You know, the holiday season isn’t all about egg nog, two-hour lines to sit on Santa’s lap and eagle-eyed elves on shelves eager to rat your kids out to their white-bearded boss.
Because while 91% of Americans will be celebrating Christmas, that still leaves a pretty substantial number of non-celebrants too, many of whom are Jewish. And as kind as reindeer sweater-wearing America has been to share their culture with everyone else, perhaps it’s time to return the favor, with a lesson on a cherished, quirky language.
So since most people’s familiarity with Yiddish begins and ends with SNL’s “ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman” and a lot of “I’m getting a little verklempt!” references, here are a few more Yiddish words and phrases you may hear during Christmas time.
1. Bupkes (Loose definition: Nothing, nada, usually used to express disappointment)
Example: “All those naughty boys and girls? Getting bupkes this year.”
2. Schmutz (Loose definition: Dirt, filth)
Example: “I put down that half-eaten candy cane for just, like, 20 seconds and now I have all this sticky schmutz all over my desk.”
3. Chazerai (Loose definition: Miscellaneous stuff, junk; the “ch” is more a rolled “kh” with a gentle, little throat-clearing sound; click to hear it)
Example: “The real Christmas miracle? That that sled ever takes off, what with all that chazerai weighing it down.”
4. Alter kocker (Loose definition: An elderly person)
Example: “I almost made it out of the mall in an hour, but got stuck behind this alter kocker who kept pumping her brakes the whole way down the parking deck. Then I felt awful when I realized it was my bubbe.”
5. Bubbe (Exact definition: Grandma)
Example: See above.
6. Shmata (Loose definition: A raggedy piece of clothing, sometimes unusual)
Example: “Not that I’m surprised, but his new girlfriend showed up at the holiday party in some ridiculous furry-looking shmata. Seriously, I don’t even know if it was dead or alive.”
7. Chutzpah (Definition: Nerve, confidence, but not in a good way; again the “ch” is a rolled “kh”)
Example: “Hold on. I wasn’t finished. She’s got a lot of chutzpah even showing up at that party in the first place!”
8. Plotz (Loose definition: Collapse, from exhaustion or shock)
Example: "I almost plotzed when I found out all those iconic Christmas songs were written by Irving Berlin, who was Jewish!"
9. Mishpucha (Loose definition: Family, all of them; click to hear it)
Example: “Christmas night we’re just gonna follow the stereotype and go out with the whole mishpucha for Chinese food.”
10. Pupik (Exact definition: Bellybutton)
Example: “Stop poking your brother’s pupik! Can’t you see he doesn’t like that? When does winter break end again?”
11. Shpilkes (Loose definition: nervous energy, anxiety; click to hear it)
Example: "I don't know. He didn't say which size fruitcake to get. They all look the same to me anyways. This whole thing is giving me shpilkes. Just pick one and let's go already."
12. Tchatchke (Loose definition: Little trinket; click to hear it)
Example: "Why are you handing me a holiday wish list with like 40 things on it? You already have a million tchatchkes lying around your room that you never even touch."
12. Fakakta (Loose definition: messed up, ridiculous)
Example: "What's with this fakakta Elf on a Shelf thing? It's kinda creepy, right? And you have to name it? What's next? Clothe and bathe it too? My God, it's like a Tamagotchitoy all over again, just with rosy cheeks and fewer feedings."
13. Meshuggenah (Loose definition: A little crazy, nutty)
Example: "Look, I love a good Christmas lights display. But you gotta be a bit meshugunnah to sync the whole thing to Skrillex."
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN