How Do You Talk Dirty in Yiddish?

You'll Find the Answer in Dr. Schaechter’s 'Love' Files

Dr. Schaechter’s ‘Love Cards’: The linguist collected Yiddish words for (clockwise from lower left) ‘screw,’ ‘one-night stand,’ ‘to French kiss,’ ‘nocturnal emission’ (wet dream) and ‘drag queen.’
Thinkstock/DenisDenis/Getty
Dr. Schaechter’s ‘Love Cards’: The linguist collected Yiddish words for (clockwise from lower left) ‘screw,’ ‘one-night stand,’ ‘to French kiss,’ ‘nocturnal emission’ (wet dream) and ‘drag queen.’

By Jordan Kutzik

Published June 11, 2014, issue of June 13, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Have you ever wondered how you might say “quickie” in Yiddish? Or maybe “sugar daddy” or “one-night stand”?

You wouldn’t be the first.

In 60 years of researching the Yiddish language, linguist Mordkhe Schaechter collected vocabulary on every aspect of human life and developed vocabulary lists for many specialized subjects not covered in detail by regular dictionaries. He published glossaries like “Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Early Childhood: An English-Yiddish Dictionary” (1991) and “Plant Names in Yiddish: A Handbook of Botanical Terminology” (2005). Among the many subjects his research covered was one that has been mostly left out of Yiddish lexicography — sex.

Like nearly all Schaechter’s work, the love and sex terminology he collected remains unpublished. There is only one place to find it: several boxes of note cards marked “libe,” “love,” in his son Binyumen Schaechter’s Manhattan apartment.

Read the Yiddish version of this article at the Forverts.

These “love-cards” have become legendary among young Yiddishists. At Yidish-Vokh (Yiddish Week) and other Yiddishist gatherings, I have heard people ask how to say something related to love or sex, and usually nobody knows the answer. The question is often met with, “Perhaps you’d find an answer in Dr. Schaechter’s files.” Such terms (especially the juiciest of them) aren’t usually learned from parents, but from friends, TV or pop music. With Yiddish, however, the normal process of cultural transmission has been interrupted, and younger Yiddish speakers find that they don’t know many of these words.

Thanks to a new generation of young researchers, that situation will soon change. Last March, literary scholar Zohar Weiman-Kelman received the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s Dina Abramowicz Emerging Scholar Fellowship to research Schaechter’s “love cards,” and is preparing to write about the world of love and sex in Yiddish in the coming years.

“I’m interested in how the past comes to life through this terminology, the sexual window it provides on our history,” Weiman-Kelman told the Forward. “Schaechter’s cards provide a unique glance into a period of Yiddish history, an important phase of Yiddish searching for its place within American culture. Because it is an unfinished archive, looking at it we see complex movement, in which some words are coming from Yiddish into English while others move in the opposite direction. The languages themselves intimately interact as they produce a new vocabulary for intimate interaction.”

I recently visited Binyumen Schaechter in order to go through the note cards that his father had collected over six decades. In his apartment in Chelsea, surrounded by Yiddish books written by his sister, father, aunt and grandmother, he told me that some of the words in his father’s files were not final linguistic pronouncements, but suggestions for possible terms that Mordkhe Schaechter had coined himself. Binyumen Schaechter explained that his father would eventually have rejected some coinages and accepted others.

Mordkhe Schaechter, who died in 2007, immigrated to the United States in 1951 after receiving his doctorate in linguistics from the University of Vienna. In addition to publishing textbooks and articles and working as the editor of the journal Yidishe Shprakh, Schaechter taught Yiddish at Columbia University and Yeshiva University and at other institutions.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.