Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nebach. He's So Shtark!

Sometimes, I find myself using words that I really don't understand. Words that -- when you're a Jew -- you just use because that's what people do. No one sits you down when you're converting and says, "By the way, Jews use these words, so be sure you study and know them and use them, mmk?"

But maybe someone should.

The other night, while preparing something for Shabbos, I began to wonder if anyone at the table was going to eat it. I thought about my guests and then said in my head, "Of course. So-and-so's a heimish person." And then while out to dinner tonight, I ran into someone who referred to the restaurant as a "heimish" kind of place, so they might not hold to reservations.

It's funny, because I actually couldn't define the word for you if I tried. So let's go to the interwebs and see what they think.
heimish (adj.) having qualities associated with a homelike atmosphere; simple, warm, relaxed, cozy, unpretentious, etc.
Okay. So, that makes sense. Is there a reason that a restaurant won't hold to reservations that makes it heimish? This word perplexes me.

And then there are other words like shtark and nebach. Oh, and mamash!

According to Babylon translators, nebach means an unlucky or unfortunate person, but it also means "It's a pity." A good friend always used the word nebach, so I figured out that it had a negative connotation, but I never felt comfortable using it in a sentence, and I still don't.

The same translator has shtark as meaning strong (adj.) and strongly or greatly (adv.).  It's funny to me because I always thought shtark meant sad or unfortunate. Oops. One of my Twitter friends says that shtark often is used when referring to a "yeshiva student who studies a lot and studies well" and another says it's often used simply to mean "frum." So, one might call me shtark. Who knows.

Mamash means really. And people tend to use it a lot in phrases like, I mamash hate broccoli. (Pronounced mahm-ish, as opposed to ma-mahsh in the Hebrew.)

It took me a long time to figure out what Gut Voch meant, but after spending a Shabbos in a community full of Gut Voch folks, I figured out that it meant "Good Week" as an alternative to Shavua Tov. The former is Yiddish, the latter Hebrew.

And here's a bonus: Shkoyach. Now, that's what in the Orthodox world we'll call a mashup. Jews like to take shortcuts for everything (just look at all of the acronyms in Hebrew newspapers for just about every public official out there). So this is a mashup of "Yasher Koach." It simply becomes Shkoyach. (That is, way to go! congrats! way to be, man!) Does it ever end!?

It makes me wonder: Do Sephardim use words like this? Would you hear a Moroccan say that something is heimish?

Maybe I need a crash course in Yiddish. Sometimes, in certain communities, I definitely don't feel like I fit in well. I can't use the words as well as many do, and sometimes I find myself using the words to "fit in" despite not knowing what they mean. It's group-think, Yiddish style.

What are some words that you use and maybe don't full understand? Or words that it took you awhile to understand?