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In praise of “איז”, a Loveable, Adorable, but also Tragic Yiddish Word With Many Meanings

The Editors

Like every single American Jew without exception, I have an Eastern European background, so my family and I love Yiddish. Even though Yiddish is a completely dead language, it’s also a living language, so we can mourn it and celebrate it at the same time, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. Every Jew I know speaks Yiddish, even though they don’t understand it because their grandparents spoke it when they didn’t want them to understand. But they know all the important words. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about one of my favorite Yiddish words, because it’s such a meaningful one. That word is איז. Do you know what the meaning of איז is? Allow me to explain.

The word איז is both funny and sad, like Yiddish itself. It comes from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Yiddish is a miraculous language. A word like איז can be used in a lot of different contexts, because Jews have also lived in lots of different contexts, unlike any other group of people ever. In order to show just how adaptive a word like איז is, I spoke to people, both living and dead, who either speak Yiddish or once heard their bubbe curse in Yiddish. איז, here’s what I learned. איז is:


1. Something to say when you are trying to express the meaning of something’s existence.

    If you want to express what something “is,” איז has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Very existential, and also chic.

    2. Something to say when you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Instead of saying “what’s this”? Try “what איז this?” You will sound a lot more sophisticated, and also, paradoxically, also a lot more Yiddish speaking.

    3. Something to say when you want to point out that someone is Jewish.

    As in, “That person איז Jewish.”

    4. Something to say when you want to point out that someone is not Jewish.

    As in, “That person איז not Jewish.”

    5. Something to say when you want to talk about the Yiddish language.

    My cousin Yuval sometimes uses the word this way. For example, “Yiddish איז a fusion language composed of Germanic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic elements.”

    6. Something to say when you don’t want to talk about the Yiddish language.

    One amazing thing about the word איז is that you can use it in completely non-Yiddish contexts too, which says something about the diversity and ingenuity of Yiddish-speaking people. For example, “I don’t know where my Japanese homework איז.”

    MLA STYLE
    Editors, The. “In praise of “איז”, a Loveable, Adorable, but also Tragic Yiddish Word With Many Meanings.” In geveb, March 2022: https://ingeveb.org/blog/in-praise-of-איז-a-loveable-adorable-but-also-tragic-yiddish-word-with-many-meanings.
    CHICAGO STYLE
    Editors, The. “In praise of “איז”, a Loveable, Adorable, but also Tragic Yiddish Word With Many Meanings.” In geveb (March 2022): Accessed Apr 22, 2024.

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