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Apr 30, 2002
This week's theme
Words borrowed from Yiddish

This week's words

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Pronunciation RealAudio

mensch (mench, mensh), plural menschen (MEN-chuhn, MEN-shuhn) or mensches

noun: A decent, upright, honorable person.

[From Yiddish mentsh (man, human being), from Middle High German mensch, from Old High German mennisco.]

The same root gives us another eminently useful Yiddish term luftmensch, literally an airman. A luftmensch is an impractical dreamer (think Laputans of Gulliver's Travels). The word could also refer to one with no visible means of support.

Yet another term with a mensch connection is superman. It comes to us from German übermensch by a process known as loan translation. Übermensch was Friedrich Nietzsche's term for an ideal superior man (from German über above, beyond, superior). In 1903 when George Bernard Shaw needed an English equivalent, he came up with superman.

"Redemption is cheap in movies, if not in life, and the new Argentine comedy Son of the Bride is a custom-calibrated sucker punch. When the hero (Ricardo Darin) is immediately revealed as a bloated, chain-smoking, workaholic deadbeat dad, we know a tragedy and/or cardiac event will transform him into a life-loving mensch."
Michael Atkinson; Redeem Upon Purchase; The Village Voice (New York); Mar 26, 2002.


Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)
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