• mensch •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A decent, honorable person who can be trusted and who always tries to do the right thing.
Notes: Today's Good Word is sometimes spelled the English way, mensh, rather than with the German [sch]. We do not take sides but offer the German version as merely the older of the two. The plural of today's word is either mensches or the German menschen. Superman originated in the writings of Nietzsche as Übermensch "over-man = superman". Although it is based on the same root as man (see Word History), both men and women may be mensches, as both once could be men.
In Play: A mensch is someone a mother would want her daughter to marry, someone who borrows your car and brings it back with the gas tank filled: "He is such a mensch he schlepped over through the snow to turn up the heat in our house before we returned from Coral Gables." This Good Word carries such positive connotations that it always helps to use it when you want to get someone to do something for you: "Randolph, be a mensch and take my sister out on a date."
Word History: The word for "man", the human being, is found throughout the Germanic languages. Yiddish mensch "human being" comes from German Mensch with the same meaning. The underlying root here is man-, which appears with little variation in English man and woman, originally wif-man "woman-person". The Old English diminutive of man, mannikin "little man", today's manikin, was borrowed by French as mannequin, which English then recovered but only after the meaning had changed to "dummy". Finally, the French word for "German", allemand, isn't French at all but comes from some ancient Germanic phrase *ala-manniz "all men", based on the same original Proto-Germanic word. (Thanks for today's Good Word is due that mensch of the Alpha Agora, Luis Alejandro Apiolaza, AKA Uncronopio.)
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