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Chutzpah is a term common to both Hebrew and Yiddish, and has been imported into English, at least for Jews. It means approximately audacity, nerve, insolence.

Is chutzpah also used by non-Jewish English speakers?

I think I have only seen it once outside of Jewish publications / communities.

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    In the U.S., people would probably understand it, but they might not know how to pronounce it properly. – Peter Shor Oct 19 '14 at 15:16
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    And in the UK - I understand it, probably from films. – Mynamite Oct 19 '14 at 15:54
  • I found it once in a German newspaper and had to look up that word as it was totaly new to me. It seems that journalists like such exotic words but it will never become a German word and I think it won't become an English word either. It is journalistic plonking with foreign words. – rogermue Oct 19 '14 at 15:59
  • Yeah, I was raised in the US Midwest, where the few Jews there were kept a low profile. But I became familiar with the term from television and magazines. (Of course, the old Dick Van Dyke show may have been a strong influence here.) I can't say if younger people are as familiar with it. – Hot Licks Oct 19 '14 at 16:11
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    I heard some non-Jews pronouncing "chootspah". – Blessed Geek Oct 19 '14 at 16:40
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Yes.

I was brought up knowing the word, not coming from a Jewish background at all. I don't think this is uncommon.

From Wikipedia:

Judge Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh in an article entitled Lawsuit Shmawsuit, note the rise in use of Yiddish words in legal opinion. They note that chutzpah has been used 231 times in American legal opinions, 220 of those after 1980.

In the movie Haider (2014) by Vishal Bharadwaj , a modern-day interpretation of Hamlet set in the backdrop of Kashmir conflict, the protagonist uses the word chutzpah to describe India and Pakistan's way of treating the people of Kashmir since the beginning of the conflict.

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Whilst it is not a word one would expect to see in the tabloid news media, it is in regular use in intelligent circles in Britain.

It is quoted in the OED, whose most recent example is from an article in the New Statesman of 1968. That probably epitomises the sort of publication to whose readership it would be an everyday expression.

  • Interesting. I can't recall hearing it in a BrE context, but in AmE contexts, I would certainly consider it very colloquial and low in register—basically the opposite of what you're saying goes for BrE. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 25 '14 at 18:15
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Not much used in Britain outside of the intelligentsia I would suggest. – WS2 Oct 25 '14 at 19:39
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I am not Jewish, yet in my native German I am used to treating Chuzpe (the German spelling) as a relatively normal word, though a rather strong one reserved for communicating strong indignation or admiration of the extremer forms of the character trait characterised by it (example). This doesn't mean that the word is common in German or that it feels like a German word, though it is listed in practically all German dictionaries. As it starts with the same ch sound as in loch, it can be easily recognised as Yiddish or Hebrew in origin. My occasional use of this word (maybe once a year?) may be in part due to me having read too many anthologies of Jewish humour as a child plus additional exposure in English via American media. I think the status of this word in German is basically in line with what WS2 says for Britsh English.

On the other hand, I once inadvertently offended a Jewish American editor on the English Wikipedia by using this word in a dispute. I was surprised at the time, but after this experience I would not be surprised to learn that in the US it's generally used only by Jews. Hopefully someone else can clear this up.

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    Lots of non-Jews use chutzpah in America, and my impression is that Jews are not offended by this. It's possible that almost anything you said would have offended the Jewish-American editor, just because you happen to be German. – Peter Shor Dec 1 '14 at 11:55
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    Of course I was aware that this must have played a role. I just wasn't sure if it was the only factor. Thanks. – user86291 Dec 1 '14 at 13:27
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A significant number of non-Jewish people in the United States are familiar with one or another version of this quotation from Leo Rosten's popular book, The Joys of Yiddish (1968):

Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

A chutzpanik may be defined as the man who shouts, "Help! Help!" while beating you up.

Lilian Feinsilver, "The Yiddish Is Showing" in Perspectives on American English (1980) has this entry for chutzpa (and related spellings):

chutzpa, chutzpah, chutspa, chutspeh, chuzpa, hutzpa, etc.

This Yiddish term for nerviness [cross reference omitted] has been heard on TV and seen in much current journalistic writing. It is listed in several dictionaries, including the Funk and Wagnalls' Standard College Dictionary, which in 1967 and 1968 advertised itself in the New York Times as "the only college dictionary with "chutzpah".'

As an objective measure of the breadth of adoption of the word amongst the goyim of the United States, consider that chutzpah appears (without definition) in six separate issues of Texas Monthly magazine between November 1976 and July 1980 despite a readership that tends not to have a deep vocabulary of Yiddish terms.

The popularity of chutzpah among English speakers who knew few other Yiddish words may have arisen at a fairly early date. From Benzion Mosinsohn, "Palestine and Hebrew in Zionism," in The Maccabæan: A Magazine of Jewish Life and Letters (October 1917):

[A]nother prominent English Zionist said bitterly, "Those Russian Jews! I do not understand them. It is Chutzpah [probably the only Hebrew word in the gentleman's vocabulary]. They are given a land. What right have they to choose?" That was the clearest exposition of the philanthropic attitude. Philanthropy knows only the present.

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