Fermished and Ferblonjet
A guide is a person who shows the way by leading, directing, or advising. The Friends of Israel uses excellent guides when we host our tours to Israel. These individuals provide insightful information as they lead us through the Holy Land. From time to time our “flock” of travelers goes astray, quickly becoming overwhelmed by the crowds and confusion. I have noticed a common look on their faces when we manage to locate them—a look of bewilderment. In Yiddish we would say they looked fermished and ferblonjet—bewildered and confused.
I have seen that same look on the faces of people who are hearing Yiddish for the first time. Many Yiddish words and expressions have become familiar to us; others remain obscure. Permit me to be your guide through a selected glossary of Yiddish terms.
Bagel (Ba’-gel): Doughnut-shaped bread. Originally available only in plain or egg flavors, they now come with onion, garlic, sesame seeds, and other wonderful combinations.
Bashert (Ba-shert’): A common expression heard from the lips of Jewish people, “What is bashert is bashert” or “What will be will be.”
Bobe Myseh (Boo’-bee My’-se): A made-up story; an old wives’ tale.
Boychik (Boy’-chick): Literally, a boy, but used with great affection.
Bubbe (Bub’-bee): A grandmother.
Boobe (Boo’-bee): An affectionate term, similar to darling or honey.
Chazzer (Ha’-zer): Literally, a pig; used of someone who is selfish.
Chutzpa (Hoot’-spa): Having guts, gall, nerve, or arrogance.
Fermished (Fer-mished’): Bewildered.
Farblonjet (Fer-blon’-jet): Confused.
Forshpeis (For’-shpeese): An appetizer.
Fress/Fresser (Fres’-ser): To eat a lot; one who eats a lot.
Gelt: Literally, gold; money.
Get: A divorce.
Gevalt (Ge-valt’): Used with the word Oy, it is an expression of astonishment or amazement.
Gonif (Gon’-if): A thief; sometimes used of an untrustworthy person.
Goy/Goyim (Goy-im’): A Gentile; Gentiles.
Haymish (Hay’-mish): An unspoiled, warm, or unpretentious person.
Kinehora (Kin-e-hor’-a): A superstitious term used to protect people from evil coming upon them.
Kibitz (Kib’-bits): Chatter on and on; not to be confused with…
Kibbutz (Kib-butz’): Communal living in Israel.
Kinder (Kin’-der): Children.
Klezmer (Klez’-mer): Traditional music from Eastern Europe, performed today in various celebrations and coffee shops.
Kosher (Ko’-sher): Fit or proper; can be used of food, clothes, business.
Kvell (K-vell’): To beam with pride.
Kvetch (K-vetch’): To complain; a complainer.
Macher (Ma’-cher): The big cheese; the head honcho; the one with all the connections.
Maven (Mav’-en): The expert or know-it-all.
Mazel Tov (Maz’-el Tov): An expression of good luck or congratulations.
Megillah (Me-gil’-lah): The whole story.
Mensch: A good person; one who is helpful and kind.
Meshugena (Me-shoog’-e-na): Crazy, nutty, or wacky.
Mishegas (Mish’-e-gas): Craziness, absurdity.
Mishpocha (Mish-po’-ha): Family.
Naches (Na’-ches): A delightful feeling of pride that comes when children get married, graduate from school, or receive a promotion.
Nudnick (Nood’-nick): A pest; someone who gets on your nerves.
Nosh: A snack.
Seychel (Say’-chel): Common sense.
Shaygets (Sha’-gets): A male Gentile.
Shikse (Shik’-sa): A female Gentile.
Shlemiel (Shl-meel’): Someone who never seems to get it right.
Shlep: To drag along.
Shlepper (Shlep’-per): Behind; a person who appears discombobulated.
Shlock: Shoddy or cheap junk.
Shamaltz: Rendered fat, usually chicken fat.
Shiva (Shiv’-a): A seven-day period of mourning when a loved one dies.
Shmatte (Shma’-ta): A rag; cheap clothing.
Schmooz (Shmoo’-ze): Friendly chatter.
Shnorrer (Shnor’-er): A moocher.
Shonda (Shon’-da): A scandal.
Shtick: A thing.
Tsuris (Tzer’-is): Trouble.
Yente (Yen’-tee): A gossipy woman.
Yiddishe kop (Yid’-ish-a cup’): Literally, a Jewish head; clever.
Zayde (Za’-dee): A grandfather.
If you master this short glossary, you will kvell with pride. Kinehora, what sounded like mishegas to you before has transformed you into a maven.
Editor’s NOTE: For a fuller treatment of the Yiddish language, see Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968).