neb·​bish ˈne-bish How to pronounce nebbish (audio)
: a timid, meek, or ineffectual person
nebbishy adjective

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“It looks like Pa isn't anything like the nebbish Ma is always making him out to be.” Sounds like poor Pa got a bum rap, at least according to a 1951 book review that appeared in The New York Times. The unfortunate Pa unwittingly demonstrates much about the etymology of nebbish, which comes from the Yiddish word nebekh, meaning “poor” or “unfortunate.” In keeping with the term’s semantic timidity, its journey from Yiddish to English wasn’t accomplished in a single bold leap. In the earliest known English example of the word, it’s an adjective meaning “harmless or ineffectual.” That mid-19th century use was joined in the early 20th century by the noun we’re familiar with today. Along the way, nebbish has also been used in English as an interjection expressing dismay, pity, sympathy, or regret. The English adjective and interjection are too rare to be included in most general-use English dictionaries, but the noun has made a place for itself in the common lexicon, proving that it’s less of a nebbish than the timid and meek types it refers to.

Examples of nebbish in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Is the algorithm going to make the out-of-shape nebbish standup an endangered species? Jason Zinoman, New York Times, 15 Nov. 2023 The nebbish who fights back. Jay Deitcher, Wired, 5 July 2021 Dennehy’s size and potent masculinity was integral to Falls' noir-tinged staging of the play; at the time, there was an unspoken contrast with Dustin Hoffman, who had recently interpreted Willy on both stage and screen as a nebbish who seemed to shrink ever-further before your eyes. Chris Jones,, 22 Oct. 2020 The assassins pursuing him there include a bounty hunter called Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), who shows up with his beloved dog (a cheeky reference back to the premise of the first John Wick movie), and a nasty nebbish called Chidi (Marko Zaror). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 21 Mar. 2023 Played by Allen, Leonard Zelig is a nebbish of genius. Mark Feeney,, 5 Jan. 2023 Playing a harried but devoted father is a new look for the actor who is frequently typecast as an unlikeable nebbish. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 17 Nov. 2022 Sievert plays Seymour, the lovestruck florist-shop nebbish who unexpectedly becomes the caretaker of a carnivorous and increasingly hungry hunk of vegetation. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 15 Nov. 2021 Marty the nebbish, Ike the shyster, Phyllis the shrew. Judy Berman, Time, 8 Nov. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'nebbish.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Yiddish nebekh poor, unfortunate, from Czech nebohý

First Known Use

1907, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of nebbish was in 1907


Dictionary Entries Near nebbish

Cite this Entry

“Nebbish.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

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