I recently looked up the abbreviation Z”L (= Hebrew ז״ל for זכרונו לברכה zikhrono livrakha ‘of blessed memory’) and found the ” between the letters referred to as a “choopchik” (so spelled). Needless to say, I was intrigued, and googled up the Haaretz article “Word of the Day / Chupchik” by Shoshana Kordova:

If you’ve been in the market for a handy, versatile word that can refer to a wide variety of objects, look no further than chupchik. This word, pronounced CHOOP cheek, is defined as a protrusion or protuberance but is often used to mean just about any small item or part of an item whose name has escaped you or that doesn’t necessarily have a name. […]

Chupchik comes from the Russian word for “curly forelock,” originally chubchik, according to the Hebrew etymology site Hasafa Haivrit.

Chupchik actually features two chupchiks in the word itself, in the form of the apostrophe that come after the letter tzadi (which makes a double appearance here) to turn it into the “ch” sound that features so prominently in sentences like “Chuck chowed down on Chinese food.”

What a great word! (I decided to use Kordova’s spelling as more scientific-looking.) Its Russian forebear is чубчик, diminutive of чуб ‘forelock’; when I looked it up in my Webster’s New World Hebrew Dictionary, there were so few words under “CH” and they were mostly so piquant that I thought I’d list them all (giving only the entry form and definition):

chakhchakh [slang] derogative nickname for a commonly behaving young Jew of North-African background

chans [slang] (Engl.) chance

chapachool [slang] (Ladino) someone negligent and unimportant; a non-entity

cheelee Chile

cheeleeyanee Chilean

cheek-chak [slang] fast; in a jiffy

(be) cheek [slang] fast

cheeps French fried potato

cheezbat [slang] (Arab.) 1. bluff; lie; 2. empty boast

cheezbet [slang] bluffed; told false tales (of heroism)

chek check

cherkesee Circassian

cherkeseeyah Israeli folk dance

choopar [slang] extra grant

choopcheek [slang] (Russian) 1. protruding end of an object; 2. (vulgar) penis

Obviously the definitions for “choopcheek” are inadequate, and the dictionary is full of editorial commentary (for instance, it says the Circassian minority is “known for its loyalty to Israel”), not to mention its bizarre transliterated-entry system, but I love it anyway.


  1. The skit hachúpchik shel hakúmkum, mentioned in the article, is here. It is arguably the most famous comedy skit in Israel’s history, which shows just how central language issues were in the public consciousness at least in the sixties, when the skit was created. In it, an everyman, speaking exuberantly substandard Mizrahi Hebrew, calls a radio program where a Hebrew-language expert answers listeners’ questions. The caller is trying to find the proper word for the “chupchik of the kettle” (i.e. the spout). The pompous expert, speaking in impossibly correct Academy Hebrew, interrupts him again and again to correct him. The word for ‘spout’, zarbuvít, is without a doubt widely known only because of this skit.

  2. Chizbat ‘tall tale’ comes from the Proto–Central Semitic *kḏb ‘to lie’. In rural Palestinian Arabic *ki- > [tʃi].

  3. Thanks for both the skit and the etymology!

  4. David Marjanović says

    Chuck chowed down on Chinese food.

    …y’know, that’s a perfect “alliterating long line” as in Beowulf.

  5. i wonder whether ivrit got “chupchik” directly from russian, or by way of yiddish or eastern european modern hebrew – Y, do you have any idea?

    the word i’m more used to in yiddish for the single version of that abbreviation mark, which is definitively from hebrew (i have no etymological anything to offer), is “geresh”, with the double version being “gershayim”. unicode does know them as distinct marks from apostrophes and english-style quotation marks, which is nice if you have a font made by someone who knows it (or/and cares).

    i’m more familiar in yiddish with “tshuptshik” for “forelock”.

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    chapachool in Ladino is ex Turkish çapaçul.

  7. No discussion of chubchick is complete without this.

  8. чуб is оселедець in Ukrainian. The traditional hairstyle of the shaved head with the long lock of hair at the top of the skull.

  9. чуб is a perfectly good Ukrainian word, оселедець is a very specific type and I would not even include it as a type of чуб, because it is not a forlock, but dictionaries disagree. оселедець is best consumed under the fur coat.

  10. @D.O.
    wow! so this must be an adaptation of the leshchenko!

  11. rozele: I am embarrassed to say, I don’t know. And I am embarrassed on behalf of every Hebrew dictionary and etymological website, that they hardly ever discuss this issue with regards to any word, satisfying themselves with the ultimate source (Russian in this case) while ignoring the question of the proximate one.

    The devoicing assimilation in chubchik > chupchik doesn’t help. It’s a Yiddish feature and a Hebrew feature, so it would have happened in either case. A search of the National Library of Israel’s historical newspaper site, which covers a lot of Yiddish newspapers as well, doesn’t yield anything definite, under either טשופטשיק or צ’ופצ’יק.

    What I did find is that the word first appears in Hebrew as a nickname in the 1940s/1950s, I suppose because of chubchik. The earliest mention of chupchik clearly in the general ‘bit’ sense is from 1951, regarding various parts of a rifle. Later appearances of the word as a nickname mean, I suspect, not ‘Cowlick’ or such, but ‘Tiny’.

    Finally, in this illustrated hilarity from a 1909 NY Yiddish paper (“Fun Coney Island biz Essex Market cart”) there is a young woman named “Missis Tsuptsik”. I’ve no idea what that means. She has plenty of curls but no obvious forelock.

  12. rozele, maybe. I don’t think anyone knows who are Chubchik‘s authors or first performers, but Leschenko’s performance is the only one widely known now. Some people think that it was written before 1917, but there are no traces of it before the first recording in 1927 by Munia Serebrov (born Haim Silberang in Kishinev/Chișinău) in Novokishenevsk in the US of A.

    BTW, transliterations of чубчик on some recordings are downright hilarious. There is “tschoubstschitk” and there is more reasonable “czubczyk” and these are just two recordings that I saw on a youtube video. Those are Leschenko’s recordings. Serebrov’s was with much more reasonable “chupchik”.

  13. The devoicing assimilation in chubchik > chupchik doesn’t help. It’s a Yiddish feature and a Hebrew feature, so it would have happened in either case.
    And a Russian feature.

  14. Now, we are getting somewhere. Here we have an image of Yiddish newspaper from Novokishenevsk advertising some performance where a famous טשופטשיק was going to be performed. I wouldn’t stake my yearly salary on פ being not ב, but that’s my best guess. So maybe from Yiddish.

  15. You beat me to it. This is in the newspaper database as well.


  16. thanks, Y & D.O.!

    and i should be more exact! here are the lyrics to ehrlich’s “tshuptshik” (it’s from his 1962 album, Tshuva). it’s a song about an orphan turned partisan leader (so couldn’t’ve been written before WWII in any case), not a yiddish version of the russian song. but i think it’s built off the song that leshchenko is credited with: if the russian song is about the beauty of a (probably petty, conceivably political) criminal on his way to siberia, ehrlich’s flips the script so that the orphan (abandoned to life of crime!) becomes a humble hero, beautiful in soul as well as body.

    which is very much ehrlich’s mode: take the popular song tropes of his 1920s youth (and, here, a melody that folks in the u.s. frum world younger than his 1940s-immigrant generation would be unlikely to recognize) and bend them enough to fit into the piety of the post-war hasidic world in the u.s. as it refashioned itself on the protestant fundamentalist model. his massive popularity was well-earned, but built on moves like this that get hidden when he’s only seen in the hasidic context, without the wider eastern european world that shaped him.

  17. Astounding. Reading this post I was formulating in my head a comment starting with “What’s probably the best-known Hebrew comedy skit is ‘the chupchik of the kumkum’ which is also inherently LH material”, only to find Y’s first comment, starting with the exact same superlative.

    (Incidentally, I wouldn’t qualify the double-geresh [gershayim] in words like z”l to be a chupchik, if only because of its duality, and calling it/them chupchikim feels gratuitous)

  18. Dmitry Pruss says

    The song is probably older than Leschenko, since both Siberian exile and jury trials ended in 1917, and its hero is exiled by a jury. Could even be the final third of the XIX c. But Serebrov recorded it earlier than Leschenko.

  19. But what is chakhchakh?

  20. Reading this post I was formulating in my head a comment starting with “What’s probably the best-known Hebrew comedy skit is ‘the chupchik of the kumkum’ which is also inherently LH material”, only to find Y’s first comment, starting with the exact same superlative.

    Thirded. But then, my parents were ridiculously fond of HaGashash HaHiver.

  21. Chakhchakh is a derogatory term for a coarse, loud young male, used by Ashkenazis against Mizrahis/Sephardis. It has overtones of insulting superiority. The word is apparently an onomatopoeia, in imitation of the sound of Arabic-accented Hebrew (mirroring the older term vuzvuz, pejorative for Yiddish speakers).

  22. With a woman it is otherwise. She cannot move abroad without being thickly veiled; she cannot amuse herself by shopping in the bazars, owing to the attention she would attract unless attired in Persian garments. This is precluded by the inconvenience of the little shoes hardly covering half the foot, with a small heel three inches high in the middle of the sole, to say nothing of the roobend or small white linen veil, fitting tightly round the head (over the large blue veil which envelopes the whole person), and hanging over the face, with an open worked aperture for the eyes and for breathing; then the chakh-choor, half-boot half-trousers, into which gown and petticoat are crammed. As to visiting, intimacy with Persian female society has seldom any attraction for a European, indeed I regret to say there were only a few of the Tehran ladies whose mere acquaintance was considered to be desirable; so that the fine garden of the Mission, which hitherto had been much neglected, was the only resource left to me.

    Could local experts in Victorian etiquette clarify: does she regret to say that
    (a) Tehran ladies are not interesting,
    (b) expat society is not interested in Tehran ladies
    (c) she regrets nothing, but she is not free to establish new contacts and only can speak to people introduced to her by the local fine society?

    A cultural barrier: I do not understand this “considered desirable”.

  23. Y, but why /čax/ is Arabic?

  24. vuzvuz is said to be from “vos?”

  25. It appears among the explanations (by people of Polesje) of why they call hoopoe a “Jewish cuckoo”. That hoopoes say “vus-vus”. Alonside with “the come two weeks earlier than other birds, like the Jewish Easter” and “Jewish law forbids eating them” and “they say /jud-jud/”.

  26. чуб is טשאָפּ [tshop] in Standard Yiddish.

  27. A cultural barrier: I do not understand this “considered desirable”.

    I’m guessing it’s a class/status thing: proper English ladies could hang out with proper Tehran ladies (wives of high officials and the like), but there were so few of those (at least those willing to hang out with infidel foreigners) that it wasn’t a practical option.

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    The o instead of u seems odd, and other forms like tshuprinke have the u. German Schopf is a cognate to the Russian word. Maybe the o in tshop is interference from Schopf?

  29. If ווזווז vuzvuz is based on Yiddish וואָס (Poylish and Ukrainish [vʊs]), is צ’חצ’ח chakhchakh based on a stereotyped pronunciation of any specific item in Hebrew? (Or on a word in an Arabic variety?)

    The etymology of צ׳ופר chupar “bonus, fringe benefit, perk, freebie” is also interesting. From a quick look, I see Balashon lays out two proposals from Rosenthal here. I just wonder how exactly it was that the infinitive got extracted from Judaeo-Spanish para chuparse los dedos (chuparte, chuparmos, chuparvos…) to become a noun, and under what social circumstances. The army? Business dealings? Kindergarten? The service counters of small groceries? I don’t have access to R. Rosenthal’s dictionary of slang at the moment, and I wonder if he sketches out a scenario in any more detail.

    It’s also cute that although צ’יזבט chizbat is masculine singular in Hebrew, it’s from the Arabic plural, pronounced [t͡ʃɨzˈbæːt] or the like in rural Palestinian colloquial Arabic, equivalent to Classical كذبات kiḏbāt “lies”, plural of كذبة kiḏba “lying, lie”.

  30. Xerîb: yes, it’s not an exact equivalent. Chakhchakh is supposedly just based on the perceived sound of the language (Moroccan Arabic, I suppose).

    Rosenthal’s dictionary is generously sampled on GB.

    I see no evidence for chupar coming from Ladino. Rosenthal’s column (linked at Balashon) deals with [t͡ʃ], a non-native sound, in Hebrew. The pronunciation of /ʃ/ as [t͡ʃ] in Hebrew slang is widespread, though the phonological and pragmatical conditioning of it are not obvious to me. In any case, [met͡ʃupar] < [meʃupar] ‘improved’, used as a noun, is certain. [t͡ʃupar] < [met͡ʃupar] is not obvious to me, but plausible, especially on the grounds of close semantics.

    Another example of a Hebrew slang word taken from an Arabic word demonstrating *k > [t͡ʃ], is chilba < *klb ‘dog’. The word literally means ‘bitch’, and is insulting, but is used differently from the English word. I know it exclusively as a put-down of girls by other girls, taking someone down a notch in the social order (and I also heard my mother using it to refer to a frenemy whom she knew for decades; it made me laugh.)

  31. @Y, does Moroccan Arabic (or Hebrew accent) sound like that (like čaxčax) to you (to your Hebrew ear), subjectively? If you have remember it of course.

    I have difficulty matching it to what I know/experienced about MA, and it does not match my own stereotypes…
    But it is not impossible.

  32. stereotypes
    /č/: an Iraqi sound.
    /x/: some Europeans use it instead of the pharingeal, and it is used in some Arabic countries to parodize foreign accent.

    But it is not impossible that Modern (European) Hebrew speakers parodize the unusual ħ’s with x… I mean: preservation of ħ in Sephardic pronunciation and in Arabic must be striking for Hebrew speakers who came from Europe, so they may want to parodize it, but as x and ħ have merged, they only have one phoneme in their repertoire for parodizing it.
    The problem is that I am inventing an explanation (and likely can invent many of them) I do not hear as an Israeli Hebrew speaker:(

  33. @PlasticPaddy

    I explicitly indicated Standard Yiddish since it is possible that in Ukrainian Yiddish it would have given [tshup]. See indeed [tshuprine].

  34. Jewish and Muslim dialects of Moroccan Arabic by Heath p 139

    3.1.9 Affricate č

    This is not a phoneme in CA, but it definitely is in northern and Jebli M dialects, both in Latinate-Romance borrowings and in some native Arabic forms. It is apparently limited to prevocalic position and so is not completely integrated into the phonemic system. šuf ‘see’ (§ has variants tuf and čuf in this area, čuf being attested in Tn (confirmed alongside šuf by GMADT 248n), Ch, and Twn. It is conceivable that čuf was generalized from forms with t-prefix, like t-šuf ‘you-SG see’ and reciprocal t-šawf- ‘see each other’, but if so this was an isolated case. TAT 257-8 lists several stems beginning in this affricate, from various etymological sources.

    In mainstream M dialects and the koiné, č is not a well-established unit phoneme. The most interesting lexical item in this respect is the word for ‘orange (fruit)’ from Sp la China ‘China’ (§2.6). Typical forms are lččin~lttin~lššin (also čin, lčin, lttim, ečin, etc.). In many non-northern M dialects, lččin is the only common word that appears to have an affricate, though native speakers could possibly interpret the relevant sound as instead of čč, and indeed there is ablaut evidence for a representation in Mr-M. Howewer, in dialects like Fs-M this does seem to be an authentic, though rare, č phoneme. For a close study of this stem, with emphasis on its telltale diminutives (lčičin-a, lčitn-a, lčitn-a, ltišin-a, etc.), see Heath (1999).

    “M” is “Muslim” though…

  35. drasvi: I have not heard Moroccan Arabic spoken in Israel. It was spoken (and still is), but not where I lived. The explanation for the word comes from what I’ve read but it does sound odd to me.

  36. @Y thank you.

    “have remember” above resulted from an edit: I wrote “if you have heard” it (I guess better English would be “if you heard it” but this is within my normal range of confusing tenses:-)) then wanted to add “and remember it”.

    P.S.I saw the same explanation in Russian, but when I try to find more, I see references to the election campaign of 1981 where this word was used in the Chakhchakhim Speech:(

  37. if you have heard it

    It’s correct in the context. If you heard it is hypothetical.

  38. @Y: to me, “chilba” is indeed like a frenemy, or worse, up to a nemesis with still some lighthearted overtones. But consider we also got Yiddish’s bitch, namely /klafte/, with much harsher connotation.

  39. @Yuval: chilba is a tough one. I saw dictionaries say it means ‘rival’, but I think that is too narrow.

    Klafte (from Aramaic) is something I associate with mean old women who yell at people. My poor teacher in middle school, a sweet, mild-mannered older woman, kept telling us monsters that we were turning her into a klafte.

  40. Oh, and by the way, mešupar ‘improved’ is from the Aramaic root špr ‘beautiful, good’, whence also the surname Shapira/Shapiro.

    Ed. Nevermind. Shapira is more likely to refer to Speyer.

  41. Another argument against chakhchakh imitating Moroccan Arabic. The first printed mention of it I can find is from 1971, some 15 years after the big wave of Moroccan immigration. The young men who were called this were speaking Hebrew (with a distinct accent). In contrast, other pejorative terms appear in print earlier, e.g. maróko sakín “Morocco knife” shows up in a 1957 newspaper.

    It would be good for an enterprising fieldworker to ask older people what slang terms they remember as kids, to try to pin down when the terms first became current.

  42. I mentioned to a friend today that, among American Jews, Israel has a reputation as being s noisy place, where people are always yelling. However, I suspect that some of this stereotype is just a result of Ashkenazim looking down their noses at Sephardim.

  43. The stereotype is true and cuts across communities. Tune in to any Knesset session.

  44. Well, čax can be a Hebrew simplification of tšax.
    -tš- is likely more common in Moroccan Arabic than in Hebrew.

    71 – there was a wave after the Six Day war too, I think…

  45. Still, I think Moroccan Arabic (unlike Yiddish) was mostly confined to the home, and not something your average Ashkenazi would have been exposed to.

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