Lobbes

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009
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Lobbes is a problem for students of Jewish words. On the one hand, its well-known to most British Jews as meaning a lazybones, urchin, or good-for-nothing. Who has not, at one time in his or her youth, been told get out of bed and go to Hebrew classes right now, you lobbes?

On the other hand, though people assume that lobbes is Yiddish, it appears in no dictionary of the language and is almost completely unknown to American Jews of any age, whose acquaintance with Yiddish is usually deeper and more authentic than ours.

Some time ago, I appealed to readers of this column for information regarding the words origins. I am happy to report that the responses have been illuminating. Some have pointed out that although Americans dont have lobbes, they do have shlub or zhlub, which has a similar meaning and also fails to appear in Yiddish dictionaries.

Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies creatively, but not terribly seriously, suggested that lobbes is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase lo bashamayim, not in heaven. One reader posited a connection between lobbes and slob, though since the OED traces slob to an Irish word meaning mud, this relationship appears unlikely.

Professor Ludwig Finkelstein informed me that lobbes is in fact a Polish word. Since he is a native Polish speaker, I am happy to take this as the authoritative derivation. Thank you, Professor.

    Last updated: 12:31pm, March 6 2009