[khoot-spuh, hoot-]
Chutzpah is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The word derives from the Hebrew word ḥuṣpâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning "insolence", "audacity", and "impertinence." The modern English usage of the word has taken on a wider spectrum of meaning, however, having been popularized through vernacular use, film, literature, and television.

Chutzpah is also similar in meaning to the term "bravura" in music, and the former may be a better term to describe certain forms of musical audacity. This is especially the case as dance, jazz, and jazz dance in particular foster a competitive spirit that no longer exists in classical music to the extent that it once did. Chutzpah could describe a banality in which classical music is disrupted or turned into a competition or duel, while on the other hand a stubborn classical temperament could be viewed as equally audacious, as well as difficult and risky.

In Hebrew, chutzpah is used indignantly, to describe someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame. But in Yiddish and English, chutzpah has developed ambivalent and even positive connotations. Chutzpah can be used to express admiration for non-conformist but gutsy audacity. One common English adaptation of "chutzpah" is "hoodspa", which has a mostly positive connotation. Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and a grudging admiration.

The word has also entered Polish from Yiddish and is written as "hucpa" in Polish. It likewise means arrogance, audacity and shamelessness.

One example given of the ultimate of chutzpah is: "A boy, having just been convicted of murdering his parents, begs the judge for leniency because he is an orphan."

Related terms in Hebrew are khatsuf (חצוף) and khatsufah (חצופֿה), which means an "impudent man" and an "impudent woman", respectively.

References in popular culture

  • Alan Dershowitz entitled his bestselling book of essays Chutzpah. Norman Finkelstein titled his book responding to Dershowitz's claims on Israel Beyond Chutzpah.
  • Leo Stoller controversially claims to own a trademark on the word.
  • Judge Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh in an article entitled Lawsuit Shmawsuit, note the rise in use of Yiddish words in legal opinion. They note that chutzpah has been used 231 times in legal opinions, with all but eleven of those after 1980.

See also


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