Ashkenazi click sounds, part 2

« previous post | next post »

Following up on their query which formed the basis for "Ashkenazi click sounds" (1/27/23), Dana F. appends this additional valuable information:

I have been searching for a while and have not been able to find anything on Youtube (my theory is that it is used in casual speech only, and people might not do it as often when being filmed for that reason). However, I did find this article that discusses it and describes it as a "hesitation click." By googling "hesitation click," I also found this article and this relevant, and really interesting, quote:

Benor lists several features that make all Orthodox speech special, such as a high number of loanwords from Hebrew and Yiddish, far more than are found in the vocabulary of non-Orthodox American Jews; Yiddish-influenced phrasing, as in English sentences like “I want you should come right away” or “We’re staying by my in-laws on Shabbos,” and Yiddish-influenced phonetic deviations, such as a full “t”-sound at the end of words and syllables. (An example of this would be saying “right” with the same “t” as is heard in “today,” as opposed to the partially swallowed or glottalized final “t” of American English.)

Two other peculiarities complete Benor’s list. One is a singsong “talmudic” intonation, particularly in sentences with logical reasoning expressed in dependent clauses like, “If you were going to the grocery anyway, why didn’t you buy some bread?” The other is what Benor calls a “hesitation click” — a “tsk”-sound used, like “um,” to give the speaker time to think of what to say next. (Although she is no doubt correct in ascribing this to Israeli influence, she errs in thinking that it is used this way in Israeli Hebrew. The Israeli “tsk” simply means “No,” although when occurring in midsentence in what Binor rightly calls a “corrective click,” this “no” can have the sense of, “On second thought, that isn’t what I really wanted to say, so I’ll try to say it again.” This is probably how, misinterpreted by Orthodox American Jews exposed to Israeli speech, it became an American Jewish “hesitation click.”)

This gives some context to the origin, although it does not explain how the meaning of the click evolved from Hebrew ("no") to simply a filler word that is used, in my experience, multiple times per sentence.

Serendipitously, Sarah Bunin Benor, the author referred to in the passage quoted three paragraphs above, submitted a comment to the first post of this pair. The comment has been posted there, but I'm also including it here because it straightens out a lot of lingering misconceptions and uncertainties:

I did write about this in my dissertation and then my first book, Becoming Frum (p. 106):

At the other end of the spectrum of salience is a linguistic feature I refer to as a hesitation click. It is used for self- repair, to express a negative reaction to the previous or current statement, or as a general hesitation marker. The click derives from Israeli Hebrew and is similar to the practice called “suckteeth” or “kiss- teeth” in African diaspora communities.53 I heard this click in all the Orthodox communities where I conducted research, as well as among some non- Orthodox Jews who have spent significant time in Israel. Here are some examples:

Self- repair:

“It’s not common, but it’s— [click] there are other subjects.”
“But sometimes it’s more— [click] I don’t know how to explain it.”


“No, but it’s not— [click] no, you don’t understand.”
“We just do. [click] It’s not that girls can’t.”


“What if there were— [click] If there were snakes and scorpions, they would have
found them.”
“It’s not as, [click] you know, as choshuv.”

I believe that the click is picked up by Americans who spend time in Israeli yeshivas, and when they return to the United States their friends and relatives pick it up from them. The click seems to be a very “contagious” linguistic feature, as many Orthodox Jews who have never spent time in Israel use it frequently. Aside from loanwords, this was the feature that I heard from the most speakers, FFBs and BTs.

Finally, MYL dug up some relevant YouTube videos, from among which Dana F. chose this one (at 1:36) as representing most nearly what they were referring to:

"Shtick Yeshivish People Say At Shivas POV"


Selected readings


  1. Michael Watts said,

    January 31, 2023 @ 4:06 am

    Perhaps, given enough time, this could develop into evidence that language change is capable of introducing clicks into languages. A mid-sentence click doesn't seem so hard to reinterpret as a word.

    American English features a dental click and a lateral click, but as far as I'm aware neither is able to occur within a sentence.

    On a tangential note, there is an interesting phenomenon of languages being deemed to "not have" a feature that they do have, but in a small or restricted way. English features grammatical tone, which seems like it would make it difficult to simultaneously feature lexical tone, but "I don't know" is still a lexical item defined by no vowels, no consonants, and a lexical tone sequence. Tones and clicks are commonly described in terms of being something alien to English at the same time that they're completely routine to most English speakers.

  2. David L. Gold said,

    January 31, 2023 @ 5:37 am

    The immediate source of the slang Israeli Hebrew "click" (however it is to be termed and whatever its meanings are) is the local spoken Arabic of non-Jews in Israel (Christians, Druze, and Muslims, to give them in alphabetical order, thus without implying this or that degree of influence of any of the three groups on Israeli Hebrew).

    The immediate source of the "click" among Jews elsewhere (be they Khsidic or not) is Israeli Hebrew.

  3. Ross Presser said,

    January 31, 2023 @ 8:51 am

    There is a very clearly defined click in the movie "While You Were Sleeping", uttered by Saul, when Lucy is waving goodbye to Saul after the failed hospital wedding:

    While this isn't actually part of a verbal speech, it strikes me as very very similar to the disapproving click. He's not actually disapproving, more just saying "damn, that sucks, I'm sorry for you."

  4. martin schwartz said,

    February 1, 2023 @ 3:21 am

    @Ross Presser: But the set-up of the film does not seem Jewish,
    and what you seem to be indicating is a loud"English" "tsk!") of regret.
    As for the negative East Mediterranean "tsk!", it now seems, with Sarah Benor and David Gold's judgements on the last stage(s), a diachronic scenario Greek > Byzantine> Turkish > Arabic (and Ladino > Israeli Hebrew > (at least as a stimulus diffusion phenomenon) American Yeshivish is likely.
    *) And let's not forget the comic-book "tsk tsk" giving rise to
    a vcoalization :tisk, tisk". And let's rememeber "tut tut" as its oral cousin.

  5. xiesong said,

    February 1, 2023 @ 9:04 am

    Hi, Prefessor Mair,
    Sorry for interrupting. I have a question regarding the title "Sino-Platonic Papers." what does word "sino-platonic" mean exactly. Thanks! – xiesong

  6. Victor Mair said,

    February 1, 2023 @ 10:56 am


    Since I founded SPP 330 issues ago in 1986, hundreds of people have asked that same question, but I long ago decided that I would never tell anyone, letting the title serve as a sort of stimulating Zen koan.

    There's a funny anecdote about a famous scholar, the cantankerous, curmudgeonly Edwin Pulleyblank, who was so frustrated by not being able to solve the koan that he blurted out, "Why didn't you call it Helleno-Mencian Papers?" I just smiled and replied, "I could have, but that's not what it's all about."

    Only one person ever got the answer completely right.

  7. Stephen Goranson said,

    February 1, 2023 @ 12:03 pm

    There's a meaning besides yes, no, Platonic, yet Platonic love of China, inventor of paper?

  8. martin schwartz said,

    February 1, 2023 @ 9:19 pm

    Not having a Mair-mind, I will not emerge Victorious from any entry into this koan, but since Plato (Plátōn) was a nickname 'having
    broadness', in my mind Sino-Platonic refers to a quasi-philosophical
    broadening of matters Chinese.THe question reminds me of another
    paradoxical naming, a fake-out Greek reference to China: At Berkeley in the days of the illustrious Peter Boodberg, there
    was a predominantly Sinological graduate student journal called
    Phi Theta Papers–I even contributed an article on some Sogdian words. The Phi Theta suggested the characters zhōng guó,
    i.e. China. By the way,if ancient rumors of Plato's real name are correct, we would have Aristotle as student of Aristocle, so to speak.
    Speaking of (sino-)platonic physique, here's a riddle I cannot now solve:Lat. sīnus and Persian sīne both mean 'breast', but cannot be cognate, given the relevant diachronic sound-laws. What's up with the Persian, at least?
    Martin Schwartz
    Lat. s

  9. Stephen Goranson said,

    February 2, 2023 @ 2:01 am

    sign & tone?

  10. Ross Presser said,

    February 2, 2023 @ 11:47 am

    @martin schwartz: while the movie is not at all a Jewish setup, the character Saul definitely is Jewish — it is mentioned a few times and he has other lines containing Yiddish words.

    However I do agree that this is more likely to be just a "tsk" noise of regret. Oh well.

RSS feed for comments on this post