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The Schmooze

Love Scrabble? Brush Up on Your Yiddish

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(JTA) — Next time you’re playing Scrabble, you can put down “schmutz,” “schtum” or even “tuchus” without fear of being challenged. (“Tuchuses,” the plural, is also acceptable.)

These are just some of the new Yiddish words to be added to Merriam-Webster’s “Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary.”

The dictionary’s fifth edition, published this month, includes more than 5,000 new words in total, many of them recently coined ones like “beatbox,” “hashtag” and “chillax.”

But “schmutz” is one of the few newcomers to be highlighted in a promotional video on Merriam-Webster’s YouTube channel. In it, Jewish comedian Judy Gold, laying on a thick Long Island accent, shares several examples of how the word — which means dirt — might appear in a sentence.

The new additions are hardly the only playable Yiddish and Hebrew words. Even players still relying on the fourth edition, published in 2005, will find each letter in the Hebrew aleph bet (transliterated into English, of course) — except, oddly, for the word “alephbet” itself.

Meanwhile, various spellings of shadchan (matchmaker), mitzvah (commandment), aliyah (immigration to Israel) and tallis (prayer shawl) are accepted. And virtually every word you can think of that starts with a “sh” — shlub, shlep, even shmuck — is not only accepted, but can be spelled with or without a “c” in between.

One Jew-y word you cannot play however, at least not if you’re using the “Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary” as your arbiter (ironically, official Scrabble tournaments use a separate dictionary): “jew.” Capitalized it’s a proper noun — off limits — and while some people use it lower-case as a verb meaning “to bargain,” the lower case form is excluded from the dictionary on the grounds of anti-Semitism.

Which is good for the Jews, but bad if you’re trying to get rid of a J.

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