the word bedieved. Before all the Latin nerds start writing letters, we know the word ex post exists, but here’s another trick: Want to spot the guy who has trouble making friends? Look for the fellow using the term ex post. For everyone else, we’ll stay with bedieved, even though it’s not always l’chatchilah.
This word is not shayach. It’s our linguistic Swiss Army knife. “Is she shayach? She’s not shayach.” Just this question and answer can have several meanings depending on your intonation. “Not shayach” in a somber tone means don’t bother. “Not shayach” with excitement means this may be the greatest idea of all time. Try substituting a bland translation and see if you still get the same interpretive flexibility. It’s mamash not relevant.
Leave it to Jews to take a word that was originally used to describe textual emendations and repurpose it to describe something whose very existence they prefer not to countenance. But nothing is quite as cathartic as when that guttural “G” sound in goireis enters with gusto to let your interlocuter know why some [insert: person/restaurant/school/columnist/gvir/policy/recipe] does not merit your attention. A better word we could not be goires.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 731. Special thanks to Lani Harrison, Michael Zelnitz, Josh Resnick, Moshe Kolat, and Paula Pownd.
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