Expressive Yiddish

Sometimes we copy editors question writers’ use of foreign or slang words and phrases. That is not because we don’t like the words; we just wonder if these words will confuse readers or if the words are being used the right way. We want to be sure that the meaning is clear and accurate.

I thought of this today as I read the morning paper and came across kibitzers in this story about a UNC-CH fraternity taking copies of the Daily Tar Heel. Here is the line from the story: The paper printed replacements by the afternoon as kibitzers on the paper’s Web site speculated that Sigma Chis were the culprits.


Kibitzers in this case are commenters, people (presumably students) posting on the campus paper’s site. I had thought of kibitzers as people who are sticking their noses in where they don’t belong. Here is an explanation from The Mavens’ Word of the Day. The word is Yiddish, and it means someone who is looking on a situation and commenting, as the people who posted on the Web site were doing.

The real point here is that kibitzers is a more colorful and expressive word than commenters. We can appreciate writers and editors reaching for the more interesting word, and sometimes that means looking to another language or to slang to find the right word.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.