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Nebbish

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Nebbish

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Aug 23, 2013 10:39 pm

• nebbish •


Pronunciation: ne-bish • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A wuss, a milquetoast, a meek, timid simpleton, and usually a whiner.

Notes: Today's Good Word is another contribution to English by Yiddish. It comes to us with little derivational baggage, though nebbishy and nebbishness pop up from time to time.

In Play: Woody Allen and Rick Moranis play the best known nebbishes in US movies. Nebbishes tend to be meek fumbling characters, constantly flubbing up, like this one: "Luke Worme is such a nebbish he won't eat lobsters for fear they will eat him first." Nebbishes tend to be subservient if not servile: "Mahatma Handh is such a nebbish: he serves his wife breakfast in bed every morning."

Word History: This word comes from Western Yiddish nebesh, a dialectal variant of standard Yiddish nebekh. The word originates in a Slavic language, perhaps Ukrainian nebizh "poor hapless creature" or Czech nebohý "poor, unfortunate". These words are based on a Slavic construction consisting of ne "not" + bog- "rich, fortunate", seen in Russian bog "god" and bogatyi "rich". This root goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root bhag- "share, good fortune, riches" that became phag- "eat" in ancient Greek. We see this root in such borrowings as esophagus and sarcophagus, which meant "flesh-eating" in Greece back when people believed that limestone ate the flesh of the dead. Another related word is baksheesh "a gift or present in return for a favor". It comes from Persian bakhshidan "to give". (We thank Margie Sved for not being a nebbish but suggesting that we make the expression today's Good Word.)
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Slava » Sat Aug 24, 2013 12:48 pm

Aye, Woody Allen and Rick Moranis are very good at playing the nebbish, especially Allen.

Would the antonym of nebbish be mensch?
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Re: Nebbish

Postby MTC » Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:47 pm

Never
Ever
Been
Brave
I
Sniveled
Helplessly
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Slava » Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:27 pm

Very nice. Worth at least a kudo, if not more. :wink:
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Pepshort » Sun Aug 25, 2013 8:05 am

Slava: interesting suggestion contrasting nebbish and mensch. However, given that a mensch is a person of integrity and honor, I don't see a nebbish being unethical, since nebbish implies inept rather than morally suspect. Maybe the Yiddish 'chochom' -- sometimes used to refer to a clever, capable person -- would be a suitable antonym for nebbish.

Re: the word history of nebbish, the Aramaic 'beesh', meaning bad, comes to mind. And for baksheesh and bakshidan, a possible precursor may be found in the Hebrew bakesh, meaning 'to seek or request'. B'vakasha in modern Hebrew is 'please' (I request of you), and curiously, sometimes used as
'you are welcome'.
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Aug 25, 2013 1:27 pm

Mixture of languages comprising Yiddish is fascinating. Beginning with Hebrew/Aramaic, overlaid with German and now English...Who can tell us more?

Possibly Slava's reference comes from mensch's similarity to men, ergo mannish or virile (not viral). (Sorry. Couldn't help myself.)
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Slava » Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:04 pm

If a nebbish is a "wuss, a milquetoast, a meek, timid simpleton, and usually a whiner," to use the Doctor's definition, would not the "person of strength and honor"* be a mensch?

I don't quite agree that chochom would suit here. If it means clever and capable, that doesn't feel right to me. I tried looking it up, but found only Talmid Chochom, which is a title given to one who is well-versed in the Torah.

That's not quite true, I did find out that there are 33 people in the States named Chochom.

Plus I learned what an uber-chochom is. What do you folks think, is there a difference between smart-aleck and the other smart-a, which is what uber-chochom supposedly means?

*etymonline
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Re: Nebbish

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Aug 25, 2013 6:30 pm

We smart alecs travel in mored refined company. (Ahem.)
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