On words from Yiddish and Hebrew that still are alive in the German language today.

Proposal View from Top ©AMStöhr, VG Bildkunst 2019

While living in the US, I noticed the use of Yiddish words, such as schlepp, shmooze or shvitz or expressions like oj vej.

I was surprised by the sameness of these words in Yiddish and German, notably in some German regional farmer’s dialects.What is not surprising are shared roots, since Yiddish developed from a mixture of Hebrew, Arameic and Mittelhochdeutsch ( German language from the middle ages ). I did some research and found out that a few very common expressions in German have Yiddish or Hebrew roots. The New Year’s Eve vernacular: “Einen guten Rutsch!” mistaken for: “Have a good slide into the new year!” (rutschen=slide), actually stems from Rosh and Rosh Hashanah. The same is true for the German version of “Break a Leg”, “Hals-und Beinbruch”, which is not the inversion of the malediction of breaking neck and leg, as we think, but actually stems from : “Hatslokhe un Brokhe”= “Good Luck and Blessing”. In the dialect of the Saar region, a very common expression is “oh weh”- a direct correlation to “oj vej”, the adverb allemol corresponds to the Yiddish alemol= always.One of the regional cuisine’s pride is “Bibbelches Bohnesupp’” – a haricot vert soup.

View of Brick with Yiddish Word, ©AMStöhr, VG-Bildkunst 2019

In the Duden Lexicon of Yiddish words, I found that Bebl means bean.According to this find, “Bibbelches Bohnesupp’”, is a doubling of words, which literally means: bean bean soup-a redundancy hardly anyone knows about.The same goes for the endearment of Bobbelche nearly identical to bobbele used when addressing an infant or toddler.

Who would have guessed that the contemporary slang such as: Zicke -bitch, Klamotten-clothes, Kluft-outfit, eine Macke haben-being nuts, Kaff-small village, zocken- gaming, gambling, Stuss-bullshit, Maloche-work, all are Yiddish words.

According to several essays, scholars and scoundrels came in contact with the Yiddish language as early as the 16th century. Vagrants learned Yiddish expressions along the road and incorporated them into their secret language.

Scholars noticed that Jews mastered Hebrew, which interested biblical theologians, leading to Hebrew words finding their entry into German during the late 15th century.In the 18th century Yiddish language was the dominant trade language and Christian trades people had to learn this jargon in order to successfully conduct their business.

The scoundrel’s language: “Rotwelsch” incorporated many Yiddish words into their secret vocabulary and is still in use in slang such as: Knast-prison, ausbaldowern-hacking out a plan ,Schmiere stehen-standing guard .The Yiddish word that generated the slang word Knast however is Knas and means: “ a fine”. The appropriation of Yiddish words by bandits and it’s association gave rise to prejudice and was used as defamation.

Many Yiddish words are used in contemporary German daily, such as: vermasseln-to mess up, Schlammassel-mess, Hooligan, Miesepeter-sourpuss, naschen-to eat sweets, schäkern-to flirt, flöten gehen-to lose sth., Gasse-small street, Tohuwabohu, Jubel-jubilee, trübe Tasse-bore, Tinnef-chotchkes, schmusen.

L’ Chaim!

References:Hans-Peter Althaus:Kleines Lexikon deutscher Wörter jiddischer Herkunft, Verlag C.H. Beck, 2003

Prof.Dr.Ronald Loetzsch:Jiddisches Wörterbuch, Dudenverlag, 2018

Bastian Sick:Von Abzocke bis Zoff-Jiddische Wörter in deutscher Sprache, bastiansick.de, 12.April 2015

Wikipedia, Liste deutscher Wörter aus dem hebräischen und dem Jiddischen”,wikipedia.de, 20.August 2019

Stefan Im, Saarländisches Wörterbuch, stefan im http://www.de


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s