The 100 Yiddish Words Everyone Should Know: Plotz


Plotz is the sort of word that makes people think Yiddish must be a dirty language. To our American ears, this blunt one-syllable word sounds like it must describe something awful, something that belongs in an outhouse or at the very least in a pit by the side of a road.

"Wait until you get a load of the banquet room," a gangster declares in the film "Donnie Brasco." "You're gonna plotz!" And so the notoriously unreliable Urban Dictionary has tried to make sense of the word, citing this exact quote, and came up with "faint," "fall over," and, most often, to void ones bowels.

It's none of these. Plotz means "burst." We use it in English: I was busting with pride. I was bursting with energy. Jefferson Airplane once sang "I could burst apart and start to cry," and nobody assumed this would involve any failure of hygiene.

Feelings fill us. They well up in us, threatening to overflow, to expand beyond our ability to contain them, and so big emotions make us burst, if we're speaking English, and plotz, if we're speaking Yiddish. There's nothing inherently comical about this, except that, to many Americans, Yiddish generally sounds sort of comical.

This is not to say there are no edges to the word plotz. If you're sick of someone, or irritated with them, or just want some peace and quiet for a moment, you can tell them "Gei plotz," which means "go burst," which isn't very nice. The implication is that they won't merely leave, but will step out and just pop, like a balloon, or that they will spontaneously herniate, but whatever happens, it gets rid of them.

There's a tough guy quality to this phrase, like in old movies when gangsters wouldn't tell somebody to leave, but, instead, to "screw."  Yiddish has a surprising number of these too-aggressive exhortations to exit. You might tell someone to defecate on the sea, or to fart in their own throat. I know of a dozen idioms telling people, in no uncertain terms, that they have worn out their welcome, which makes it seem like the entire Yiddish community consisted of the sorts of people who can't take a hint, but instead just linger, carrying on a one-sided conversation long after everyone else has lost interest. There's no use being polite. Just tell them to pack up their things, head toward the door, and explode.

Some uses of the word plotz:

Clifford Odets, Playwright-poet, Harold Cantor: "In the verbs 'bursting' and 'bust,' one can hear the echo of the Yiddish plotz, as in, 'His heart will plotz from such suffering.'"

The taste of Yiddish, Lillian Mermin Feinsilver: "Among teenagers, 'plotz' is becoming a noun, as in the comment on some great party plans: 'That'll be a real plotz!'"

Who Dropped Peter Pan?, Jane Dentinger: "'Boy, my Aunt Sylvia's gonna plotz when she hears.' In the plotzing department, Mike, Jack, and Phil had a big lead on Aunt Sylvia. They looked like a tableau vivant of the Three Stooges in shock."

What's Up Tiger Lilly, Woody Allen: "A salad so delicious you could plotz."

2 comments:

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    1. Of course there are. Yentz is a curse word. Shmuck is a curse word. There are a lot of Yiddish words that you would not use in polite company.

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