: a timid, meek, or ineffectual person
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"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.
Lyle may have come across as a nebbish, but he stood up to the bully who gave him a hard time—and the students in the cafeteria who witnessed the confrontation showed their support.
"Arthur Darvill is known to 'Doctor Who' fans as the nebbish-turned-stalwart-hero Rory Williams and to CW superhero fans as Rip Hunter, organizer of the 'Legends of Tomorrow' on that series." — Mike Suchcicki, The Pensacola (Florida) News Journal, 26 Nov. 2017
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