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AWADmail Issue 672

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

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From: Peretz Rodman (peretz alumni.brandeis.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shadchan

The word shadkhan is one of those many Yiddish words taken directly from Hebrew, where its classic pronunciation stresses the last syllable: /shahd-KHAHN/. In Ashkenazi Hebrew and thus in Yiddish, the stress is on the first syllable and the second vowel in reduced: /SHAHD-khen/.

Playing on the sense of pairing items and joining them together, the word has come to be used in contemporary Israeli Hebrew as a term for a stapler.

Peretz Rodman, Jerusalem, Israel

From: Jim Tang (mauijt aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shadchan

Is it more than just a coincidence, a mere twist of linguistic fate, that a shadchan (SHAHT-khuhn) wedding -- a perfectly respectable brokered arrangement -- has morphed into the iconic shotgun wedding, matrimony orchestrated via the Second Amendment?

Jim Tang, Kula, Hawaii

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shadchan

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match...” the lyric lead-in to the eponymously titled song in the Broadway hit musical Fiddler on the Roof is sung by the three proactive, marriageable daughters of the adult lead characters, Tevye and Golde.

A shadchan named Yente is a key player in this Old World Jewish shtetl-inspired stage drama. Not a stretch to see Yente, morph into the Yiddish word for a chronic (generally female) meddler, gossip, or just plain busy-body; namely, a yenta.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: Samuel Goldstein (samuelg fogbound.net)
Subject: Gunsel and Dashiell

As documented by Erle Stanley Gardner in The Atlantic (and recounted in this article), gunsel is one of those terms that Dashiell Hammett popularized (in The Maltese Falcon, in this case) in an ongoing game with his editors to get offensive slang published and innocent-but-offensive-sounding terms questioned. Gunsel in Yiddish was a slur, but Hammett used the fact that it sounded like “gunman” to get it past the editors. Like shamus, Hammett’s usage got picked up by other writers and, supposedly, by gangsters themselves in a case of life imitating art.

Samuel Goldstein, Los Angeles, California

Email of the Week (Brought to you by Old’s Cool -- Father Knows (and deserves the) Best.)

From: Isaac Mayer (isaacandalfie gmail.com)
Subject: Shicker -- interesting etymological connection

So there aren’t that many words in English that originate from Hebrew. But one that does, and has gone through an amazingly long and complex etymological process, is the word cider. And believe it or not, it’s related to shicker!

The Hebrew word “sheikhar” or שֵׁכָר is usually translated as “strong drink”, or in older translations “beer”. (This word can be found, for instance, in Isaiah 28:7.) It comes from the same three-letter Semitic root as the origin of shicker, mentioned in the original email as “shakar”, meaning “drunk” (as in Genesis 9:21.) When the Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint, since this word was of uncertain exact meaning (is it beer? Fermented apples? Another kind of wine? It’s unclear what alcohol it refers to), it was directly transliterated into σίκερα or “sikera”. This word when translated into the Latin Vulgate translation, was transliterated directly into the Latin alphabet as “sicera”. (Latin at the time made almost no use of the letter K, and Greek transliterations of the letter kappa were spelled with a C). In Old French the C softened from a hard C to a soft C, and the word evolved into “cisdre”, which took on the more specific meaning of “strong drink made from apples or pears”. This eventually evolved into cidre, which was adopted from Old French to English as cider.

That is one of my favorite etymological facts. Not many words can say they came from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to French to English! It’s a very impressive etymology.

A dank (thanks) for your always-entertaining emails, and a gezunt af ayer kep! (Be in good health! -- literally “A health on your heads!”)

Isaac Mayer, New York, New York

From: Benno Stamurs (benno0721 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--heimisch

Did you really wish to define ‘heimisch’ with ‘homely’ and not ‘homey’? To me ‘homely’ is ‘plain, common in appearance’ as opposed to the meaning you have given it -- ‘a comfortable atmosphere pertaining to the home.’ In the given quotation ‘heimisch’ cuisine gives one the sense of simple home-cooked comfort food in taste and sight.

Benno Stamurs, Arlington, Virginia

In the US, the word homely is used mostly as a synonym for the word unattractive but it does have senses indicating ‘unpretentious’ or ‘home-like’. At any rate, to avoid confusion we’ve updated the entry on the website to use the word ‘homey’.
-Anu Garg

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: limericks

In the West they had no shadchan,
No matchmakers, ever, not one.
If a pappy had said,
He wanted daughter to wed,
Then all he needed was a shotgun.

-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

A wicked witch threatened young Hunsel,
along with his sister named Gunsel.
But Gunsel was armed,
so the kids went unharmed--
and the Witch of the Woods had to runsel.

-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

No costume had poor baby boomer,
too newly- employed as a tummler.
Observer, outraged,
called out to the stage, “Please cover your Fruit of the Looms, sir!”

-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

With Yiddish words high on the list
Common words often are missed
If you’d drunk too much liquor
Would I say you were shicker?
No, but I’d say you were pi.ssed.

-Bob Thompson, New Plymouth, New Zealand (bobtee xtra.co.nz)

We ladies most all have the same wish
A man both exciting and heimisch
But diamonds and pearls
Do speak loudly to girls
If he buys them we’ll settle for tame-ish.

-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Puns on the Words of the Week

In Israel, Shadchan weddings aren’t usually due to pregnancy.

“If our knives won’t kill him, our gunsel.”

When Howard Carter asked for 10 million pounds, Lord Carnarvon said, “Tut Tut, you’re such a tummler.”

“Heimisch,” said the drunk to the homey girl, “thanksh to you, I’ve never felt shicker.”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: Brian John (bjserendipity81 gmail.com)
Subject: Distributed Proofreaders

I think it would be nice to include links to Project Gutenberg and the Distributed Proofreaders sites.

These two volunteer sites have done so much to preserve the written word for future generations by converting rapidly deteriorating paper books into eBook formats. Both of these sites are in constant need of good volunteers that understand the importance of words. Maybe some of your readers would be willing to help them out.

Brian John, Pontevedra, Spain

From: Eric Shackle (ericshackle bigpond.com)
Subject: cher and dear

The English word dear and the French word cher are probably unique, in that they both have the same two meanings -- expensive and darling.

Eric Shackle, Sydney, Australia

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound / Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. -Alexander Pope, poet (1688-1744)

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