In a recent discussion Grimm was quoted who describes Jauche as a word whose original meaning has been "verschlechtert". Interestingly, Yiddish preserves the original meaning, "broth". I know a few other examples where the nuance is different in the two languages, and I wonder if anyone can elaborate on these particular cases. I am thinking in particular of "zappelig", which in German is squirming or twitching, like a bug you would step on; in Yiddish, it is "throbbing", as the "zart, zappeldig leib" of a beautiful woman.

The other one is quite baffling: we have "abscheu" (pr. opshay) as respect! I can guess it might have gone the direction of loathing => fear => respect, so if that is the pathway it is not really a case of "verschlechtering" but rather the opposite. Any ideas?

  • According to the Duden the origin of both words is unknown. Besides that I have to disagree with your translation of "zappelig". This one fits better: dict.leo.org/… Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 22:33
  • Which translation do you disagree with? I assure you that the Yiddish expression does not translate as the "tender, fidgety body" of a beautiful woman. Could the Yiddish phrase conceivably be used in German to describe a woman? Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 22:38
  • I disagree with your English translation (squirming, twitching). It has nothing to do with bugs. More with fidgety/unsettled children. Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 22:46
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    @fzwo: The OP is asking for an "elaboration" on how zappelig and Abscheu may have underwent pejoration in German vs. Yiddish. IMO this is quite clear from the question.
    – Takkat
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 9:58
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    Yet another word pair of this type: Weib (more or less pejorative for "woman") vs. vayb (the original uncolored "wife", "woman").
    – alephreish
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 10:37

2 Answers 2



After having done some research I did not find any other meaning of "zappeln", "zappelig" than in the sense of something or someone moving fast back and forth or being restless. This meaning dates as far back as to old high german (according to Pfeifer):

zappeln Vb. ‘(mit den Gliedmaßen, mit dem Körper) schnelle, unruhige Bewegungen machen’, ahd. zabulōn ‘sich unruhig bewegen, zucken’ (um 800), mhd. zabel(e)n, auch zapeln ‘mit den Gliedern zucken, ruhelos tätig sein’, frühnhd. zabeln, zappeln (16. Jh.), mundartlich auch zabbeln, zawweln; ein lautmalendes, bewegungsnachahmendes Wort. zapp(e)lig Adj. ‘sich unruhig (hin und her) bewegend, aufgeregt, innerlich unruhig’ (17. Jh.). DWDS

So in my opinion the Yiddish usage of "zappelig" in the meaning of "throbbing" may be figurative. If the orginial meaning is lost then this would rather be a Yiddish change for better than a worsening ("Verschlechterung") of the meaning in German.

Grimm list a single source where "zappeln" was used figuratively in the meaning of throbbing ("pulsierend") in Musäus' "Melechsala":

»Soll mir Gott!« flüsterte der Arzt der Oberkämmerin ins Ohr, »mit Ihr Hoheit steht's schlecht: der Puls zappelt wie ein Mäuseschwanz«, und schüttelte, aus praktischer Politik, wie schlaue Ärzte pflegen, dabei gar bedenklich den Kopf, verordnete reichlich Kalaf und andere Herzstärkungen, und weissagte mit Achselzucken ein abzehrendes Fieber.

Still it was so uncommon that Musäus had to explain it by adding "like a mouse tail".

  • Fascinating reference; however, the use of zappeln here is really not the same as our Yiddish usage. It's still in this example more of a twitching than a throbbing. We definitely do not use "zappeldig" for an annoying child, e.g. (BTW, I ought to clarify that the d in "zappeldig" is not a misprint, in case anyone doesn't recognize the Yiddish suffix.) Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 10:18

Just noticed that "verklemmt" is another word where the nuance shifts in a similar direction going from German to Yiddish. In German we have "prudish, uptight" where in Yiddish it is "emotionally choked up".

  • Please do not post follow-up questions / ammendments to the original question as an answer. Either open a new question, edit your OP or add a comment there.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 9:12
  • It's not a follow-up question or an amendment. It's a new answer. Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 3:11

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