neb·​bish | \ ˈne-bish How to pronounce nebbish (audio) \

Definition of nebbish

: a timid, meek, or ineffectual person

Other Words from nebbish

nebbishy \ ˈne-​bi-​shē How to pronounce nebbish (audio) \ adjective

Did you know?

"From what I read ... 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 derives from the Yiddish nebekh, meaning "poor" or "unfortunate." As you might expect for a timid word like nebbish, the journey from Yiddish to English wasn't accomplished in a single bold leap of spelling and meaning. It originally entered English in the 1800s as the adjective nebbich, meaning "innocuous or ineffectual." Nebbich (sometimes spelled nebekh) has also been used as an interjection to express dismay, pity, sympathy, or regret, but that use is far less widespread and is not included in most general-use English dictionaries.

Examples of nebbish in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web 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 For better or worse Eddie remains an antic nebbish, while Venom huffs and puffs with unquenchable indignation at the sorry state of the human world. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, 30 Sep. 2021 In media, Jews tend to adhere to a narrow band of ethnic tropes: the nebbish, the neurotic, the overbearing mother. Jamie Lauren Keiles, New York Times, 27 Nov. 2019 Eisenberg excels at playing an easy-to-dismiss type: the nebbish, the misanthrope, the loner. Justin Chang, Detroit Free Press, 18 July 2019 The nebbish and the Croat spent their time drinking caseloads of prosecco and amiably throwing up starboard. Gary Shteyngart, The New Yorker, 18 June 2018 The Producers’’ on: the despondent nebbish at midlife, here named Martin. Don Aucoin,, 1 July 2018 Indeed, a nebbish nobody who didn’t look old enough to buy a bottle of wine had palmed off millions of dollars of phony Bordeaux and Burgundies to the jet set without ever having been to France. Patrick Cooke, WSJ, 31 Aug. 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nebbish.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of nebbish

1907, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for nebbish

Yiddish nebekh poor, unfortunate, from Czech nebohý

Learn More About nebbish

Time Traveler for nebbish

Time Traveler

The first known use of nebbish was in 1907

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About nebbish

Dictionary Entries Near nebbish




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for nebbish

Cite this Entry

“Nebbish.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on nebbish

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for nebbish


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!