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Today's Word



Aug 14, 2023
This week’s theme
Words borrowed from Yiddish

This week’s words

1996 All Ireland Football
Meath v. Mayo (video, 1 min.)

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with Anu Garg

God gives burdens, also shoulders. This saying is popularly known as a Yiddish proverb. It’s actually of more recent origin, though it could very well have been as it captures the spirit. Yiddish speakers throughout history have known a thing or two about burdens. Yet, they persevered through it all. So did their language.

Born over a millennium ago, Yiddish emerged as the linguistic progeny of Middle High German, imbued with elements of Slavic and Hebrew, and sprinkled with a dash of Aramaic. The resulting tongue is a hearty cholent, a stew of languages, simmering with influences from nearly every country where Jews have set foot.

It’s a language brimming with zest, humor, and an uncanny ability to articulate life’s profoundest ironies or the simple joy of a perfectly toasted bagel, especially one with a tasty schmear.

Even when faced with near extinction during the Holocaust, Yiddish demonstrated tenacity akin to a bubbe (grandmother) standing up to anyone from a surly teenager to a neighborhood bully.

A language is a custodian of yesterday’s whispers. Also, its laments and laughter. Through its long history, Yiddish has recorded it all. This week, we’ll feature five words from Yiddish that have been borrowed into the English language.

schemozzle or shemozzle


1. A state of chaos or confusion.
2. A quarrel or commotion.

From Yiddish schlimazel (someone consistently unlucky), from shlim (bad, wrong) + mazl (luck). Earliest documented use: 1885.

“It was in the living room, so the fish tank starts overflowing, it was there for about 10 minutes and it’s flooded the whole dining area and kitchen area and then my spaghetti bolognese was burnt. It was a complete schemozzle.”
Laugh-A-Minute Tiger Reaches 150 Games; The Age (Melbourne, Australia); Apr 8, 2023.

“The game was pockmarked by several shemozzles and on two occasions it involved the replacements, a crazy situation that unnecessarily fanned frayed tempers.”
John O’Sullivan; Connacht Emerge on Top in Another Test of Character; Irish Times (Dublin); May 15, 2021.

Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. -Russell Baker, columnist and author (14 Aug 1925-2019)

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