Yiddish has many different words for morons and misfits, for idiots and incompetents, not to mention the mindless ignoramuses. From chutspenik to paskudnik, here are some of the most colorful and popular.
arumloyfer—A runaround, a gadabout, an unstable personality. Arumloyfers just don’t want to accept responsibility. The only thing an arumloyfer is serious about is having fun.
batlen—A nonproductive person, a lazy person. Notice the negative and positive feelings surrounding this word? Guess it all depends on where you’re coming from when you see an unproductive, nonworking person who nevertheless tells you his mind is occupied with more important things.
Note: The following words are all pronounced with the gutteral “kh,” not the “ch” as in “church.”
chutspenik (or khutspenik)—A person with chutspe (or khutspe). Okay, so I didn’t explain khutspe, but that’s because I don’t think there’s any English word that’s able to express its full meaning. English itself has given up and adopted the word. Is it impudence? Oh no, it’s much, much more than that. The best illustration of khutspe is still the classic one of the man who kills his mother and father and then asks the court for leniency on the grounds that he is an orphan.
dumkopf—Literally dumb-head, dumb-bell, dunce. Anyone who has ever seen a German movie will remember this word. It’s the expletive used in response to any act of stupidity. It usually is more of a reaction to a specific incident than to the total person. Dumkopf, how could you have done this?
eyngeshparter—A stubborn person. There’s really no point in trying to convince an eyngeshparter. Logic just doesn’t work. He’s right because he thinks so, and how could you possibly know more than he does?
farbisener—An embittered, envious, and unhappy person. A farbisener never smiles except when he hears of your misfortune. A farbisener’s least favorite commandment is “Thou shalt not covet.” A farbisener doesn’t fargin—a great Yiddish word for which I know no English equivalent. To fargin is to be happy for someone else, to rejoice in another’s good fortune. I fargin him his Jaguar. I fargin him that he won the lottery. Fargin is a word you’ll never hear from the words of a farbisener.
fartshadeter—A bewildered, befuddled person. This is a word appropriate even for someone to say about oneself. Highly unexpected events can fartshader you. “I’m all fartshadet because my daughter told me she’s pregnant.” “So what’s to be fartshadet?” “You don’t understand—she’s still single.”
hitsiger—A hothead. The Talmud teaches that loss of temper leads straight to Hell. That’s why a hitsiger is in such danger of the hits, the heat that awaits him.
kibitser—An intrusive, meddlesome spectator. Kibitsers are self-appointed advisers who think themselves superior. When a kibitser “puts his two cents in,” it usually isn’t worth even that, especially in today’s inflationary times.
krekhtser—A moaner, a sigher, a complainer. He’s the one in the story who, while travelling on a train, drives everyone crazy by repeating over and over, “Oy do I have a thirst, oy do I have a thirst.” When finally someone gets up, goes to the dining room car and brings him back a glass of water, the krekhtser continues his lament, “Oy did I have a thirst, oy did I have a thirst.”
kvetsh—A whiner, a complainer. A kvetsh is first cousin to a krekhtser. A kvetsh doesn’t just moan, though. A kvetsh is in a constant state of dissatisfaction. A kvetsh will be given six choices of main dishes at a fancy wedding reception and complain afterward that they didn’t have anything that he liked.
meshugener—A mad person, an eccentric. Meshugener is more of a fun word than a condemnation. Every person, goes the Yiddish proverb, has his or her own meshugas. It’s a way of acknowledging that “it’s a mad, mad world,” and we all have to be a little bit meshuge to survive.
oyverbotel—Senile, over the hill, someone who lost his faculties. To say it about an old man is disrespectful. Used for a younger person, it’s another way of suggesting that he has “lost all his marbles.”
paskudnik, paskudnyak—A revolting, disgusting, mean, evil person. The term is derived from a Polish/Ukrainian root and sounds just like what it means. All the syllables allow you to linger over your revulsion.
prostak—A boorish, coarse person. Prost alone says it as well. Not just a person, but actions as well can be swiftly summarized—and put down as prost, common, and vulgar.
shiker—A drunkard. To be a shiker is bad every day of the year except one. On Purim, Jews are commanded to drink until “they don’t know the difference between ‘blessed be Mordecai’ (the hero of the story) and ‘cursed be Haman’ (the villain)” (Babylonian Talmud).
shnorer—A beggar, a sponger, a moocher. A shnorer can be respectable. Someone down on his luck is entitled to ask others to help him. It’s only when he chooses this as a lifestyle and a profession instead of work that it gives the word a bad reputation.
trombenik—A blowhard, a braggart. From the Polish and Yiddish tromba (trumpet), it’s somebody who blows his own horn with self-praise he doesn’t deserve.
umglik—A born loser; an unlucky person. Glik is mazel, success, good fortune. The letters um negate it. An umglik is a person who’s an accident waiting to happen.
yente—A female blabbermouth. Yente used to be a common and acceptable name until the humorous writer B. Kovner (pen name of Jacob Adler) popularized Yente Telebente, a made-up character who couldn’t control her tongue, in a Yiddish newspaper. I don’t know if Yentes of the times changed their names, but today I know of no one who willingly goes by it. Yente is no longer a name but a title. It’s given not by parents, but by long-suffering friends—and only to the truly deserving. For yentes, gossip is air, and their mouths have discovered the secret of perpetual motion.
zhlob—An insensitive, gauche, ill-mannered person. A zhlob needs his hands to eat with, to point with, and to wipe his nose with. Otherwise, they’re too clumsy to hold on to anything and too uncultured to shake hands with.
Remember that none of these words are used indiscriminately. You must develop a certain feeling for their appropriateness. Every one of these Yiddish words has its own degree of animosity, disgust, and disfavor—with some of them even implying a wink of the eye and a kind of envious acceptance. So don’t be a zhlob when using them!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish by Rabbi Benjamin Blech