semantic change: chutzpah

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Thu Jul 8 17:50:59 UTC 2004

On Thu, Jul 08, 2004 at 10:41:23AM -0700, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
> over on the newsgroup soc.motss, michael palmer reports that he found
> himself watching a rerun of an Oprah show, the one in which O gives out
> her annual Chutzpah Awards.  that sounds like it might be entertaining,
> you think.  but no.  as michael writes:
> -----
> The recipients of the Chutzpah Awards are all women who make the BVM
> seem like Leona Helmsley on a bad day.  It turns out that the Chutzpah
> Awards are for women "with guts" who exhibit exceptional "audacity,
> nerve, boldness and conviction" and "turn inspiration into action".
> Guts, audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction are all admirable
> traits, but do they constitute chutzpah?  To the aging refugee
> intellectuals in SoCal from whom I learned Yiddish in the mid-1950's
> they didn't.
> -----
> nor to me.  nor to leo rosten (The New Joys of Yiddish, p. 81), who
> describes chutzpah as "presumption plus audacity" and (in The Joys of
> Yinglish, p. 117) embroiders on this with references to "arrogance",
> "brazen gall", and "incredible effrontery".  nor to AHD4, with its
> definition: "Utter nerve, effrontery."  not a good characteristic at
> all.

It's not a Yiddishism. HDAS includes this as sense 2, with the
etymological note that "the positive connotation is an English
innovation not found in Yiddish". The first example is 1966, though
I have since come across a 1947 example from Milton Klonsky
writing in _Commentary._

Jesse Sheidlower

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