Now, this is a good question. A gute frage indeed. We asked our shmoos-lerer (teacher in conversation) what in her opinion is the most Yiddish word. We could literally hear the wheels spinning in her head, before she finally exclaimed: I’ve got it! A word that is so uniquely Yiddish that it would be impossible in any other language.
We threw out guesses. But it was not shleppen (to carry lots of unnecessary stuff). Not shmock (¤%&#). Not shlimazl (unlucky dude). Not beygl. Not chutzpa. Not even oy vey! (the arch-Jewish sigh of discontent). What could it possibly be?
Parev! Nu?! Farvoss – why? This is why: It’s a word pointing to a very specific cultural, religious trait. Dietary laws in Judaism prohibit among other things mixing dairy products (milchik) with meat products (fleishik). The “neutral” food category that is neither dairy nor meat and may be consumed together with both these two food categories is called parev. These are products like fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc.
This word that describe a quite specific phenomenon, a part of the everyday life of every observant Jew, has received a much wider application. Anything not particularly exciting is parev. Food that doesn’t taste good, but doesn’t smell neither. Shmekt nicht, shtinkt nicht. Or things that are simpy not that exciting. A parev exhibit, concert, film, vacation, or anything that you may have an opinion about.
If the Norwegian film reviewers were sufficiently knowledgeable of Yiddish, they would perhaps have labelled the last “Pirates of the Caribbean”-movie parev.
But the most Yiddish of all Yiddish words? I would personally would prefer a word with more schwung. Or more schmack. But in any case it is hard to argue that any other language can boast of the same type of word.