Photo Credit:
Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman

Interestingly, the nebbish has an assortment of Yiddish cousins: the schlemiel, the schlimazel, the schlump, the schnook, and the schlub. Which of course raises a few questions: Why are there so many Yiddish words that apply to socially inept people? Is it because Yiddish-speaking observers were so critical of their landsmen? Or is that the Yiddish language (unlike many others) is rich in words for so many layers of personality?

Today, society has come to accept the outsider with grace. Although nerd and geek are still synonymous with social misfit, they trend popularly and are not stigmatized the way they used to be. The geek is smart in ways of technology that command the respect of the general population and the nerd is an individualist in that he is an obsessive devotee of a particular thing.


On the other hand, the nebbish’s brand is inert because he has or does nothing that captures the public imagination. And yet we know the nebbish, with all his awkwardness and troubles, is in his inimitable way charming, caring, funny, lovable, and warm.

Like a fading cultural relic, he just needs to burnish his credentials to spring into the limelight and come into vogue.

A nebbish president? Astronaut? Champion heavyweight boxer?

The world awaits!


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Harvey Rachlin, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.