Tchotchke (pronounced TZOTZ-keh, TCHOTCH-keh or TCHOTCH-kee) is a Yiddish term that refers to toys, trinkets, or decorations. The word often appears in the diminutive form of tchotchkele (TCHOTCH-keh-leh).


While contemporary style is to have sleek, wide open spaces, a more traditional Eastern-European mode of decoration is to stuff one’s living quarters with as many pretty things that the doily-covered surfaces could possibly contain. In Yiddish, all such items would fall under the general rubric of tchotchke. A tchotchke can also be a decorative flourish or engraving.


Since the term can also refer to small toys, it would be perfectly accurate to say that Bubby—proprietor of the abovementioned living room—gave her grandchildren dollar-store tchotchkes and they were so grateful that they made sure not to break any of the tchotchkes in her home.


The term can also be used as a noun, denoting taking delight and pleasure from something. Thus, our Bubby would probably call her friend Selma and tell her how much zee hot zikh getchotchket (she took took pride and delight) from her sweet einiklach (grandkids). Her joy would further be compounded when the little girls were looking tchotchkedik (pretty) with pretty bows and such tchockkevateh in their hair.

How Never to Use This Word

Perhaps because a tchotchke is pretty but generally useless, it has also come to be a pejorative word to describe a female whose doll face is her best asset.

Tchotcke’s Hebrew Antecedent?

The word appears to have a fascinating cognate in Hebrew. In Modern Hebrew the term tzaatzua means a toy. Spelled out in Hebrew (צעצוע), this term is remarkably similar to tchotchke (צאצקע). According to the folks at the Academy of the Hebrew Language1 the Hebrew term was coined by the creators of Modern Hebrew (almost all of whom were Yiddish speakers) as an outgrowth of tchotchke.

However, as in many instances, they searched Scripture and the rabbinic works for an ancient peg upon which to hang their modern term. In this case, the word they chose appears but once in scripture. In describing the cherubs that were placed upon the Ark of the Covenant, we are told that the cherubs were tzaatzu’im, which is understood to mean figurines that resembled small children.2

There is something deeply powerful in the fact that the cherubs, the manifestation of G‑d’s love for Israel, took the form of a young child. We are forever His children, and our love for Him remains pure, untainted, and undiluted. Furthermore, who are the guardians of our faith, who ensure that the Torah will be studied for all eternity? Not the hoary elders, but the young and innocent children. The kids who are still delighted by the simple pleasure of a tchotchke.