Yiddish Can Teach You A Lot About Cars

Illustration for article titled Yiddish Can Teach You A Lot About Cars

English speakers are blessed to use a language with one millions words—more than any other. For just about any idea we can employ le mot juste—which means the exact word or expression. Oy, did I just resort to French? Well, English is wonderfully descriptive but sometimes another language can say something that much better.


Yiddish, the language of Ashkenazi (European) Jews, is an amalgam Central European languages including German as well as Hebrew. Before the Holocaust there were millions of Yiddish speakers. Early in Israel’s history after World War II there were still Yiddish newspapers. Today the language has virtually died out in everyday use, save for some Ultra Orthodox communities but many words live on. Some have penetrated the American mainstream while others are used mainly by my parents’ generation.

Here is a selection of some of my favorites and what they can say about cars.

Bupkes. “Chevy worked so hard on the Bolt and the sales came to bupkes.” Possibly from the Polish word for beans it means “little”.


Chazerai. “That new BMW 7-Series is loaded with so much tech chazerai I couldn’t find the radio.” Literally the stuff a pig eats, messy junk. A chazer is a pig. Don’t be a chazer.

Chutzpah. “That Elon is jerk but you gotta respect his chutzpah to start a car company.” Nerve, guts, gall.


Gornisht. “Prices of vintage 911's are not what they were. Jerry tried to sell his Porsche on eBay two years ago, set the reserve too high and came away with gornisht.” Literally nothing.

Goy, Goyish. “I don’t care if the styling of the styling of the Camaro is goyish, I want one.” Goy means a non-Jew. It’s not a perjorative term. Goyish is the adjective.


Goyim Naches. “Stevie Goldfarb went to Deerfield High School, works for a big financial outfit, and now he takes that Ford Raptor out for camping, fishing, and other goyim naches”. Goyim is the plural of goy. Naches is stuff one enjoys. I camp, but I don’t fish.

Kibitz. “Autocross: you spend 3 minutes driving and 5 hours laying out cones and kibitzing the drivers.” Verb, to chat. Can be a noun, “I ran into Mark at cars and coffee and we had a kibitz.”


Maven. “That Hoovie buys the cheapest example of whatever fancy car and hopes his car maven will sort it out.” Wizard.

Mensch. “My wife ran out of gas in the middle of an intersection in the pouring rain and the one guy who helped her was this mensch in a Dodge Charger.” A doer of good deeds. This actually happened, so be careful of your car owner stereotypes.


Mishpocheh. “I don’t have friends. I got mishpocheh.” Miss you Paul!

Shonda. “Ferrari with the turbos on the 488 is a shame, but no manual on the 458 is a shonda.” Like a disgrace but worse, the ultimate shame. Et tu, Corvette?


Schlep. “I got the Silverado to take out my boat and now my father-in-law wants me take his chazerai out of storage and shlep a U-Haul to his condo in Miami Beach. The chutzpah on this guy.” To carry something onerous, often not totally willingly.

Schlemiel and Schlemazel. “At track the schlemiel in the STI missed the apex and took out two cars.” “He was all excited to take out his new Corvette C8 to the track and out of nowhere this STI crashes into him and a Mustang. The thing is totaled. Its the third car he’s lost. The poor shlemazel has to be devastated.” Schlemiel is a person always causing problems. Schlemazel is always victim of unfortunate situations. If you can’t keep them straight, the schlemiel is the one who spills the soup; the schlemazel gets the soup poured on him. If you watched sitcoms in the ‘70s then you’ve heard the words.

Schmutz. “I had to clean 50 years of schmutz off the steering wheel of that Ford Falcon.” Like grime but nastier.


Schtupf. “Like some woman is going to schtupf you if got an Audi, lol.” Literally to stuff. Not going to work in a Lambo either. They don’t care.

Don’t be a schlemiel, if you have Yiddish or non-English words for the car world leave them in the comments.

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