Yiddish for Onheybers and Mavens

“דער אָרעמאַן איז צעריסן”


tse· reyts’·en (verb) tse· reyts’· (noun)


1. tear up 2. exasperate

Infinitive: tsereysn (can be used as a noun) Past participle: tsereyst (can be used as an adjective)


Curiously, there seem to be few Yiddish words that directly denote “exasperation.” Instead, seemingly innumerable adages exist that convey the experience of strongly felt annoyance or irritation (e.g., Dos gantse yor iz zi leydik, gezesn un erev yom-kiper hot zi a zok ongehoybn — “She sits idle all year, and on the eve of Yom Kippur she starts to knit a sock”). As one word on its own holds less capacity for drama, nuance, and exaggeration than a saying, adages are the preferred means by which to express exasperation, an emotion so central to Yiddish thought.

Tsereysnheit has a moodier German equivalent — Zerrissenheit. (Note: ‘-heit’ in both German and Yiddish is a suffix that converts an adjective into a noun and usually denotes an abstract quality of the adjectival root, equivalent to the English suffixes -ness, -ty, or -hood.) This malady afflicted American philosopher-psychologist William James, who wrote: “The constitutional disease from which I suffer is what the Germans call Zerrissenheit or ‘torn-to-pieces-hood’ …The days are broken in pure zig-zag and interruption.”

A Yiddish speaker could conceivably use ‘tsereysnheit’ to convey the ‘torn-to-pieces-hood’ described by William James. In most cases, however, for the typical Yiddish speaker, tsereysnheit is more situational than existential, less an abstract manifestation of spiritual angst than a palpable reaction to the outrageous provocations of family members, friends, business associates, and total strangers. When tsereyst, it is altogether appropriate to address the source of one’s exasperation in Yiddish with either of the following entreaties (which presumably were not available to William James):

“Hock mir nisht keyn chaynik”

Illus.: “Hock mir nisht keyn chaynik”

Lit.: “Don’t bang a tea kettle at me.” Fig.: “Don’t bust my chops.” “Leave me alone.” Per Michael Wex in Born to Kvetch: “You don’t have to shut up completely, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop rattling on about the same damned thing all the time.”

“Drey mir nisht keyn kop”

Illus.: “Drey mir nisht keyn kopf”

Lit.: “Don’t screw with my head.” Fig.: “You’re twisting my melon, man.” “Quit making my teeth itch.” Bonus factoid: “Dreidel” is derived from the work “drey,” to twist.

“Yiddish for Onheybers and Mavens” is an occasional series of Yiddish instruction sponsored by The Berkshire (MA) Yiddish Preservation Society.

Yidden in Galus. Yidden in Druchus.

For more on important Yiddish words, please click here.




Normal, but more so.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

One Of The Oldest City Wants To Talk To You !!

Open Letter to James O’Brien

Opinion: Should people take down statues of controversial figures?

What does tactical mean in knives?

Victorian Era Fashion

Please remain seated: Aviation Firsts

True for you but not for me? That’s just your opinion!

Retail Newspaper Items Online.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Albert Stern

Albert Stern

Normal, but more so.

More from Medium

One Ring to Track Them All

One Ring to Track Them All

Flying from Kastellorizo to Rhodes

Screen time for kids/ children below 2 years and above 2 years & below 5 years

Koala Intelligence Agency’s Use of Funds: The Real Story​ ​