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The Yiddish word Mensch means, literarlly, "(a) man."

My English dictionary defines Mensch as a person of integrity and honor.

Until recently, I've only ever heard it used to describe a man of integrity and honor.

But listening to a recent audio book (by James Patterson), I heard the word used to describe a woman.

Does that strike others here as odd? Certainly I'm not the only one who thinks it's a gender-specific term. (Though I admit to knowing no feminine equivalent.)
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Hm...

Can a woman EVER be "man enough to..."?

I'd say yes, and I'd say that "mensch" quite plausibly can be applied to women in the same sense - although, since I only understand about half the Yiddish that has made its way into English slang, I am less than an authority and won't make any firm pronouncements.
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It sounds very strange. On the other hand, I've been known to apply the word "gentleman" to a woman. And, in fact, the emotion behind the words "Mensch" and "gentleman" is similar to me.

And why is there no female equivalent? Because if you say, "Now THAT is a MAN." your meaning is pretty clear. If you say, "Now THAT is a WOMAN." her husband will probably slap you. Interesting... an extreme compliment from a man about a woman, subject unspecified, is assumed to be sexual.


Frydaze1

OJ:
It's the yahtzeit of Bernie Gold's death. And Sadie, his widow, goes to the cemetery to clean his grave, read a prayer and then place a small stone on the marble, as is the tradition, to show that the deceased is remembered.

But because she hadn't visited his grave for some years, Sadie cannot find Bernie's resting place and has to ask an attendant for help. He escorts her to the cemetery office where all the records are kept. He made her a cup of coffee and then spent time looking at maps and lists. After 30 minutes, he finally turns to Sadie and says, "I can find no record of a Bernie Gold buried at this cemetery. Are you sure he is here? All I can find is the grave of Sadie Gold"

"That's him!" Sadie shouts out. "Bernie always put everything in my name."
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OJ:
It's the yahtzeit of Bernie Gold's death.


Is this where that dice game came from?
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I have heard it used to refer to a woman but I think it was meant for a man because it was assumed that integrity and honor are inherent in women. Thus there is no need for a female equivalent of such a word.

MOI
:-)
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OJ:
It's the yahtzeit of Bernie Gold's death.
============================================
Is this where that dice game came from?



Oy vey!
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I grew up with NO gender-specific sense of "mensch." "She's a real mensch." "A real mensch, he is."

A REAL person, ie, especially good, upstanding, fine, ethical, loyal, dependable.....etc.


sheila
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it was assumed that integrity and honor are inherent in women.

I saw the smiley, so I guess you were joking, but I suspect that's probably true.

After reading through the replies to this thread, I realized that I have heard people use the Hebrew phrase eshes chayil (pronounced ay-shess khai-el) to describe a woman. The phrase comes from Proverbs 31, and is usually translated "a woman of valor."
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I saw the smiley, so I guess you were joking, but I suspect that's probably true.

Not actually joking. More tongue-in-cheek. I too suspect it's probably true based on the reasoning I was taught for why women don't have to observe to the extent that men do, such as attendance at prayers.

MOI
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I too suspect it's probably true...

I think Judaism is probably alone among mainstream religions in acknowledging the spiritual superiority of women over men. Strangely, I never learned this stuff in the non-Orthodox Hebrew Schools and synagogues I attended growing up. I found it surprising and counter-intuitive to learn the Orthodox perspective.

Even though Abraham is recognized as the founder of Judaism, the rabbis teach that Sarah was, in fact, a greater prophet.
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I think part of the problem -- and the strangeness here -- is not so much with the word "Mensch" as with the word "man." "Mensch" (in both the Yiddish and the German) can mean human being or person.
http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?search=mensch
But English "man," which in some contexts is used to mean "person" also means "adult human male" as opposed to "adult human female."
We get the same problem with the translation of ancient Greek and Latin--where "person" is intended and "man" is used. For example an "ad hominem" argument is said in English to be one that is directed "against the man" rather than to the issue. (Thus some people have recently -- but mistakenly -- spoken and written of an "ad feminam" argument.) But the original Latin noun "homo" means is the same "homo" as in "Homo sapiens" (which obviously includes both sexes).

--SirTas
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Even though Abraham is recognized as the founder of Judaism, the rabbis teach that Sarah was, in fact, a greater prophet.

Of course. She was wise enough to laugh at herself!

MOI
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I can tell you with authority that a MENSCH is only applicable to a man; It refers to the ultimate honor or integrity - the greatest potential a Jewish man can attain. There are no synonyms for this adjective. James Patterson may be a bestselling novelist, but no maven is he in yidlinguistics.
I wonder if there is any correlation between MENSCH and MENSA.

On a similar note, all SCHMUCKS are men (not the other way around).
"Exempla sunt odiosa."
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensch

Here, a mensch is said to be "a particularly good person" -- like "a stand-up guy". This raises some other questions in my mind about the term "guy" itself. I've heard it used to distinguish males from females, but I've also heard people (it seems to me that the speakers are usually female here) using "you guys" to address an audience of both males and females. Does this work for only mixed audiences or can we ever have a female speaker addressing a group of females as "you guys"? How about a male speaker addressing a mixed group as "you guys"? OK?

As for "Mensa," it comes from the Latin for "table." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensa_International

--SirTas
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As for "Mensa," it comes from the Latin for "table."

Makes me wonder if "Mesa Verde" means "green table"?
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Makes me wonder if "Mesa Verde" means "green table"?

Definitely related. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa

--SirTas
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Definitely related. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa_Verde
The Spanish term Mesa Verde translates into English as "green table".

There's my answer.
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I can tell you with authority that a MENSCH is only applicable to a man; It refers to the ultimate honor or integrity - the greatest potential a Jewish man can attain. There are no synonyms for this adjective. James Patterson may be a bestselling novelist, but no maven is he in yidlinguistics.

Language evolves, even somewhat moribund languages. I'm sure that "mensch" was once exclusively male, but many have expanded this for quite some time. It's been unisex in my experience certainly since the latter 1940s.


sheila
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As for "Mensa," it comes from the Latin for "table."
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Makes me wonder if "Mesa Verde" means "green table"?



"Mesa" refers to a table top shaped formation, so.....I guess so.


sheila
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I can tell you with authority that a MENSCH is only applicable to a man; ....


I should just have said....

authority shmority. ;-)
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On a similar note, all SCHMUCKS are men (not the other way around).


Well considering the actual meaning of schmuck, it wouldn't apply to a woman anyway.

Yiddish seems to have more words for that particular piece of anatomy than any other language.

Frydaze1
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Does this work for only mixed audiences or can we ever have a female speaker addressing a group of females as "you guys"? How about a male speaker addressing a mixed group as "you guys"? OK?

I refer to a group of females as "you guys" sometimes. And I wouldn't be offended if a man did so. I consider guys, when used in that phrase, to be gender neutral. OTOH, if someone said "that guy over there" it's definitely referring to a male. Even "those guys" would mean "males" to me.

Hmmm... Interesting.

Frydaze1
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"Even "those guys" would mean "males" to me."

How 'bout Archie Bunker's yous guys?

~aj
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How 'bout Archie Bunker's yous guys?

Clearly WASP males.

How about cousin Vinnie's Dese Two Yoots?
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"Even "those guys" would mean "males" to me."
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How 'bout Archie Bunker's yous guys?



guise schmise
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Yiddish seems to have more words for that particular piece of anatomy than any other language.

More than English?

I will say that yiddish has a surprising number of such words that begin "sch—."
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