Though my partner grew up in a family of Salvation Army Christians, a group he describes as “cheerful” and “reserved,” he’s been infatuated with aspects of Jewish culture ever since we started dating. This infatuation led to him buy The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish at Barnes and Nobles one weekend afternoon, an off-brand For Dummies style book that takes readers through basic Yiddish in phonetic English spelling.
I don’t speak Yiddish myself, besides the words most English speakers know (schlep, schmuck) and what I learned taking Yiddish lessons for one year in college. Our teacher, a 90-year-old man with tobacco-stained fingers and a warm, crinkly smile, spent more time telling us stories of his youth (in which he escaped the Holocaust) and old Jewish jokes (in which an old Jewish lady goes into a restaurant repeating the phrase, “Oy vey”) than he did going over grammar and vocabulary.
So when my partner brought home The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish, I flipped through it to see if I, too, was an idiot capable of learning Yiddish. Towards the end of the book, I came across a section titled “Morons and Misfits” in which I was told I would “meet the nudniks and numbskulls,” the “fools and the villains of Jewish life.”
Reading through this list, I realized I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove of expressive insults unlike any of the words I’d previously used to mock my worst enemies—namely, men. In alphabetical order, here are some Yiddish insults that are so specific they won’t leave your male subjects with any doubt as to why you’re casting aspersions (if they can understand you, that is):
1. Alter noyef = Dirty old man
Alter means “old” (a fact I retained from Yiddish class), so noyef must translate to “dirty man.” This insult could describe the various men who have recently made it into the news for sexually assaulting and harassing women. From Harvey Weinstein (who led this latest round of the media outing sex offenders) to Amazon Studios head Roy Price, it’s important to call these men out for what they really are: alter noyefs, harassers, and rapists.
2. Chazer = A pig; piggish person
Also applicable to the deplorable Weinstein and friends, this insult describes someone who is “dirty” or “hypocritical.” While the Yiddish connotes an anti-religious sentiment (since pigs aren’t kosher), this interpretation also plays into the deceptive qualities of a chazer, who may try and appear “kosher-looking” but is, deep down, not to be trusted.
3. Dumkopf = A dunce
Kopf translates to “head” in English, so this insult literally means “dumb-head.” This is a great, easy insult for any savvy, Jewish girl on the go who may not have time to come up with a complex dis for someone who’s so not worth the effort. Dumb-head will do just fine for your average fuck bois, DJs, and cab drivers who almost run you over while you have a walk signal.
4. Farshtunkener = Smelly, malodorous person
This insult can apply literally and figuratively. Someone can have a stinky attitude or a stinky body—or both! That makes this affront both versatile and really fun to say. Of course, while some innocent people can’t help their body odor, other smelly people clearly mean to offend your senses on purpose. So the next time a noxious man stands too close, you can threateningly mumble “farshtunkener” under your breath, and he should be moving shortly.
5. Fonferer = A double-talker
We all know someone we can call a fonferer, whether he’s the kind of person who acts charming but lies to try and get you to sleep with him, or who twists his words to get ahead of more deserving colleagues at work. Something about this word, uttered with just the right amount of disdain, makes is sound like the least desirable thing to be—which goes right up against how desirable this fonferer aims to appear.
6. Hitsiger = A hothead
Hitsiger almost sounds like heat-seeker, and that’s essentially what the word means—someone who is going to come in contact with the hit (heat) from hell because they have a bad temper. Whether you prescribe to an afterlife theory or not, this insult works perfectly for when some idiot is flying off the handle at you because you yelled at him for catcalling you on the street.
7. Kibitser = An intrusive, meddlesome spectator
You may have heard this word before, if not because kibitzing is something your mother and aunt do re: your romantic life then because it served as the title of a 1929 Jo Swerling play (I hadn’t heard of it, but the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide wrote that the play made the word famous). For the woman who’s at the bar to catch up with her friend only to suffer through repeated interjections from the drunk guy occupying the next stool over, this insult will come in handy.
8. Makhasheyfe = A witch
Let’s take a break from ways to insult men with a Yiddish word that can only describe the craftiest of women. Especially now, under a presidential administration that has been cursed by Lana Del Ray since its first waning crescent moon, the term witch has been reclaimed as an empowering one for womankind. Call your best witch a makhasheyfe as a compliment and then maybe try and curse Trump et al. again.
9. Nar = Fool
For those who are naïve but still bad because of it, this is the jibe to use—like when your coworker makes a misogynistic joke “because he doesn’t know any better,” according to HR.
10. Paskudnik/paskudnyak = A revolting, disgusting, evil person
See description for alter noyef, only know that this word is even more fitting.
11. Zhlob = An insensitive, gauche, ill-mannered person
Though this insult sounds a lot like “slob,” it connotes rude and “gauche” behavior, as The Complete Idiot’s Guide puts it. It’s best used on the kind of man who uses pickup lines that start with, “If I could rearrange the alphabet…” and, “Are those space pants?” Also works for men who wipe their noses before attempting to shake your hand and men who attempt to kiss your hand instead of shake it.
Of course, there are many more where these insults came from. The section describing insults takes up a good 15 pages in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Yiddish. Among those pages, I’m certain I can find a word for every zhlob of a man I encounter—people speaking Yiddish seem to have been encountering them for centuries.