Jewish Language Humor


For more amusement in language, take a look at:

How to Talk Jewish (by Jackie Mason) at

So a dyslexic walks into a bra . . .

Yiddish-English Reference -- on another site -- very handy!

Hebonics 4/15/02

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Modern Yiddish Terms
Assorted Language Humor

Jewish English or 'Hebonics'

The Encino School Board has declared Jewish English a second language. Backers of the move say the district is the first in the nation to recognize Hebonics as the language of many of America's Jews. Here are some descriptions of the characteristics of the language, and samples of phrases in standard English and Jewish English.

Samples of Pronunciation Characteristics

Jewish English or "Hebonics" hardens consonants at the ends of words.
Thus, "hand" becomes "handt."

The letter "W" is always pronounced as if it were a "V".
Thus "walking" becomes "valking"

"R" sounds are transformed to a guttural utterance that is virtually impossible to spell in English. It's "ghraining" "algheady"

Samples of Idiomatic Characteristics

Questions are always answered with questions.
Question: "How do you feel?" Hebonics response: "How should I feel?"

The subject is often placed at the end of a sentence after a pronoun has been used at the beginning:
"She dances beautifully, that girl."

The sarcastic repetition of words by adding "sh" to the front is used for emphasis"
mountains becomes "shmountains" turtle becomes "shmurtle".

Sample Usage Comparisons

Standard English Phrase			Hebonics Phrase

"He walks slow" 			"Like a fly in the ointment he walks"

"You're sexy"				(unknown concept)

"Sorry, I do not know the time"		"What do I look like, a clock?"

"I hope things turn out for the best"	"You should BE so lucky"

"Anything can happen"			"It is never so bad, it can't get worse"

On Conversations with Jews...

Just because Jews are asking questions, doesn't mean they're going to wait around for an answer. If you've got something to say, speak up. Jump right in there with a hearty, "What, are you crazed?  That's not the way to fix a leaky faucet!"  (You will never use this phrase, however, since Jews do not do home or car repairs.)

Interrupt often.  It shows that you are interested in the conversation. If you're talking and Jews don't interrupt, they're bored.

Practice Question:
You're on the freeway, when a sports car speeds past you, weaves between cars and drives recklessly.  Your Jewish passenger asks, "Who gave that maniac a driver's license?"

Wrong answer: "In the 1950s, the United States made an economic decision to encourage automobile ownership over public transportation to support the automotive industry which created jobs and stimulated the economy.  Ever since, most anyone can get a driver's license." Correct answer: "Morons."

Gentiles can also profit from learning the nuances of Hebonics.  When shopping in the garment district, a Jewish shop owner may seem insulted at your low ball offer on merchandise.  He may shout, "What, I'm the schmuck who shouldn't feed his children?"  The untrained Gentile simply cannot translate this phrase to its true meaning, "Let the negotiations begin."

On Rules Of Jewish Vocabulary...

Just as the Eskimos have 27 words for snow, Jews have 31 words for neurotic.

Only those fluent in Hebonics will sense when to call someone mashugana, ts'mished, furdrehet, hot nisht ein kaup, or vaist nisht vus ehr reht. Here are a few words to get you started.

1. "Sch--", as a prefix to anything, suggests disapproval:  "Cadillac schmadillac, you're suddenly too good for the Lincoln?"

2. Learning to pronounce "sch" properly is the first step in speaking Hebonics like a real Jew.  Nothing makes us giggle harder than the sound of Gentiles say, "It's not raining, just spritzing." It's the same "ssshhh" sound as the prompt to be quiet.

3. Schmuck--Most commonly used as "jerk" (literal translation is penis), but can also be used as a "sucker," as in , "Why am I always the schmuck who gets left with the check?"

4. Schmoe--See schmuck.

5. Schmata--Rag, as in, "Why does she wear those schmatas, that Esther?"

6. Schmaltz--Literally means chicken fat, but when used in conversation it's sappy or corny.  "The movie was OK, but why such a schmaltzy ending?"

On Posing Questions By A Jew...

1. Phrase statements as questions.  Instead of telling Ida she looks gorgeous, ask her, "How stunning do you have to look?"

2. Instead of answering questions definitely, answer with another question.  When someone asks how you feel, answer, "How should I feel?"

3. Whenever possible, end questions with "or what?"  This allows the other person to interject another question:  "Has she grown up, or what?",  "Can you remember when she was just a baby, or what?"  (About now, a spontaneous rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset" should be expected.)

4. Begin questions with "What?"  Example:  "What, my kishka's not good enough for you?"

5. Drop last word in sentence (which is typically a direct or indirect object):  "What, do you want to get killed going alone?  Ira will go with" (drop "you").

6. Move subject to end of sentences:  "Is SHE getting heavy, that Esther?"

7. Use "that" as a modifier to infer contempt:  "Is Esther still dating that Norman fellow?"

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Modern Yiddish Terms

A father who wakes his wife at 4 a.m. so she can change the baby's diaper.

When Aunt Sadie gets lost in a department store and strikes up a conversation with everyone she passes.

Having the feeling you've seen the same exasperated look on your mother's face but not knowing exactly when.

Someone who eats leavened foods during Passover while maintaining he/she is observant.

A traditional form of self defense based on talking one's way out of a tight spot.

Adult arguing that occurs as children search for hidden Passover matzo.

Inability to remember one's lines when called to read from the Torah at one's Bar or Bat mitzvah.

An appetizer one finds out has pork in it after one has eaten it.

Pride in finding out that one's favorite celebrity is Jewish.

A deceptively sweet manner used to extract information. Key phrases include, "trust me", "your secret is safe with me" and "if you can't tell me, who can you tell?"

To be able to determine ethnic origins of celebrities even though their names might be St. John, Curtis, Davis, or Taylor.

To be called on to carpool more children than one has fingers, in a car that was made in Japan.

Matzo balls that are as good as mother used to make.

Smashing a piece of matzo to bits while trying to butter it.

A late-night assault on the refrigerator in search of leftovers even though "I won't be able to eat for a week!"

Candy one's mother gives to her grandchildren that she never gave to her own children.

Going to incredible lengths and troubles to find a tenth person to complete a minyan.

Slang: "My son, the genius."

A detailed description given by parents of their child's circumcision, generally spoken quite loud in front of the grown child and those people he would least like to hear the story.

Looking like one isn't involved while one's dog goes to the bathroom on a neighbor's lawn.

To drop out of law school, med school or business school, as seen through the eyes of parents, grandparents, and Uncle Sid. (In extreme cases, simply choosing to major in art history when Irv's son, David is majoring in biology, is sufficient grounds for dis-kvellification.)

A Jewish flasher.

Indigestion from eating Israeli street food.

A gentile messenger.

To forget all the Hebrew one ever learned immediately after one's Bar Mitzvah.

Israeli aftershave.

A Semitic smart-ass.

Major contributors to the UJA, the JUF, or the IEF.

The assorted lipstick and make-up stains found on one's face and collars after kissing all one's aunts and cousins at a reception.

Moving from Brooklyn to Miami and finding all your old neighbors live in the same condo as you.

A rock 'n roll band from Brooklyn.

The explanation Jewish children get for when they celebrate Hannukah while the rest of humanity celebrates Christmas.

Finding out one's wife became pregnant after one had a vasectomy.

A special meal that Muffy O'Brien prepares for Morris Greenblatt.

The relief you feel when after many attempts the shofar is finally blown at the end of Yom Kippur.

The result of lunch at your mother's and dinner at your mother-in law's.

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