Monday, October 10, 2011

Word of the Day: Yeshivish

Yeshivish is a language all its own. Supposedly it's a form of English, but sometimes, you'd never know it! 

Yeshivish exists most strongly in Yeshivish communities (whodathunkit?), but many orthodox Jews (primarily Ashkenazim) keep some yeshivish up their sleeve. Sometimes, it's just a faster way to communicate an idea. The words may be either Yiddish or Hebrew (generally not modern Hebrew), and they are sprinkled liberally throughout the English conversation/shiur.

For learning yeshivish words and phrases, I suggest listening to lots and lots of shiurim. (Listening to them will be good for you, regardless.) In the shiurs, rabbis will often use yeshivish, but kiruv shiurim will usually also give an English translation of the phrase. That way, you get both the meaning and how to use it in a sentence naturally. In many (American?) communities, a little yeshivish is the key to "passing" well. You walk the walk, so now you must talk the talk. Or at least understand other people talking.

I've cultivated a working fluency in yeshivish, but I try not to speak it as a general rule. I don't trust myself to choose both the correct word/pronunciation and right meaning in the same sentence. However, I understand most yeshivish spoken to me. What I don't understand is often clear from the context of the conversation, but there is no shame in asking someone to explain a word or phrase to you.

How much yeshivish do you understand? If you can understand this video, you are just fine. You will not understand everything, but if you understand what's going on, then you can survive just about anything. (The video is a response to this video, but you don't need to watch it to understand the video below.)


  1. That video was great. Like all good theater, it captured the subtleties of the subject of the parody. Never making a clear explanation or rationale, lack of clear thought, the mannerisms. Really well done.

    You can already see I am no fan of 'yeshivish'. When spoken in the course of learning, I don't think of it as yeshivish. It is simply the vocabulary that suits the subject matter best. But when spoken on the street, it is often like the incorrect or pretentious use of big words by the East Side Kids/Bowery Boys I loved to watch (and still would). Vague language leads to and/or expresses vague thinking. Some speak yeshivish as a frum pretention. Some do it to fit in (not much different). Many speak it because they simply don't know good English, nor good Heberew or Yiddish. Although it is a legitimate cultural expression or artifact, these parodies are so good precisely because they show the ridiculous way it has been consciously adopted by people who can do far better. This is the clear opposite, for instance, of the precise language used by someone like Rav J.B. Soloveitchik. The jargon is limited to exactly where it is needed, and otherwise real effort is made to clearly express in good language the processes tying it all together. That is why I always insisted that my students write their papers in good Hebrew (preferred) or good English; but not a sloppy hodge-podge or mish-mash (terms my English-teacher mother used).

  2. "mish-mash"

    The correct pronunciation would be "mish-MOSH".

    She's good, but there's too much fumfering around and not enough ehrliche shprach.

  3. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    I'm the Anonymous above. I'm quite sure I went to a shiur with this Rebbitzen :)

    She has another video up for Succot in which the actress also appears as her mother ("What happenned during her second year in Israel? Did she swallow a chipmunk?")

  4. My first exposure to Yeshivaish was my first exposure to a shiur on parenting.
    I took German in High school so some of the Yiddish I understood from German or context. My biggest problem was I spent 6 months wondering what Russian Horror was and why a person would be accused of being a Russia when the proper conjugation would be a Russian.
    Rabbi Shappiro's accent made me completely unable to find Lushon Hara on Google due to incorrect spelling I'll have to wait till I get to a Jewish community to find out what a Russia or Lushia, however it's spelled, is.