You Won’t Have a Farbissina Punim After You Read This Blog

What’s your favorite Yiddish word and why? You’ll hear mine in a bit.

Lately I have been reading more and more mainstream news items and features with a Yiddish word thrown in. Very common is chutzpah, (nerve) schtik, (sales pitch) yenta, (a gossip) klutz, (clumsy) tchotchke, (nik-nak) zaftig, (plump, and nosh (snack.)

In Austin Powers, Mike Meyers used one of my favorite words – farbissina (sourpuss) in a character with a perpetually down-turned mouth. Isn’t Frau Farbissina exactly how you imagine the word?

Pretty good coverage for a dying language.

I have long been a Maven on the Yiddish language. I grew up among immigrant grandparents who delighted me with phrases and terms thrown out in this special, vivid language. The thing I love most about Yiddish is how it affects my senses when I hear a word. I can actually visualize the meaning by hearing the word.

Close your eyes. Even if you never heard the word schmootz, you would know it means something greasy and gross, right?

I can’t help but see plotz (to burst) or dreck (dirt), or the weight that schlep implies.

Bupkis is another that has me seeing nothingness when I read it or hear it.

Farklempt is an automatic sad face.

Chozzerai is a throwaway –  a bunch of junk.

Schmattah  has me visualizing a worn out garment. Schlock – same thing – cheap, poorly made stuff.

I don’t sweat, I Schvitz.

When I read about good people it brings mensch to mind.

Is it because the words are familiar to me or is it the language itself? Whatever it is, this language delights and amuses me. The words just jump into meaning for me, and being a writer, that is a fun thing.

Anyway, I have soo many favorite Yiddish words, but I have to let you in on my most favorite or I will plotz!:

The reason I love it is the sound – it is such a graphic word and it tickles me every time I hear it. It applies to me often – I like to dress nicely, even if I am going to the grocery store.

My favorite word is: Fahpitzed.

Some say I get all fahpitzed when I go out.  (It means to get dolled up) Hilarious isn’t it?

SEQUINS!

What’s your favorite – one that you like to pull out pretty regularly?

12 comments

  • Thanks too much Arlene.

    My favorite is klutz because it describes me perfectly. I had no idea that it was a Yiddish word until now.

    I know quite a few Yiddish words and now I know one more.

    I love words and have done so for as long as I can remember. I have learned not to use many of the words I like because some people dislike new words.

    However, a good friend sent me the following email a few minutes ago: “Have you ever seen a punim you didn’t like?” I googled punim and found your blog. I responded with an email that gave him credit for a word I didn’t know. My response also contained “farbissina”.

  • Good article. Love the yiddish language. Forgive my spelling…lol. One of my favs is geeta nashuma..which means a good person…according to my Mom.

  • my cat’s name is Punim. Monkey is her brother, but I usually call him ” Majik”! He is Majik!

  • I can’t believe I just Googled fabissna punham and found your article.

  • Kvell is a favorite yiddish word and lots of gelt…

  • I just reposted this on my Facebook page. I said “this will be a little lighter than the usual drek I post”. You will understand my meaning if you visit my website. I am a little angry about the direction the world is turning.

  • Thanks for the blog on Yiddish words that have found their way into American vernacular. I think I know and have used all the words you’ve mentioned, except one — farbissina. I’ve never even heard of farbissina. Pretty funny when you think my maiden name is Farb. Nu? Who knew? Thanks, Arlene!

  • nothing says crazy like messugenah, there’s no better description for neurosis than “mishegos”

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