International Swear Words to Love and Use, Yiddish Style

Adrienne Gusoff's approach to Yiddish is hilarious - it would be a shonda not to buy her book!
Adrienne Gusoff’s approach to Yiddish is hilarious – it would be a shonda not to buy her book!

So far I’ve exposed you to curse words with European flair and Asian elegance. But until now, I haven’t been brave enough to discuss the colorful language of my Jewish childhood. This is a sampling of the words I heard my grandparents and their Mah Jongg or poker cronies use as “members of the tribe.” For your expletive pleasure, I finally offer you emphatic expressions of Yiddish delight.

[Let’s just get this out of the way – you’re not a putz, but don’t get all meshuggenah on me. Swearing is much more than these two words, which are the “Smith” and “Jones” of Yiddish slang. Also, multiple spelling options exist for Yiddish words, so your Google searches may vary…]

My Grandmother Used This Word a Lot (No Drek): When I was a kid, my g-rents (and others in their flock) always defaulted to Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know the real deal regarding their discussion du jour. Fair enough, but kids are smart. Eventually, they figure things out.

When you need to reach for the noun involving excrement, shtik drek is a marvelous choice. If you want to slap it down Yiddishkeit style, jettison the first half of the phrase, and call something (or someone?) a piece of drek.

You’ll Catch More Gonifs with Mace Spray Than with Honey: I hope you never have to yell “Stop, thief!” in this lifetime. But the English version of this word doesn’t go far enough. When you feel you’ve been taken advantage of, no Yiddish word accomplishes as much as calling someone a gonif. If your take-out order is light by one entree, launch this word with a harsh, guttural sound and be part of the mishpocha!

Just Like Eskimos and Their Snow, There Are Many Yiddish Words for “Loser”: For some reason, many Yiddish insults begin with the letter “S.” I don’t know why this is, unless in some subconscious way,  these words are meant to shush someone while fulfilling your emotional catharsis. Schleppers are borderline annoying, and schmendriks don’t use the brains or good sense they were born with (sound familiar?).

But schnorrers rub you the wrong way. They show up to a potluck dinner empty-handed, yet help themselves to three servings of Bubbe’s homemade sweet lokshen kugel. A type of old, nasty person deserving of honorable mention here is an alteh kacker. Just don’t say this one in front of your sweet grandmother, or she’ll plotz.

I’m Not Ending This Post without My Farkakte Favorite: Every language has its version of the f-bomb, and Yiddish is no exception. I’m having flashbacks to the time I lived in New York (a Flushing flower from Queens, y’all) and heard this word plenty, but never knew what it meant.

When something is really screwed up (the acronym FUBAR comes to mind), it’s just farkakte. This word should never be confused with farmisht, which means merely mixed up. Whatever you do, don’t get verklempt like Linda Richman of Coffee Talk. (Honorable mention: Momzer is the insult that refers to an illegitimate child. Use it well!)


If you’re Jewish, what Yiddish words (other than these) provide you with comfort on a not-so-good day? If you’re not Jewish, do you ever use a “bad” Yiddish word/phrase when someone or something pisses you off? Are you tempted to add any of these words to your international vocabulary list? Show a little chutzpah, dear reader – don’t leave me with bupkes!

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her ( for a no-obligation project quote today!

2 Responses to International Swear Words to Love and Use, Yiddish Style

  1. Although I admire your way with words, your use of the word “schlepper” may be somewhat misleading.

    Like you, my easrly experience with the Yiddish language was when my parents or grandparents didn’t want de kinder to know what they were talking about. No wonder its now a dead language.

    Then, in my early 20s, I got my first computer programming job. It was at a kosher slaughterhouse where there was lots of Yiddish constantly flowing. If you wanted to get the joke, you needed to understand the Yiddish punchline.

    Also at the slaughterhouse, there was a job title “schlepper.” These were the guys who worked on the loading dock carrying heavy sides of beef from the cooler into the trucks. They schlepped the meat to the trucks.

    Of course, a schlepper could also be a person who drags himself through life under a heavy burden of what life has bestowed on him, but I always prefer to think of the schleppers on the loading dock.

    Yiddish — a wonderful, enlightening language. What else can one say of a language that has words that can’t be translated into English, and has a dozen different words for “penis.”

    Oops … my email address was wrong the first time.

    • Hello Jeff,

      I suspected I could get myself into a wee bit of trouble with this post. I respect your experiential interpretation of “schlepper,” but then again, I’ve never worked at a kosher slaughterhouse. That said, how do you feel about referring to some poor loser as a “schlemiel” (or the companion word “schlimazel”)?

      Thanks for stopping by, Jeff. A gutn!

      Lori Shapiro