Zhoozhing up

The word zhoozh [ʒʊʃ/ʒʊʒ] was one of the words of the week on the episode of the Talk The Talk podcast I listened to yesterday.

There are various ways to write it: zhoozh, zhoosh, zhuzh, or even tszuj. It means “To tweak, finesse or improve (something); to make more appealing or exciting”, and is often used with up, e.g. to zhoozh up.

Zhoozh was possibly first used in the 1970s in Polari, a cant or slang used by Romani people, and also gay people, in the UK, especially in theatres.

It may come from the Angloromani yuser (to clean) and yusher (to clear), from yus-, yuz-, yuzh- (clean) and yush- (clear), from the Romani žuž-, už- (clean”).

It is also used to mean to blend ingredients using a food mixer or blender. For example, throw the ingredients in the blender and give them a quick zhoozh.

In South African slang it means stylish, hot, or cool.

Source: Wiktionary

See also:

Are there any similar words in other languages?

2 thoughts on “Zhoozhing up

  1. I love (and use) this word, and I always wondered where it came from. Do we know what Wiktionary’s source is for this etymology though? I don’t doubt that it is from Anglo-Romani, but the connection to Hindi /ujjvala/ ‘bright’ seems suspect, given that /ujjvala/ is a sort of learned borrowing from Sanskrit.

    I decided to look through the online version of the Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan Languages (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/soas/), for Romani words meaning ‘clean’ or ‘clear’. (Romani words inherited from Old Indo-Aryan are listed as “Gy” in the dictionary.)

    The dictionary lists Anglo-Romani /ǰuzo/ ‘clean’ as being either the modern reflex of Old Indo-Aryan /śucya/ (<√śuc) or /śudhya/ (<√śudh), both of which mean 'purified'.

    It also lists Greco-Romani /užo/ 'clean' as being the modern reflex of Old Indo-Aryan /r̥jú/ 'straight, honest' (<√r̥ñj). It does not have an Anglo-Romani cognate listed, but it is presumably the same /už/ mentioned in Wiktionary.

  2. Presumably, the meaning to put in a blender is onomatopoeic – at least, usage was broadened to include this sense due to its similarity in sound to some kind of rotary electromechanical device – and, as such, is arguably not connected with the Anglo-Romani derivation.

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