• chachka •
Pronunciation: chahch-kê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A gewgaw, bibelot, knickknack, trinket, whatnot—a small inexpensive trinket or souvenir. 2. A bimbo, a showy young woman, possibly someone's bit on the side.
Notes: Our fellow webwinged logophile, Thel Casper, who suggested today's Good Word, prefers the rather bizarre British spelling, tchotchke. The original spelling is neither the US (above) nor the British, but tsatske, for reasons that emerge in the Word History. People familiar with Yiddish, the origin of this word, use its Yiddish diminutive, tsatskeleh, but you won't hear many others utter this variant.
In Play: When we think of chachkas, we think of the sort of cheap glittery trinkets sold as souvenirs in tourist traps: "Kitty Litter's home was filled with chachkas she had purchased on her journeys around the world." The word can also refer to a pretty girl who dresses unconventionally, but the association with toys implies a bit of derisiveness: "I saw Phil Anders at the concert last night with his latest chachka."
Word History: Today's Good Word apparently came from the Russian word tsatska "cheap trinket or souvenir" via Yiddish. This word is a diminutive of an old provincial word tsatsa, whose meaning varied from "big shot" to "toy" to "decorative embroidery". The suffix -ka is added to indicate a smaller object or an affectionate attitude toward it. We find similar words in other Slavic languages, such as Polish cacko "decorative ornament" and Ukrainian tsyats'ka "toy", but no one knows where it comes from. Slavic etymologists assume it comes from the speech of children, as did mama and papa. (I wish we could offer Thel Casper, Esq., at least a chachka for suggesting today's Good Word, but a word of gratitude will have to suffice.)