A new online Jewish English dictionary has been launched in an attempt to aggregate the distinctive words used by English-speaking Jews. The site, Jewish English Lexicon, was launched yesterday and functions as a combination of a kind of Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary of the Jewish language.
It has hundreds of entries—ranging from ‘A Dio’ (a Ladino word meaning ‘My God’) to zoykhe (which comes from Hebrew and means ‘to merit’), and readers are encouraged to add additional entries. JEL was launched by Sarah Bunin Benor, a linguist and associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. It began as a class project in her course “American Jewish Language and Identity in Historical Context.”
The dictionary, which draws on entries from other dictionaries but includes some 200 new phrases, also includes English terms like “break fast” and “black hat.” Both of these are English, of course “but for Jews, these phrases mean something else,” says Benor, also author of Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism. “People use the term ‘breakfast’ all the time, but that means something different from ‘break fast.’ And a black hat means something different in the Jewish world than it does to other people.” In the day since it was launched, a dozen or so additional words have been added to JEL, including the acronym FFB or “frum from birth,” a person who was born into a religiously observant home.