• chutzpah •
hUt-spah • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Gall, nerve, temerity, audacity, cheek, moxie—all these taken together with a few others I can't think of at the moment and rolled into one.
Notes: Attempts at defining today's Good Word have been a cottage industry for centuries. The classical definition of chutzpah comes from Leo Rosten, who put it this way in The Joys of Yiddish: "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan." A person with chutzpah is a chutzpahnik. Don't forget that both words begin with a (silent) C, and the latter ends on a naked K without a preceding C.
In Play: One story explains it all. A little old lady boards a crowded bus. Holding her hand to her chest, she says to a young girl seated on the front row, "If you knew what I have, you would give me your seat." The girl gives up her the seat to the old lady. It is a hot day, and the woman now seated behind her has a fan. The little old lady again says, "If you knew what I have, you would let me use that fan." The woman promptly surrenders her the fan. Finally, she says to the bus driver, "Stop, I want to get off here." The bus driver explains that he can't drop her off before the next regular stop. Again with her hand across her chest, she repeats, "If you knew what I have, you would let me off right here." The bus driver pulls over, opens the door and lets her out. As she exits the bus, he asks, "Madam, what is it that you have?" Without looking back the little old lady responds, "Chutzpah," and hobbles off.
Word History: Today's Good Word is the English version of Yiddish khutspe. This word was borrowed from Mishnaic Hebrew khutspa "insolence", a noun based on the verb khatsaph "to be insolent." (Thanks today to Gianni Tamburini for having the chutzpah to suggest that we run this marvelous Yiddish contribution to the English language.)
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