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Gesundheit
Posted: 11 June 2011 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]
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WP says…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responses_to_sneezing
“In German, Gesundheit ([to your] “Health") is said after a sneeze. This is sometimes used in the United States. The expression arrived in America with early German immigrants, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and doubtless passed into local English usage in areas with substantial German-speaking populations.[1] The expression is first widely attested in American English as of 1910, about the time when large numbers of Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the United States.”

The author has been careful not to claim causality, but do you consider it likely that the widespread adoption of this German term in the USA is due to German Jewry rather than just general German immigrants?

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Posted: 14 June 2011 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I consider it unlikely.

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Posted: 14 June 2011 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The “widely attested” bit is not sourced and it is not what is stated in the preceding note 1, which doesn’t say anything about widespread use.

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Posted: 14 June 2011 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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"The “widely attested” bit is not sourced and it is not what is stated in the preceding note 1, which doesn’t say anything about widespread use. “

Right but my question is not about the WP piece (though reading it inspired the question): I want to know whether it is considered likely that the widespread adoption of this German term in the USA is due to German Jewry rather than just general German immigrants.

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Posted: 14 June 2011 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I don’t know how to answer the original question, and I’m not a speaker of Yiddish, but further down in the article there seems to be a lack of knowledge about the actual Yiddish expression:

In Yiddish, one says זײַ געזונט (pronounced zay gezunt; meaning “[to] your health") after one sneeze; after subsequent sneezes, צו געזונט (pronounced tzu gezunt) is said.

Whoever wrote this seems to have the translation mixed up. As best I can tell, zay gezunt should mean be healthy, while tzu gezunt should mean to [your] health. The reference seems to imply that gezunt is both an adjective and a noun, which is doubtful.

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Posted: 14 June 2011 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This strikes me as pure German. In fact the Germans that I talked with were somewhat surprised that we use the word in the same way after a sneeze.

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Posted: 14 June 2011 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Fair points

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Posted: 14 June 2011 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I speculate that if one were to subdivide a population of “general German immigrants” based upon any ad hoc cultural basis, differential levels of educational experience, degrees of social integration, along with a myriad of other differences, cultural and otherwise would likely enter into the results so much so as to skew the analysis. 

Additionally, I speculate that any mild rule for subdivision based upon such simple criteria (Jewish vs. non-Jewish) would likely be *noisy* (statistically speaking) and have many unexpected associations coloring the information obtained. 

For instance, I have often heard that color-blindness is more prevalent in Irish-Americans (and Scottish-Irish in Scotland and consequently is now less common in the Irish in Ireland) because those who were color-blind were unable to distinguish good seed potatoes from blighted seed potatoes (which would rot in the ground rather than produce more potatoes or produce potatoes that would turn to mush minutes after harvest) and that these color-blind emigrated from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of “...between 1845 and 1852...” (wikipedia but I have also heard that the blight extended until 1857 or so)

Here is a supportive link:

...People with this form of color blindness could not tell the difference between blighted potatoes and normal potatoes. Such people used blighted potatoes as seed for next year’s crop, resulting in a disastrous crop the next year. These were the first Irish to emigrate from Ireland due to the famine caused by the potato blight…

(Please note: this link/quote is a blog/forum post and thus far from definitive.  This could yet be a myth.  I haven’t found a definitive source and it’s a hard one to google search because “color-blind” has become a much-used and socially-charged word recently...)

So possibly, if one were to have tried looking at Irish-Catholic vs Irish-Protestant related words entering the language of the places these color-blind Irish emigrated to, one might be looking at (in part) information *encoded* by virtue of color-blindness (collaterally related to educational level, poverty, or other seemingly cultural distinctions) when one may have been expecting to be only looking at differential relationships between “Irish-Catholic” vs. “Irish-Protestant” words. 

I think “widespread adoption of this German term [gesundheit] in the USA” is likely more related to other cultural factors. German emigrants spoke German.  Some Jews spoke German.  Some Jews were German immigrants.  Some German immigrants were not Jews.  OP, have you discovered a somehow particularly Jewish-related etymology? 

Etymonline suggests:

...1914, from Ger. Gesundheit, lit. “health!” Also in toast auf ihre Gesundheit “to your health” (see sound (adj.)). Lith. aciu, echoic of the sound of a sneeze,…

[and, for the word, ”sound” (from the same above etymonline link):]

..."uninjured," O.E. gesund “sound, safe, healthy,” from P.Gmc. *sundas, from root *swen-to- (cf. O.S. gisund, O.Fris. sund, Du. gezond, O.H.G. gisunt, Ger. gesund “healthy,” source of the post-sneezing interjection gesundheit; also O.E. swið “strong,” Goth. swinþs “strong,” Ger. geschwind “fast, quick")…

I did find this:

Gesundheit (g’-SUND-hahyt)
Yiddish. Literally, health. This is the normal response when somebody sneezes. The same expression is used in German (Yiddish is largely based on German), and is quite common even among non-Jews,…

When Jews sneeze

...The Talmud (Berachot 53a) states that in the time of Rabban Gamliel (1st century) it was the practice to say “Marpeh” (Hebrew for “healing") to someone who sneezed. The commentary of Rashi (11th century) adds that the equivalent Aramaic word, “Asuta,” was also used, and the 16th-century Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chaim 170:1) cites this as the normative practice. (None of these sources say that one should say this; they just mention incidentally in the course of discussion that this was done.)…

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Posted: 14 June 2011 10:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think “widespread adoption of this German term [gesundheit] in the USA” is likely more related to other cultural factors. German emigrants spoke German.  Some Jews spoke German.  Some Jews were German immigrants.  Some German immigrants were not Jews.  OP, have you discovered a somehow particularly Jewish-related etymology?
---

I have nothing but an inquisitive mind.

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Posted: 15 June 2011 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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But the point about “widespread adoption in 1910” is relevant to the question because that is the basis for thinking that it is a result of German-Jewish immigration, which was (relatively) high at that point. If you take that away, there is no reason to think that it has anything to do with Jews specifically. The article also conflates Yiddish and German. The term is clearly German in origin, not Yiddish.

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Posted: 15 June 2011 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Both m-w.com and etymonline.com say it’s from 1914.  I’m not sure where the Wikipedia article got 1910 from; their cite is randomhouse.com’s Word of the Day which says “since the 1910s, but is probably earlier”.

Also, Yiddish is widely spoken among Ashkenazic Jews throughout central and eastern Europe (not just Germany) and has fanned out to other parts of the world where these people have emigrated to.

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Posted: 15 June 2011 06:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think “widespread adoption of this German term [gesundheit] in the USA” is likely more related to other cultural factors.

Why?

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Posted: 15 June 2011 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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1914 seems to be the date the dictionaries are settling on. DARE has a cite from a 1911 Century Dictionary supplement, but that is in reference to the word being used in German, not English. I would bet the writer of the Wikipedia entry took “1910s” to mean “1910.”

Generally Wikipedia is a good source, but it’s a bad idea to rely on it for details like this. The writers frequently misinterpret source material like this. Use it for the general overview, not the detailed analysis.

[ Edited: 15 June 2011 08:26 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 15 June 2011 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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languagehat - 15 June 2011 06:24 AM

I think “widespread adoption of this German term [gesundheit] in the USA” is likely more related to other cultural factors.

Why?

In one of Kilgore Trout’s major works, Venus on the Half-Shell, when faced with a similar question, the giant cockroach, Bingo, said to the Space Wanderer, Simon Wagstaff, “Why not?”

I do not possess the skill of a Kilgore Trout nor do I presume to speak for God (as Bing was certainly doing) but, “Why not?”

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Posted: 15 June 2011 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Normally, when somebody says something like “I think X is likely more related to other factors,” they have particular other factors in mind that they are happy to share if you ask.  It seems to me very odd to say something like that just on general principles.  In this case, it is especially odd because the difference between German Jews and non-Jewish Germans was salient and there seems no reason to look askance at the idea that it was reflected linguistically.

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Posted: 15 June 2011 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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languagehat - 15 June 2011 04:14 PM

Normally, when somebody says something like “I think X is likely more related to other factors,” they have particular other factors in mind that they are happy to share if you ask.  It seems to me very odd to say something like that just on general principles.  In this case, it is especially odd because the difference between German Jews and non-Jewish Germans was salient and there seems no reason to look askance at the idea that it was reflected linguistically.

Hmm… I thought in post #7 above I offered ideas for taking that position.  (I intended the Trout reference to be humorous yet at the same time did not understand why you asked “Why?” so I asked, “Why not?")

It is possible that the ideas I offered in post #7 are insufficient.  None-the-less, I think they do qualify as ideas in support of my statement and could not understand being asked “Why?” with no reference to them.  It seemed to me that the question “dissed” my ideas but I took no offence and offered a humorous prod.  At least, that’s what I intended to do.

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