What is mishegoss?

Word count: 240 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: mishegoss.

Somehow, when I saw the word mishegoss, I knew it was Yiddish, even though I didn’t know what it meant. (Perhaps it was the “shu” sound?) Yiddish words like schmuck and shmaltzy and shtick have always appealed to me. I like their guttural sound and the everyday feelings (often irritations) they represent. Here’s a terrific list of 40 Yiddish words that everyone ought to know.

Interestingly, this list contains the word mishegoss although it spells it different: mishegas. Here is the sentence in which I encountered the word, in an April 1 Mark Fisher story in the New Yorker.

“His whole universe of mishegoss is in there [a book] —the art, the music, the literature, the sex,” a college professor who has spent many years trying to figure out Berman says.

The article was about teacher Robert Berman from the Horace Mann school in the Bronx. I was gobsmacked by this breathtaking account of the impact of a possible abuser, written by someone who had briefly been the teacher’s student. Read it for a frightening education in the power some teachers wield over young minds.

Mishegoss, however, is a simple word. It means crazy or senseless activity or behaviour.

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