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Chutzpah, sometimes written chutzpa, hutzpah, or hutzpa, is a Yiddish word that originally comes from Hebrew. Its meaning is usually defined by a series of synonyms, including nerve, gall, audacity, supreme self-confidence, and conspicuous boldness. To hear chutzpah pronounced, click here (the "c" is silent).
In Yiddish, chutzpah is usually considered a negative characteristic, along the lines of brazen nerve, insolence, impudence, or arrogant self-confidence. In this form, it's a personality characteristic that's unattractive and destructive.
However, the word has made its way into the English vernacular with a similar meaning yet an entirely different feeling. In common usage today, chutzpah is seen as an important and vital characteristic that can empower people to do what is right even in the face of obstacles. It's an attitude that says nothing is going to stop you from doing what you were meant to do.
For example, scholars believe chutzpah crossed over from Yiddish to English during the Civil Rights era when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. Her brave action in the face of fierce resistance certainly sums up chutzpah.
If you've never heard of Yiddish before, it's a language that developed during the 10th century among the Ashkenazi Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. It combines elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, German, and several Slavic and Romance languages.
Prior to World War II, scholars estimate there were about 13 million people who spoke Yiddish. Tragically, the Holocaust destroyed the majority of this population. The last several decades, however, have seen a revival of Yiddish in several areas of the world.
Today, there are about 250,000 Yiddish speakers in the United States and approximately the same number in Israel, with about another 100,000 or so in other parts of the world. Some experts believe the number of Yiddish speakers is on the rise again. Perhaps all they need is a little chutzpah to bring Yiddish back to life!