Chutzpah

By Eddy Portnoy

Chutzpah (n., חוצפּה, from Yiddish, Khutspe/Khitspe, derived from Mishnaic Hebrew, Hutspah, for insolence): nerve, cheek, gall, unmitigated audacity. In short, a brazen attempt to get something you don’t deserve. Most commonly elucidated with an anecdote about a boy who, after murdering his parents, pleads with the court to have mercy on him because he is now an orphan.

Chutzpah first began to appear in English in the 1890s. An early instance of its use was by British-Jewish author Israel Zangwill, who considered chutzpah to be a Jewish national trait. A 1993 Yale Law journal article that traces the use of the word in legal decisions found that its first use was in a 1972 Georgia Court of Appeals decision connected to the case of a man who broke into a sheriff’s office to steal guns. A board game based on Monopoly, but called, “Chutzpah,” was created in the 1970s. Instead of buying properties, this version has players buying mink stoles and weekends in the Catskills, among others. Instructions include advising players to “do a lot of whining, moaning, and sighing.”