Having words, calling names

Often words that entered British English a long time ago, when some Jews were criminals and others became lords.

‘Two Gentilas’ (from a painting by Gentile Bellini) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘Two Gentilas’ (from a painting by Gentile Bellini)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THERE IS a new disease sweeping across the face of the world. It is of epic proportions – and is called Trumpitis. The suffix “-itis” is tacked onto the end of a word by doctors to indicate an inflammation. We all know it from appendicitis, inflammation of the appendix.
By the way, this is not a political column. It is about words, and the joy of learning more about them. We can cover many languages, and invite the readers to join in, by writing to jerusalemreport.com with questions, comments, and their own experience.
Now to continue: The word Trumpitis is a neologism. Again that is a fancy term for a new word (neo and logos in Greek) or expression.
We use it here instead of Trump fever, to give a higher-sounding “presidential” name to the malaise. Its symptoms are super-heated exchanges between his partisans and his critics; shame and anger versus support and defiance throughout the literate world since his candidacy. And since his presidency, all the more so.
In the past months, we have discovered a serious mutation. A number of our acquaintances and friends in the US, Canada and even the UK have fallen into depression, in all its forms of negativity. Others react in an opposite fashion. Out of their slough of despair and frustration, they let loose hatefilled harangues and futile curses.
This we define as Trumposis. The suffix “-osis” refers to a more serious medical condition. Thus we know words like tuberculosis or psychosis. Trumposis is a neologism built on the President’s name and psychosis.
Jewish names
Enough of wordplay. Let us turn to Jewish names. Here are a few examples that show that Eastern Europe Ashkenazi names originate in Spanish or Italian. One of the women’s names, which can grate on the ear is “Shprintsa.” Imagine that it stems from the Italian Speranza or its cognate Spanish Esperanza, and indeed does mean Hope – Tikva in Hebrew. The cacaphonic “shp” sound in Shprintsa came from the lilting musical speranza or esperanza.
This shows that the boundaries between Ashkenaz and Sefarad were fungible, that Jews from Spain or Portugal did get to Poland and Lithuania and Russia. The original Italian Jews who date back to Maccabean times, are italiani in Hebrew; their rite is neither Ashkenaz or Sefarad. Jewish historians know how and why Italian Jews were invited into Poland. That’s for another column.
Now comes a thunderbolt. “Shneur” is a Yiddishized form of – gasp – senyor, the Ladino equivalent of señor, the Spanish word for gentleman. For that matter, “Zalman,” the Rebbe's second name is a Yiddish variant of Solomon or Salomon. Hence the gasp. Is it possible that the forerunners of Chabad were speakers of Ladino?
A woman’s lyrical Sefardi and Italian name, Gentila, as it sounds, means gentle one. Its transition into Yiddish became none other than “Yentl,” which meant “gentle one” – until Yenta came along and came to mean an incorrigible gossip. That’s a sad mutation that could have taken place across a few hundred years.
Is there any reader ready to tackle the similar meaning word Yachna or, more academically spelled Yakhna? What is the original form of the name? While we write about gossips, sometimes we call someone a “big shmoozer” — an endless talker perhaps, but not quite a blabbermouth. “Shmooze” is another Yiddish word, in unofficial spelling shmoo-es, which has crossed over into English.
There are more such examples, often words that entered British English a long time ago, when some Jews were criminals and others became lords.
By the way, that famous opening phrase of the twenty-third psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” “Want” here doesn’t mean “want” in the sense of desire, like “I don’t want him at our party!” It means “I shall not want for (i.e. lack) anything.”
Before you leap to the wrong conclusion, let us take the word homophone apart.
“Homo” means “the same” and “phone” means “sound.” Words like “rain, rein and reign” sound the same. Rain is not usually confused with the other two words. But recently I saw someone write “unable to reign in the extremists.” Do you see the glaring error? The correct usage would be “Queen Elizabeth has reigned over the United Kingdom forever”; while “The Palestinian Authority did not rein in the teenagers.”
Try dower and dour. And send me more examples to jerusalemreport@gmail.com.
Until the next column, au revoir!
The writer is a wordsmith, who lives in Jerusalem