Category Archives: Essays

Mishpocha – Friday’s Word of the Day


Today’s word of the day at is mishpocha [mish-pawkhuh, –poo khuh]. It is a Yiddish noun that means “an entire family network comprising relatives by blood and marriage and sometimes including close friends; clan” and originates from the Hebrew letter ‘heth’, meaning family, clan. It entered the English language in the mid 19th century.

Did you know the eight-day festival of lights, Hanukkah, started on December 12th this week? In honor of this holiday, a few fun facts:

From the website

Why is Chanukah (Hanukkah) eight nights long? The Talmud asks and answers:

The sages taught: On the 25th of Kislev, the days of Chanukah are eight. One may not eulogize on them, and one may not fast on them. This is because when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary. And when the Chashmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that remained with the seal of the High Priest. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred, and they lit the candelabrum from it for eight days. The next year, the sages instituted those days and made them holidays with the recitation of Hallel and prayers of thanksgiving.1

But there’s more. Seven represents all that is found within this world. There are seven days of the week, seven classical planets and seven musical notes. In fact, the world itself was created in seven days.

Then there is the number eight, which represents that which is above, that which does not fit into the neat slots that hold the bits and pieces of our lives. The number eight evokes the transcendent and the G‑dly. Eight is the number of miracles.

And since mishpocha is a Yiddish word, I thought it would be interesting to look at some other popular Yiddish words that have made it into our everyday English conversation from

  1. baleboste
    A good homemaker, a woman who’s in charge of her home and will make sure you remember it.
  2. bissel
    bisl– a little bit.
  3. bubbe
    bobe. It means Grandmother, and bobeshiis the more affectionate form. Bubele is a similarly affectionate word, though it isn’t in Yiddish dictionaries.
  4. bupkes
    Not a word for polite company. 
    Bubkesor bobkes may be related to the Polish word for “beans”, but it really means “goat droppings” or “horse droppings.” It’s often used by American Jews for “trivial, worthless, useless, a ridiculously small amount” – less than nothing, so to speak. “After all the work I did, I got bupkes!”
  5. chutzpah
    khutspe. Nerve, extreme arrogance, brazen presumption. In English, chutzpahoften connotes courage or confidence, but among Yiddish speakers, it is not a compliment.
  6. feh!
    An expression of disgust or disapproval, representative of the sound of spitting.
  7. glitch
    glitsh. Literally “slip,” “skate,” or “nosedive,” which was the origin of the common American usage as “a minor problem or error.”
  8. gornisht
    More polite than 
    bupkes, and also implies a strong sense of nothing; used in phrases such as “gornisht helfn” (beyond help).
  9. goy
    A non-Jew, a Gentile. As in Hebrew, one Gentile is a goy, many Gentiles are goyim, the non-Jewish world in general is “the goyim.” 
    Goyishis the adjective form. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich is goyish. Putting mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich on white bread is even more goyish.
  10. kibbitz
    In Yiddish, it’s spelled 
    kibets, and it’s related to the Hebrew “kibbutz” or “collective.” But it can also mean verbal joking, which after all is a collective activity. It didn’t originally mean giving unwanted advice about someone else’s game – that’s an American innovation.
  11. klutz
    Or better yet, 
    klots. Literally means “a block of wood,” so it’s often used for a dense, clumsy or awkward person. See schlemiel.
  12. kosher
    Something that’s acceptable to Orthodox Jews, especially food. Other Jews may also “eat kosher” on some level but are not required to. Food that Orthodox Jews don’t eat – pork, shellfish, etc. – is called 
    traif. An observant Jew might add, “Both pork and shellfish are doubtlessly very tasty. I simply am restricted from eating it.” In English, when you hear something that seems suspicious or shady, you might say, “That doesn’t sound kosher.”
  13. kvetsh
    In popular English, 
    kvetchmeans “complain, whine or fret,” but in Yiddish, kvetshliterally means “to press or squeeze,” like a wrong-sized shoe. Reminds you of certain chronic complainers, doesn’t it? But it’s also used on Yiddish web pages for “click” (Click Here).
  14. maven
    meyven. An expert, often used sarcastically.
  15. Mazel Tov
    mazltof. Literally “good luck,” (well, literally, “good constellation”) but it’s a congratulation for what just happened, not a hopeful wish for what might happen in the future. When someone gets married or has a child or graduates from college, this is what you say to them. It can also be used sarcastically to mean “it’s about time,” as in “It’s about time you finished school and stopped sponging off your parents.”
  16. mentsh
    An honorable, decent person, an authentic person, a person who helps you when you need help. Can be a man, woman or child.
  17. mishegas
    Insanity or craziness. A 
    meshugeneris a crazy man. If you want to insult someone, you can ask them, ”Does it hurt to be crazy?”
  18. mishpocheh
    mishpokheor mishpucha. It means “family,” as in “Relax, you’re mishpocheh. I’ll sell it to you at wholesale.”
  19. nosh
    nash. To nibble; a light snack, but you won’t be light if you don’t stop noshing. Can also describe plagarism, though not always in a bad sense; you know, picking up little pieces for yourself.
  20. nu
    A general word that calls for a reply. It can mean, “So?” “Huh?” “Well?” “What’s up?” or “Hello?”
  21. oy vey
    Exclamation of dismay, grief, or exasperation. The phrase “oy vey iz mir” means “Oh, woe is me.” “Oy gevalt!” is like oy vey, but expresses fear, shock or amazement. When you realize you’re about to be hit by a car, this expression would be appropriate.
  22. plotz
    plats. Literally, to explode, as in aggravation. “Well, don’t plotz!” is similar to “Don’t have a stroke!” or “Don’t have a cow!” Also used in expressions such as, “Oy, am I tired; I just ran the four-minute mile. I could just plotz.” That is, collapse.
  23. shalom
    It means “deep peace,” and isn’t that a more meaningful greeting than “Hi, how are ya?”
  24. shlep
    To drag, traditionally something you don’t really need; to carry unwillingly. When people “shlep around,” they are dragging themselves, perhaps slouchingly. On vacation, when I’m the one who ends up carrying the heavy suitcase I begged my wife to leave at home, I shlep it.
  25. shlemiel
    A clumsy, inept person, similar to a klutz (also a Yiddish word). The kind of person who always spills his soup.
  26. schlock
    Cheap, shoddy, or inferior, as in, “I don’t know why I bought this schlocky souvenir.”
  27. shlimazel
    Someone with constant bad luck. When the shlemiel spills his soup, he probably spills it on the shlimazel. Fans of the TV sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” remember these two words from the Yiddish-American hopscotch chant that opened each show.
  28. shmendrik
    A jerk, a stupid person, popularized in 
    The Last Unicornand Welcome Back Kotter.
  29. shmaltzy
    Excessively sentimental, gushing, flattering, over-the-top, corny. This word describes some of Hollywood’s most famous films. From 
    shmaltz, which means chicken fat or grease.
  30. shmooze
    Chat, make small talk, converse about nothing in particular. But at Hollywood parties, guests often schmooze with people they want to impress.
  31. schmuck
    Often used as an insulting word for a self-made fool, but you shouldn’t use it in polite company at all, since it refers to male anatomy.
  32. spiel
    A long, involved sales pitch, as in, “I had to listen to his whole spiel before I found out what he really wanted.” From the German word for 
  33. shikse
    A non-Jewish woman, all too often used derogatorily. It has the connotation of “young and beautiful,” so referring to a man’s Gentile wife or girlfriend as a 
    shiksaimplies that his primary attraction was her good looks. She is possibly blonde. A shagetzor sheygets means a non-Jewish boy, and has the connotation of a someone who is unruly, even violent.
  34. shmutz
    shmuts. Dirt – a little dirt, not serious grime. If a little boy has shmutz on his face, and he likely will, his mother will quickly wipe it off. It can also mean dirty language. It’s not nice to talk shmutz about shmutz. A current derivation, “schmitzig,” means a “thigamabob” or a “doodad,” but has nothing to do with filth.
  35. shtick
    Something you’re known for doing, an entertainer’s routine, an actor’s bit, stage business; a gimmick often done to draw attention to yourself.
  36. tchatchke
    tshatshke. Knick-knack, little toy, collectible or giftware. It also appears in sentences such as, “My brother divorced his wife for some little tchatchke.” You can figure that one out.
  37. tsuris
    tsores. Serious troubles, not minor annoyances. Plagues of lice, gnats, flies, locusts, hail, death… now, those were tsuris.
  38. tuches
    Rear end, bottom, backside, buttocks. In proper Yiddish, it’s spelled 
    tuchisor tuches or tokhis, and was the origin of the American slang word tush.
  39. yente
    Female busybody or gossip. At one time, high-class parents gave this name to their girls (after all, it has the same root as “gentle”), but it gained the Yiddish meaning of “she-devil”. The matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” was named Yente (and she certainly was a 
    yentethough maybe not very high-class), so many people mistakenly think that yente means matchmaker.
  40. yiddisher kop
    Smart person. Literally means “Jewish head.” I don’t want to know what 
    goyisher kop

I am not Jewish, so a good deal of this is new to me. It’s also the reason I am a fan of using the generic “Happy Holidays” greeting as opposed to “Merry Christmas”.  Actually, I tend to respond in like fashion if anyone wishes me a holiday greeting. This is, after all, a season of light, hope, peace and love. That is the most important thing. That is what matters.

Finally, to my Jewish friends from me…a humble goy, “Chag Urim Sameach!” …“Hanukkah Sameach!” …“Chag Sameach!” – I hope that covers all the bases, respectfully. Light, hope, peace and love all. ❤

it’s time to gather
mishpocha from everywhere
family matters


Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 10 December 2017

I must say that as interesting as this week’s reVerse is, I am most smitten with the last two lines. I wish I had written them in a single poem. Well I did,sort of, in this poem. Which is precisely why I love this weekly ritual. Choosing favorite lines from each post of the previous week always results in new inspiration or sets me on a course of heady reflection.

Back to my two favorite lines…

they will whisper
light is not quiet

Whoa…that is a mindful! Light is not quiet. Set a single lit candle in a dark room and you will see how loud she is! Light has also been likened to truth and neither is truth quiet. Though the purveyors of untruths believe they can silence truth, relegating it to whispers at water coolers, confessionals, and behind closed doors, it is only a matter of time. Once a whisper is allowed to escape it trickles from a stream to a gush to a deluge until the dam breaks.

We have witnessed the rage of this inevitable force of natural law these past few weeks. Like Pandora, truth seeks reparations for the assault of having been imprisoned inside the confines of its chamber.

She is fierce. She is brilliant. She is legion. And the terrible secret she has held for decades, for centuries, has found its voice. A whisper at first…and then a roar, “me too”.

We can only hope that we don’t try to contain her. To lock her away once the dust settles, like we do with so many other flickers of truth that come to light. She has a lesson to teach us. One hopes we are listening.

Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 10 December 2017

softly she comes
mom called…her angel
silken shrouded death
life’s for the living
it’s all relative
so much for their brilliant plan
We miss you! Come back!
when people wake up
it was such a sad story, you see,
once touted as all the rage
…I love the futility of it all
tell me who you are
go for brilliance
when we look up we see the same sky
they will whisper
light is not quiet


A shi sai or ReVerse poem is a summary poem with a single line lifted from each entry of a collection of work over a particular timeframe and re-penned in chronological order as a new poem. Unlike a collaborative poem, the shi sai features the words of one writer, providing a glimpse into their thoughts over time. I use it as a review of the previous week.

Dundrearies – Friday’s Word of the Day


Today’s word of the day is dundrearies. It originated around 1860-65, thanks to “Lord Dundreary, a character in the play, “Our American Cousin”. Officially, it is defined as “long, full sideburns or muttonchop whiskers”.

We create all sorts of words based on the quirks or memorable attributes of the certain people. There is a word for it.  They are called Eponyms, ‘words based on a person’s name’. The cool thing about Eponyms is the history behind the word. Some eponyms you might recognize are: boycott, guillotine, sandwich, hooligan, gerrymander, adonis, braille, dunce, jacuzzi, judas, casanova, paparazzi, ritz, and trumpster. Scientists, doctors and inventors are known to use eponyms regularly in ascribing ownership of their handiwork.

But back to our word today, dundrearies, and it’s most interesting history. As already established, the word is attributed to one ‘Lord Dundreary’ from the three-act play, “Our American Cousin”.  The play was written by English playwright, Tom Taylor in 1858 and premiered at the Laura Keene’s Theatre in New York City on October 15, 1858. It was fairly popular for several years, but it was its fateful run at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, and specifically its showing on April 14, 1865 that etched it into American history. “Our American Cousin”, you see, was the play that President Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated by actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

According to Wikipedia, the cast modified a line of the play in honor of Abraham Lincoln: when the heroine asked for a seat protected from the draft, the reply – scripted as, “Well, you’re not the only one that wants to escape the draft” – was delivered instead as, “The draft has already been stopped by order of the President!”

Halfway through Act III, Scene 2, when the character of Asa Trenchard, played that night by Harry Hawk, uttered this line, considered one of the play’s funniest, to Mrs. Mountchessington: “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.”

It was during the ensuing laughter that President Lincoln laughed his last and the play ended abruptly. While Wilkes Booth was not a cast member of the play, he used the chose this moment when the laughter was at its height to muffle the sound of his gun.


Edward Sothern as Lord Dundreary, sporting “Dundrearies”

I don’t believe that the word, dundrearies has anything to do with this interesting sidebar. It has more to do with the popularity of the play and the first actor Edward Sothern who brilliantly played the part of ‘Lord Dundreary’.  I do find it fascinating though, how history and words and our experiences are all seem to be an intricate and interconnected web. We are all interconnected for that matter, I believe, by 6 degrees or less.

Have a great weekend. Here’s a haiku.

sporting dundrearies
once touted as all the rage
are now thought unkempt





Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 3 December 2017

Well. Weird week. Electronics locked in trunks (a coworker), iPhones dipping into the loo (mine), some missed favorite challenges (I’ll get back on track in the coming week) and Mercury in retrograde, enhanced by the undertow of a super full moon tonight. Is it any wonder I am feeling a bit kerfluffled (my spell check doesn’t like that word, but I do. I made it up…so I’m going with it!)

It helps to have a sense of humor on weeks like this. It also helps to be a glass half full, look on the bright side, eternally optimistic attitude. All is not lost.

I actually had a bit of unencumbered peace while I was phoneless. It helped me recall a simpler time, before mobile phones, before texts, voicemail, and answering machines when we relied on landline phones and if you weren’t home to take a call…folks just had to try you later.

It made me reminiscent for a fresh college-ruled notebook and my peacock-blue, cartridge-loaded fountain pen; the thrill I always feel when that first bulging droplet bleeds onto a page…for words scribbled on used envelopes and paper napkins, so I wouldn’t forget a moment’s brilliance.

Writing is not tied to a means or method but it is a way of living and looking at the world, with a keen discerning eye primed to capture the next revelation or reflection. It is breath and life to those of us who are weavers of words. How fortunate we are to have a forum to share our thoughts and imaginings.

Have a wonderful week. Don’t stop writing!

Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 3 December 2017

may we rise from heavy slumber
bundled in bunting
what I long for these days
and tell you (I) would, except,
when the world ends
women have found their voice to tell,
determined, but not heartless.
what peaceful thoughts I might have had are doomed.
there is no sleeping
on some wild paths
in happy ever always
in the dark,
what we have lost
tossed by a cool breeze…
extravagate in that thought


A shi sai or ReVerse poem is a summary poem with a single line lifted from each entry of a collection of work over a particular timeframe and re-penned in chronological order as a new poem. Unlike a collaborative poem, the shi sai features the words of one writer, providing a glimpse into their thoughts over time. I use it as a review of the previous week.

Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 26 November 2017

I am so relieved and inspired by the way this week’s ReVerse came out. The holidays are emotionally charged for so many people. Here in the U.S. we celebrated Thanksgiving. Divisions were magnified by empty places at tables and broken relationships even more than recent year’s past in this polarized time.

But it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I am still here…we are still here. I survived…we are survivors all.

How can I be anything but grateful for the blessings in my life. It may not be perfect, but I am blessed nonetheless, by love, by a roof over my head, food to eat, a job to sustain me.

I will keep hoping for more. I will always hope…for mended relationships, for happy reunions. It’s human to do as much. But in the meantime I have enough…and that is enough.

Shi Sai Sunday’s Week in ReVerse – 26 November 2017

those of us who have lost hope in praying,
we are not promised
nothing to lose
we rage against eternity
I need you to play your part
you can do anything / with those tiny hands
and watch the darkness slip away
a spark of recognition
I have danced on tiptoes through bristled sedge groves
deeply grateful
it is worth the wait
Luna’s empty crescent cup dangling
their memories are like ashes
rise before dawn to mingle
the in between
my favorite moments
things I can’t remember
let the dawn burn into day
but you should know,
measure life’s seasons
When Swinging was Jive
apparently, collecting fine things runs in the family
the most important thing is that you are here
over the broken mess we made


A shi sai or ReVerse poem is a summary poem with a single line lifted from each entry of a collection of work over a particular timeframe and re-penned in chronological order as a new poem. Unlike a collaborative poem, the shi sai features the words of one writer, providing a glimpse into their thoughts over time. I use it as a review of the previous week.

%d bloggers like this: