The Yiddish roots of "glitch"

Originally published at:


There are more words in English than in any other language, because English is shameless regarding wholesale borrowing from other languages. Now, a good chunk of this comes with William the Conqueror overlaying late Latin/early French onto a Germanic substrate, so Latinate words sound fancier than their Anglo-Saxon synonyms, like ‘educator’ vs ‘teacher.’ Exact same thing, same Indo-European root.

Related cocktail fact: Yiddish is an Indo-European language, too: it’s more or less Middle High German that happens to be represented in a Hebrew alphabet.


Not completely unlikely, but it really depends on how you define “a word”.


If I’m not mistaken, Yiddish also has words from other central European languages, such as Polish and Russian as well, not to mention a good deal of Hebrew/Aramaic.

But absolutely an Indo-European language. It was the linguistic cement of European Jews for centuries.


Loan words are a thing in most every language.


This lead me to this deeper-dig and heavily-hyperlinked article from 2013 for anyone who found the Smithsonian “article” too skimpy.


I don’t think they are loan words, as much as fully incorporated into the language. Given that Jews were pretty well scattered across a variety of linguistic regions in central Europe, it would make sense that words from all those languages would be incorporated into Yiddish. I don’t think it’s just high german in a Hebrew script, but it’s own fully formed language that takes influence from a variety of places.


That, my friend, is the central mystery [in the old religious sense] in the field. There is no good definition for the word ‘word,’

But I did my doctoral work in historical linguistics, so I feel pretty comfortable saying English, by any standard of measurement, has a lot more “lexemes” than any other language: roughly 150,000 to German’s 75,000, as an example.


Agreed, but in this case it’s a straight-up German root (glitschen, glitschig) for slide/slipperiness being applied creatively to a slip-up. So the word is borrowed but then reassigned :slight_smile:


Loan words do not make a language less ‘fully formed.’ One need not know the etymology of a word to use it in communication. English, as noted, is filled with loan words, many non-Indo-European in origin, which are just as much “English” as any other word. See: ketchup, pajamas, buckaroo…

And English is still very much a Germanic language, even with all the Latinate and other-sourced words in it. Similarly, Yiddish is categorized as a Germanic language, even with loans words from other languages and language families.


I don’t see where that was a claim that was made. Yiddish words with German roots are still Yiddish words.

That’s right.


I always remember it from Mad Magazine – the sound that happens when someone steps in shit.

Interesting to learn that its origins are older than that.


I think this just highlights how messy the evolution of language actually was over the centuries.

But I guess that @zuludaddy’s point was that the “root” language is German and it evolved out of that? But that sort of evolution in general is hard to pin down, given the complicated ways that language changes, and how that’s not always well-documented. Much of that history was written in the modern era, when nationalists were interested in expressing a common identity via culture and writing. I couldn’t even tell you when the first yiddish documents were made, or what the language was like prior to it being written down.


One of my favourite little bits to show how tentacled it gets, is how English took the word “hostel” from the french during a time French used an “s” in the word, and then, years later, took the word “hotel” from the french after they dropped the “s”.


Another fact, Yiddish is the last of the gothic descendant languages too. :slight_smile:


The latter is a distinction without a difference, though. We agree languages have loan words, that Yiddish is a language with loan words, and that it can be understood as a Germanic language in its grammar, syntax and etymology.

The writing system is a representation of the language, not the language itself: the map is not the place.


Gothic is all we have left of East Germanic - a scribe called Notker is (I think) the sole source. I think MHG is later than that by a few hundred years.


And as you know, “Germanic language” isn’t equivalent to “High German with a different alphabet”.


And therein might be part of the problem for historical linguists (your field not mine)? With charting the language itself, you can really only get there by talking to people who use the language and by reading documents written in the language. If the writing system is the map, then for the origins of a language like yiddish, the original maps are all nearly 1000 years old at this point (9th century, right).

Historians of other aspects of human life have similar problems, in that we only have written documents to go by, and that can present a problem with interpretation.


Oy. Germanic is the name for a major branch of Indo-European. It has many constituent elements, and is itself divided into Northern Germanic, Western Germanic (including English) and Eastern Germanic, which we have very little of. The German language of which we now speak is part of the Western Germanic branch.

Middle High German refers to a particular time/place usage. Yiddish is closer than contemporary German in keeping those older forms, pronunciations, and syntax. Similarly, Icelandic is remarkably ‘conservative’ in terms of language change (a constant across all languages), versus Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, all of which share Old Norse as a common ancestor.