Yiddish Word of the Week
Batln - בטלן

Batln - בטלן \BATL-en\ Verb:

To cancel, waste.

Pronunciation: Click here to hear a native Yiddish speaker use this word in conversation.

Synonyms: anulirn (אנולירן), fartakhleven (פארתכלעווען), oprufn (אפרופן), patern (פטרן), tseraybn (צערייבן), tsetrenslen (צעטרענסלען).

Etymology: The word derives from the Biblical Hebrew root b.t.l. (בטל), which appears once at Kohelet 12:3. It is related to Aramaic and betel (בטל), Arabic betaalah (بطاله), and Akkadian batalu. The root also appears many times, and with many different meanings, in post-biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.

Derivatives of batlnmevatl zayn (מבטל זיין) - to nullify; batlen (בטלן) or hoylekh botl (הולך בטל) or yoyshev botl (יושב בטל) - an unemployed person, loafer, or impractical, idle person; batlones (בטלנות) - idleness, inefficiency, impracticality; bitl (ביטול) - nullification, disregard, disrespect, scorn; levatole (לבטלה) - in vain; batlonish (בטלניש) - impractical, idle, inefficient; botl (בטל) - worthless, void, annulled; oyver-botl (עובר-בטל) - senile [a word that derives from the Mishnaic ('Avot 5:25) statement that ben me’ah, ke-‘illu met ve-‘avar u-batel min ha-‘olam (בן מאה, כאלו מת ועבר ובטל מן העולם) - a 100-year-old person is as if he has died and passed and is nullified from the world (Steinmetz)].

Phrases with batlnbotl vern (בטל ווערן) - to come to nothing; botl makhn (בטל מאכן) - to annul, cancel, revoke, rescind, abrogate; derklern far botl (דערקלערן פאר בטל) - to renounce (in an agreement); khomets-batln (חמץ-בטלן) - to search for leaven on the Eve of Passover (lit., to annul leaven, which is done as part of the searching ritual), or, in general, to get rid of contraband, stolen goods (Wex); a brokhe levatole (א ברכה לבטלה) - wasted effort (lit., a blessing made in vain); mit bitl (מיט ביטול) - scornfully, contemptuously; botl-beshishim (בטל-בששים) - diluted beyond recognition (lit., nullified in sixty parts, based on a halakhic concept of the nullification of non-kosher foods when in mixture); botl-umvutl (בטל-ומבוטל) - null and void.

Expressions with batln: 1. Biz vanen men lernt zikh oys zayn a mentsh, iz men shoyn oyver-botl (ביז וואנען מען לערנט זיך אויס זיין א מענטש, איז מען שוין עובר-בטל) - By the time you learn to be a human being, you’re already senile. 2. Baym oreman, vert alts botl beshisl (ביים ארעמאן, ווערט אלץ בטל בשיסל) - With respect to a poor man, everything becomes nullified in his bowl (i.e., all of his efforts go into feeding himself, a play on botl-beshishim above).

Batln in a sentence: Nitl-nakht, batln di kheyder-kinder, vayl me tor nisht lernen Toyre di nakht (ניטל-נאכט, בטלן די חדר-קינדער, ווייל מע טאר נישט לערנען תורה די נאכט) - On Christmas eve, the schoolchildren are idle, since one may not learn Torah that night.

Use batln in your own sentence today!

Grisn, Shulamit Seidler-Feller
Grisn - גריסן

Grisn - גריסן \GRIS-en\Verb:

To greet, send regards to.

Pronunciation: Click here to hear a native Yiddish speaker use this word in conversation.

German equivalents: empfangen, grüßen.

Etymology: The word derives from Middle High German “grüezen,” from Old High German “gruozzan,” originally from West Proto-Germanic *grōtja. Cognates include Dutch “groeten,” Middle English “græten,” Modern English “to greet,” New High German “grüßen,” Old English “grētan” (approach, attack, or solute), Old Frisian “greta,” and Old Saxon “grôtian.” 

Derivatives of grisnbagrisn (באגריסן) - to greet, welcome, acclaim, hail, salute, applaud; bagrisn zikh (באגריסן זיך) - to greet one another; opgrisn (אפגריסן) - to return a greeting; bagriser (באגריסער) - a greeter; hoyptbagriser (הויפטבאגריסער) - the host of a lecture; gris (גריס) - regards; grus (גרוס) or bagrus (באגרוס) or bagrisung (באגריסונג) - a greeting, welcome. 

Phrases with grisn: lozn grisn (לאזן גריסן) - to send one’s love, regards to; a grus in der heym (א גרוס אין דער ביים) - (send) regards home.

Expressions with grisn:1. Khoyzek lozt grisn! (חוזק לאזט גריסן) - Said when someone has been made a fool of (lit., Regards from mockery!) (Samuel).

Grisn in a sentence: Detsember-tsayt, grisn di Valmart bagrisers, “Happy Holidays,” un nisht, “A likhtikn un freylekhn Khanike!” (דעצעמבער-צייט, גריסן די וואלמארט באגריסערס, “האפי האלידייז,” און נישט, “א ליכטיקן און פריילעכן חנוכה) - At December time, Walmart greeters say, “Happy Holidays,” not, “A Happy and Bright Hanukkah!” (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see here.)

Use grisn in your own sentence today!


For those interested in learning a little bit about historical Jewish attitudes towards Christmas and the various Yiddish names given to the holiday, see the YIVO Encyclopedia article on “Christmas” (which notes that the most common name for Christmas in Yiddish is nitl, based on the Latin “natalis” [birth]), the Jewish Encyclopedia article on “Nittel” (which provides alternative derivations of the name and of the customs associated with Christmas eve), Shnayer Z. Leiman’s lecture on ”Jewish Perspectives on Early Christianity - Nittel, the Ninth of Teves and Pope Simon Peter”, as well as two other printed articles (attached): Marc B. Shapiro, “Torah Study on Christmas,” The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 8 (1999): 319-53, as well as Sid Z. Leiman, “The Scroll of Fasts: The Ninth of Tebeth,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 74,2 (1983): 174-95 (hat tip to Menachem Butler for the references).

Shenken, Shulamit Seidler-Feller
Shenken - שענקען

Shenken - שענקען \SHENK-en\ Verb:

To gift, give, grant, present, donate; pardon, forgive. Note on usage: Shenken is usually used in the sense of giving someone a handout; if one wants to say “to give a gift,” one should probably use the verb gebn (געבן).

Pronunciation: Click here and here to hear a native Yiddish speaker use this word in conversation.

Synonyms: matone (מתנה), prezent (פרעזענט).

German equivalents: gestatten, gewähren, gönnen, schenken, stiften. 

Etymology: The word derives from Middle High German “schenken,” from Old High German “skenken, scenken,” which themselves ultimately derive from the Germanic *skankjan. Cognates include Middle Dutch “scenken,” and Modern Dutch “schenken,” Old English “scancan,” Old Lower German “skenkian,” and New High German “schenken.” Note: This word does not a share an etymological root with the homophone shenk (שענק) - a tavern, pub, bar - which derives from Polish “szenk,” not from German.

Derivatives of shenken: avekshenken (אוועקשענקען) - to give away; bashenkn (באשענקען) - to endow with, bestow upon; tseshenkn (צעשענקען) - to distribute gifts; shenkbriv (שענקבריוו) - a grant; geshank (געשאנק) - a gift, bounty; droshe-geshank (דרשה-געשאנק) - a gift to the groom (see more about this traditional wedding custom in Samuel and the YIVO Encyclopedia); kale-geshank (כלה-געשאנק) - a gift to the bride.

Phrases with shenkenshenken a nedove (שענקען א נדבה) - to give a handout; shenken an oyer (שענקען אן אויער) - to lend an ear; nisht shenken keyn oyfmerkzamkayt (נישט שענקען קיין אויפמערקזאמקייט) - not to pay any attention; shteyn mit farleygte hent vi di sarvers bshaysn oysrufn droshe-geshank (שטיין מיט פארלייגטע הענט ווי די סארווערס בשעתן אויסרופן דרשה-געשאנק) - to stand with folded hands like waiters when [the person who presents] the gift to the groom is called up (i.e. to stand idly by).

Expressions with shenken: 1. Got, shenk mir an oysreyd! (גאט, שענק מיר אן אויסרייד) - God, give me an excuse! (something I find myself saying probably more often than I should…) 2. Es iz nisht azoy lib dos geshank vi der gedank (עס איז נישט אזוי ליב דאס געשאנק ווי דער געדאנק) - It’s the thought that counts (lit., The gift is not as beloved as the thought).  3. Shvat shenkt nisht dos zaynike (שבט שענקט נישט דאס זייניקע) - [The Hebrew month of] Shevat (usually around February) does not allow you to have fun (because it’s still extremely cold). 4. Az men shenkt dem shlekhtn, baavlt men dem gutn (אז מען שענקט דעם שלעכטן, באעוולט מען דעם גוטן) - If you pardon the bad, you injure the good. 5. Shenk mir nisht keyn honik un gib mir nisht keyn bis (שענק מיר נישט קיין האניק און גיב מיר נישט קיין ביס) - Don’t give me the honey and spare me the sting (probably based on the Hebrew expression, found in Midrash Tanhuma to Parashat Balak, siman 6, and Midrash Tehillim to mizmor 1, lo mi-duvshakh ve-lo me-uktsakh [לא מדובשך ולא מעוקצך] - not from your honey and not from your sting).  6. Az der tate shenkt dem zun, lakhn beyde; az der zun shenkt dem tatn, veynen beyde (אז דער טאטע שענקט דעם זון, לאכן ביידע; אז דער זון שענקט דעם טאטען, וויינען ביידע) - When a father supports his son, both laugh; when a son supports his father, both cry. 7. Der Eybershter zol shenken dos bisele gezunt (דער אייבערשטער זאל שענקען דאס ביסעלע געזונט) - May God give us a bit of health. 8. Me zol trogn zayn droshe-geshank (מע זאל טראגן זיין דרשה-געשאנק) - May the present for his wedding oration be carried about [in pride] (said at a baby boy’s bris).  9. Got zol aykh shenken arikhes yomim! (גאט זאל אייך שענקען אריכות ימים) - May God grant you length of days! For more expressions with shenken, see the hengen and kukn editions of the YWOTW.

Shenken in a sentence: Far Khanike, geyt men in kromen arayn tsu koyfn bikher, tsatskes, un andere geshanken far di kleyne kinderlekh, ober, tsum badoyern, nisht far di groyse kinder (פאר חנוכה, גייט מען אין קראמען אריין צו קויפן ביכער, צאצקעס, און אנדערע  געשאנקען פאר די קליינע קינדערלעך, אבער, צום באדויערן, נישט פאר די גרויסע קינדער) - Before Hanukkah, people go to stores to buy books, toys, and other gifts for the small children, but not for the older children, unfortunately. :-(

Use shenken in your own sentence today!


For those interested, YiddishWit.com, a project of Johanna Kovitz, features a number of famous Yiddish expressions, written in Hebrew and Latin characters, translated into English, and accompanied by an illustration. It provides a fun way to learn new Yiddish expressions (some of which have not yet, I’m afraid, appeared in the YWOTW). In addition, the site lists several collections of Yiddish expressions (both online and in print), which might be of interest to YWOTW subscribers.

Dreynen, Shulamit Seidler-Feller
Dreyen - דרייען

Dreyen - דרייען \DREY-en\ Verb:

To turn, twist, twirl, rotate; dial (a number); cheat.

To whirl, spin, wriggle, wind, twist (with reflexive zikh [זיך]).

Pronunciation: Click here to hear a native Yiddish speaker use this word in conversation.

Synonyms: kern (קערן), rukn (רוקן), vendn (ווענדן).

German equivalents: biegen, drechseln, drehen.

Etymology: The word derives from Middle High German “drjen, drhen,” from Old High German “drāen,” which ultimately come from Proto-Germanic *þrǣ-, and from the Proto-Indo-European root *ter- (to rub, twist, turn) before it. Cognates include Danish “dreje,” Greek téretron (a drill), Latin “terebra” (a drill), Middle Dutch “draeien, draeyen,Modern Dutch “draaien,” Modern English “throw,” New High German “drehen,” Old English “þrāwan” (to twist, turn), and Old Saxon “thrāian.”

Derivatives of dreyen: arayndreyen (אריינדרייען) - to entangle; arayndreyen zikh (אריינדרייען זיך) - to slip in, sneak in; aropdreyen (אראפדרייען) - to turn down; aroysdreyen (ארויסדרייען) - to unscrew; arumdreyen (ארומדרייען) - to rotate, revolve; arumdreyen zikh (ארומדרייען זיך) - to rotate oneself, revolve oneself, hang around, loiter; avekdreyen (אוועקדרייען) - to turn (something) away; avekdreyen zikh (אוועקדרייען זיך) -  to turn oneself away; ayndreyen (איינדרייען) - to twist; dreydlen (דריידלען) - to turn, twist; fardreyen (פארדרייען) - to confuse; iberdreyen (איבערדרייען) - to turn over, invert, reverse; ondreyen (אנדרייען) - to wind (a clock), dial (a number); oysdreyen (אויסדרייען) - to turn about, wring; oysdreyen zikh (אויסדרייען זיך) - to make a U-turn; tsedreyen (צעדרייען) - to distort; tsurikdreyen (צוריקדרייען) - to turn back; umdreyen (אומדרייען) - to turn around; dreyer (דרייער) - an evasive person, confuser, swindler; dreykop (דרייקאפ) - a skittish person, gadabout, liar, swindler; arumdrey (ארומדריי) - a revolution, rotation; aroysdrey (ארויסדריי) - evasion; drey (דריי) - a twist, turn; gedrey (געדריי) - a swirl (mixture); oysdrey (אויסדריי) - a turn; umdrey (אומדריי) - a turn, spin, revolution; umdrey-aks (אומדריי-אקס) - a rotational axis; dreydl (דריידל) - a spinning top, teetotum, scheme (trendl [טרענדל] is the old West Yiddish version [Steinmetz]); drey-platform (דריי-פלאטפארם) - a turntable; dreypunkt (דרייפונקט) - a pivot; dreyshtul (דריישטול) - a swivel chair; dreytir (דרייטיר) - a revolving door; dreyenish (דרייעניש) - a twirling; fardreyenish (פארדרייעניש) - confusion; kopdreyenish (קאפדרייעניש) - flattery, disorder, an impossible task; aroysdreyerish (ארויסדרייעריש) - evasive; dreydlik (דריידליק) - twisted, underhanded; tsedreyt (צעדרייט) - confused, deranged. 

Phrases with dreyendreyen a spodik (דרייען א ספאדיק) - to pester (turn [someone’s] high fur hat); dreyen fun nopl (דרייען פון נאפל) - to suffer constant dizziness and nausea (lit., to spin from the navel); dreyen mit der tsung (דרייען מיט דער צונג) - to hem and haw (lit., to turn with one’s tongue); dreyen mitn grobn finger (דרייען מיטן גראבן פינגער) - to twist one’s thumb in talmudic dispute, argue (see the picture here and the photo attached, courtesy of the Internet, as well as the description in Finkin); dreyen zikh mit (emetsn) (דרייען זיך מיט [עמעצן) - to be in disharmony with (someone); dreyen zikh in keyver (דרייען זיך אין קבר) - to spin, turn over in one’s grave; aroysdreyen zikh fun (ארויסדרייען זיך פון) - to be unscrewed, escape, evade, dodge; fardreyen dem kop (פארדרייען זעם קאפ) - to annoy (see the attached photo from a Vienna kosher butcher shop, courtesy of my friend Moshe Moskowitz); fardreyen di oygn (פארדרייען די אויגן) - to roll one’s eyes; iberdreyen dos redl (איבערדרייען דאס רעדל) - to turn the tables (lit., to invert the wheel); dos redl hot zikh ibergedreyt (דאס רעדל האט זיך איבערגעדרייט) - the tables have turned; ondreyen di oyern (אנדרייען די אויערן) - to pull (someone’s) ears; oysdreyen a shalsheles (אויסדרייען א שלשלת) - to administer a series of slaps to a child’s rear (lit., to turn a shalsheles [a chain-shaped cantillation mark]; see Wex)oysdreyen dem dishl (אויסדרייען דעם דישל) - to make a U-turn (lit., to turn the wagon shaft); hobn aroysgedreyte fis (האבן אויסגעדרייטע פיס) - penguin-toed, pigeon-toed (lit., to have turned-over feet).

Expressions with dreyen: 1. Es gefelt mir azoy vi um Purim a dreydl (עס געפעלט מיר אזוי ווי אום פורים א דריידל) - It’s just about as pleasing to me as a dreydl on Purim (i.e. not at all). 2. Er dreyt zikh vi Rashi in B’haloyskho (ער דרייט זיך ווי רש”י אין בהעלותך) - He squirms like Rashi [R. Shelomoh Yitshaki) in [his comments to Parashat] Be-Ha’alotekha [Devarim 8:1-12:16]. Chapters 11-12 contain several unpleasant stories about Jewish behavior in the Wilderness and Rashi, in commenting on them, is forced to confront these problems head-on, which can be uncomfortable. 3. Fun a ganef vestu zikh nisht oysdreyen (פון א גנב וועסטו זיך נישט אויסדרייען) - You won’t be able to get yourself out of [the clutches of] a thief. 4. Drey nisht tsu fil, vayl du vest iberdreyen (דריי נישט צו פיל, ווייל דו וועסט איבערדרייען) - Don’t spin too much or you’ll turn over (too much of anything isn’t good).   5. Men dreyt mit yenem azoy lang, biz men fardreyt zikh aleyn (מען דרייט מיט יענעם אזוי לאנג, ביז מען פארדרייט זיך אליין) - If you mess with people long enough, you yourself will get confused. 6. Di velt dreyt zikh un mir dreyen zikh mit (די וועלט דרייט זיך און מיר דרייען זיך מיט) - The world spins and we spin along with it (we are swept along by natural forces in life that are not necessarily under our control).   7. Vi der bal agole vil, azoy dreyt er mitn dishl (ווי דער בעל עגלה וויל, אזוי דרייט ער מיטן דישל) - As the wagon driver wills, so he turns the wagon shaft. 8. Nisht dos hitl iz fardreyt, nor der kop (נישט דאס היטל איז פארדרייט, נאר דער קאפ) - It’s not the hat which is confused; rather, the head. 9. Ven a toyznt Khasidim voltn zikh gedreyt arum a klots, volt er oykh bavizn nisim (ווען א טויזנט חסידים וואלטן זיך געדרייט ארום א קלאץ, וואלט ער אויך באוויזן ניסים) - If a thousand Hasidim would circle a block of wood, it, too, would preform miracles (an anti-Hasidic jab about Hasidim’s relationship with and belief in their rebbe). 10. Ven a shlimazl koylet a hon, geyt er; dreyt er on a zeyger, shteyt er (ווען א שלימזל קוילעט א האן, גייט ער; דרייט ער אן א זייגער, שטייט ער) - When a luckless person slaughters a rooster, it hops; when he winds a clock, it stops. 11. Vu me geyt un vu me shteyt, dreyt zikh der kabtsn in mitn (ווו מען גייט און ווו מע שטייט, דרייט זיך דער קבצן אין מיטן) - Whichever way you turn, the beggar is there in the midst of everything. 12. Got hot im gegebn a tsung, er zol mit ir dreyen (גאט האט אים געגעבן א צונג, ער זאל מיט איר דרייען) - God gave him a tongue so that he could cheat with it.  13. Drey zikh, vet men meynen az du handlst (דריי זיך, וועט מען מיינען אז דו האנדלסט) - Keep moving so they’l think you’re busy. For more expressions involving dreyen, see the YWOTW entries for broyt and trogn.

And now, a series of curses/threats with dreyen: 1. Drey zikh oys hent un fis! (דריי זיך אויס הענט און פיס) - May you sprain both your ankles and your wrists!  2. Fardreyen zolstu mit di fis! (פארדרייען זאלסטו מיט די פיס) - May your legs be twisted!  3. Ikh vel dir oysdreyen di kishkes (איך וועל דיר אויסדרייען די קישקעס) - I shall wring your guts.  4. S’zol dir azoy dreyen in boykh, me zol meynen az s’iz a katerinke! (ס’זאל דיר אזוי דרייען אין בויך, מע זאל מיינען אז ס’איז א קאטערינקע) - May your innards turn and grind so much that people will think you are an organ grinder!  5. Dayn moyl zol zikh oysdreyen! (דיין מויל זאל זיך אויסדרייען) - May your mouth become twisted! 6. Ikh vel dir makhn oystsudreyen (איך וועל דיר מאכן אויסצודרייען) - I shall twist you (think: like a wet floor-mop).

Dreyen in a sentence: Es iz a sakh gringer tsu fotografirn a mentsh ven er dreyt zikh un kukt avek eyder ven er kukt glaykh inem kamere (עס איז א סך גרינגער צו פאטאגראפירן א מענטש ווען ער דרייט זיך און קוקט אוועק איידער ווען ער קוקט גלייך אינעם קאמערע) - It’s much easier to photograph someone when he turns and looks away than when he stares straight at the camera.

Use dreyen in your own sentence today!

Yiddish Khanike Songs

For those interested, I have appended below two Yiddish Khanike songs: “Ikh Bin a Kleyner Dreydl,” the Yiddish equivalent of “I Have a Little Dreydl,” and “Khanike, Oy Khanike,” the Yiddish equivalent of “Chanukkah, oh Chanukkah” (which I actually sent out last Khanike as well). They are accompanied by transliteration and translation.

In addition, ChocolateGelt.com, a supplier of kosher chocolates and other candies made in Israel and in the States, has special deals for Khanike, Purim, and Peysekh supplies (though the first is probably the most relevant right now). You can order gifts, Khanike menorahs, dreydlekh, and, of course, Khanike gelt. Enjoy!

Finally, out of a combination of admiration and school pride, I thought I should mention that Yeshiva University’s a cappella group, the Maccabeats, recently released a music video called “Candlelight" which has gone viral and reached over 650,000 views on YouTube in less than a week. In addition, a different student group at YU recently held a "Dreidel Palooza" aimed at breaking the existing world record of the number of dreydlekh spinning simultaneously, and they succeeded, with over 600 dreydlekh whirling about all at once. Both the YouTube video and the Dreidel Palooza have been written up in various news outlets online. Go YU! (This is really the last thing, I mean it - The Maccabeats also performed a Khanike Medley last year which featured part of “Khanike, Oy Khanike" at one point. Check it out!)