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Vocabulary Word of the Day: Kibitzer

A word for Jews and card players alike

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Back when I had ambitions to be eloquent, I started receiving Word of the Day e-mails from one of the many online dictionaries out there in the electronic firmament–that’s a synonym for the heavens…I think.

Years later, the e-mail still arrives every morning and I still immediately delete it because I am always too tired to care about self-improvement in the morning. But last week, I actually opened one because I wanted to see what the site had to say about the word kibitzer.

Kibitzer is a word I’ve ended up using a lot, mostly in the verb form, and so I was a little curious to see what the entry said. Here’s how it was defined:

kibitzer \KIB-it-ser\, noun:

1. A giver of uninvited or unwanted advice.
2. A spectator at a card game who looks at the players’ cards over their shoulders, especially one who gives unsolicited advice.
3. A person who jokes, chitchats, or makes wisecracks, especially while others are trying to work or to discuss something seriously.

Kibitzer entered English first in America in the 1920s. It comes from the Yiddish word kibetsn (equivalent to German kiebitzen) meaning “to look on at cards.”

As a person who personally and professionally fits the first and third definition, I knew them well. But I had never heard of the second definition, which involved playing cards and from which the word is derived.

A quick sojourn across the electronic firmament internet led me to a figurine (pictured above) from an expired eBay auction.

Listed as “Vintage Japan Bisque Figural Match Holder Ashtray Kibitzer Card Players,” which is one ridiculously chalky description, the item itself was shipped from a place called Zionsville, Indiana.

What would someone pay for such a thing? You don’t have to be a kibitzer to find out. $31 plus five bucks shipping. A perfect double chai.

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gwhepner says:


Kibitzer’s a word for any person who bombards

another person with his unsolicited advice,

it’s also somebody who looks at other people’s cards,

or somebody who jokes around in ways that are not nice.

Although there’s nothing I’m aware of that inhibits a

pestilential creature who just loves to kibitz, I’m

inclined to give a warning now to every kibitzer:

I respond to every wisecrack with advice in rhyme.

Gershon Hepner

tessTrueheart says:

This brief essay reminds me of an experience that I had. I am a Jew from Brooklyn. I was teaching a class at a university in Boston. The class had been divided into five or six groups to work on group projects. I circulated around the room listening to the discussions and asking questions about the ongoing work. In one group, a particular group member was not participating. I said, “You are here to work, not to kibbutz.” Since he was also a NYC Jew, he got my drift. However, other members of the group looked at me in total mystification.

I believe that in NYC, most people, regardless of their background, would have understood the reference, I learned that one cannot take for granted that everyone has a Yiddish vocabulary of at least twenty popular words and expressions. In NYC, most people do, but it is not true in most places.


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Vocabulary Word of the Day: Kibitzer

A word for Jews and card players alike

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