Warren Adler
Funny Boys

Funny Boys

Yiddish Glossary

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A comedian in the Catskills circa 1937 interacts with the gangsters from Murder Inc.

A Glossary of Yiddish Expressions for the Confused Reader

Some readers of my new novel Funny Boys have been puzzled about the definitions of various Yiddish words mentioned in the book, some adulterated by New York street slang. I am indebted to Leo Rosten, whose various books on Yiddish, helped formalize and clarify some of these definitions, many of which defy all attempts of English translation. I had assumed that many of these words had slipped into the American idiom. Oddly, people who have read the book who are not Jewish have not registered any puzzlement.

- Warren Adler

boobala: a term of endearment, usually accompanied by a crunching pinch on the cheek or arm or a pat on the head.

boychick: an affectionate term for a male child. Often used as a term of either affection or derision for a male of any age.

cockinyam: literally to defecate in the ocean. Best translated in New Yorkese as “getoutahere you idiot”. Or better yet, an untranslatable Yiddish put down.

courva: a prostitute, whore or as it was used in the text “a hooer”. Used frequently as a curse word in an argument with a very angry and argumentative female.

fagele: a derisive now very politically incorrect term for a gay male.

punim: a face. As in “shayna punim,” meaning pretty face.

knish: potato or Kashe stuffed into greasy dough, goes down, if ever, like lead. Often used to describe a delectable or sometimes dumb person.

mamzer: a bastard, a dirty rat and similar term of derision. Conversely it is sometimes used as a term of affection.

meshuga: crazy. It covers all forms of dumb acts.

shtick: a piece of business contrived by an actor or comedian used to describe the antics of a Borscht Belt comedian designed to steal attention. You know it when you see it.

shmata: an article of clothing. The garment business, whether high fashion or low, is still known in some circles as the “shmata business.”

putz: penis, but used as a very derogatory term for people characterized as dumb, ignorant, and stupid. The term “vatig” can be appended for emphasis.

schmuck: literally a penis, but used as a first class insult for people who are stupid, ignorant, and perform baffling acts of moronic behavior.

shiksa: a non-Jewish female.

schmoozer: one who engages in friendly, low key gossip.

shtupping: performing sexual intercourse. As in “a good shtup.”

shpritzing: talking in a way that produces saliva on the person being addressed.

tumler: a noisemaker, a funny man, a Borscht Belt employee whose job was to be a social director and keep people laughing. It was the traditional path to comedian celebrity.

tuchas: the human behind, the ass. Often, as in English, derisive. Like “shove it up your ass.”

 
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