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Gesundheit
Posted: 15 June 2011 08:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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From my storehouse of unsubstantiated factoids, it occurs to me that the huge majority of Yiddish speakers in the United States at the time were not from Germany but from Poland, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. Jewish friends of mine (now over 60), who are first and second generation Americans with ancestry from those two countries specifically, had parents and grandparents who spoke Yiddish in the old country. They have intimated, in a kind of humorous fashion on occasion, that so-n-so is a German Jew, you know ... they come from a better background.

Sobiest’s color-blindness analogy suggests to me that as cultures crossed the Atlantic they were altered in ways we can’t always calculate. Some aspects were increased, some decreased. Did German Jews feel more allegiance to German Catholics and Protestants, or to Polish and Russian Jews? Would a Yiddish speaking Pole and a Yiddish speaking Russian team up with a German Jew who only spoke Hochdeutsch? We’ll probably never be able to analyze it with statistical certainty. It was quite a mix, and individuals will often do what they want without reference to the trends of history.

I suspect, however counter-intuitive to the above statement about history’s incalculablity, that the Jewish influence on the word gesundheit is separable from the German influence because Yiddish and German represented more than sufficiently distinct cultures outside the question of religion.

[ Edited: 15 June 2011 09:19 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 16 June 2011 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Though not myself a Yiddish speaker, I have long been acquainted with many Yiddish-speaking Jews. They do not say “gesundheit” in response to a sneeze (the Wikipedia article actually spells out what they do say). It is incorrect to associate Yiddish-speaking Jews with the introduction to the USA of “gesundheit” in response to a sneeze.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Now, that’s a good argument.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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That is a good answer, and pretty darn conclusive.

However, why let sleeping dogs lie? One remaining question in my mind is why the non-sequitur in the wikipedia article? Another unanswerable is why and how did a recognizably German word grow in popular usage during the virulently anti-Hun WWI period? People, businesses, restaurants, organizations, “Vereins” and so on quickly changed their names at the outset of the war, yet Americans adopted a Germanism. It is, as Spock would say, fascinating.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 05:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I’d be willing to bet that the term is older and it is just an artifact of the cites that are collected. The OED entry on this is from the 1989 second edition. I’d bet a good search of online sources would turn up earlier uses.

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Posted: 17 June 2011 08:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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One remaining question in my mind is why the non-sequitur in the wikipedia article?

My guess would be that the article has been written/edited by several people (look at the number of different languages represented!) and somebody wasn’t too careful about checking for consistency.

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Posted: 18 June 2011 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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The standard response in Yiddish to somebody sneezing is: tsu gezunt (also tsu lebn is used in the same way). The Yiddish word for health is gezunterheyt, although it is used more like an adverb than a noun: e.g., es gezunterheyt ‘bon appetit’ (literally ‘eat health’), gey gezunterheyt ‘go in good health’ (also sarcastically ‘yeah, sure, go ahead’). (More examples here and discussion of adverbial use here.)

[ Edited: 18 June 2011 07:46 AM by jheem ]
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Posted: 18 June 2011 04:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Might just be a wee case of overcomplication of this term.

Dunno about the rest of you, but after sneezing in the UK (a very particular occupation), the expression ‘bless you’ is often changed to ‘cheers’ or whatever other buzz word is in fashion for wishing health upon drinking.

Same thing with ‘Gesundheid’, if not common then at least well-distributed amongst UK English speakers as an alternative for ‘cheers’. Or even to push the point a bit further in, ‘cin cin’, ‘santé’, ‘na zdrowie’ etc etc).

As the whole original point of wishing well after a sneeze is much less significant these days (when people no longer believe in spirits entering the body through available orifices), it gets conflated with other hale-wishing equivalents. And most modern westerners like drink and the ‘cheers’, ‘your good health’ expressions are ready to hand as a subsititute or jokey, quirky alternative.

‘Gesundheid’, in general, caught on in Europe along with all the other well-known variants in Italian, French, and German.

And sneezing started getting the same response as raising a glass to good health. ‘Bless you’ will probably be archaic within decades :-}

Am I out on a European limb here?

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Posted: 18 June 2011 05:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Thanks to the late hour and transatlantic delay-times I have the chance to post this quote from Dave’s blog before any reply to my previous post. The quote may or may not have been influenced by the content of this topic! ??

schlock, n. This word for cheap, defective products is from the Yiddish shlogn, meaning to strike. The opening decades of the twentieth century see many Yiddish words introduced into English via Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to America.

Forget my European comments!

:-((

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Posted: 19 June 2011 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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In the US, at least, there is no parallel; “gesundheit” is a normal reaction to a sneeze even among people who know no foreign languages, and may not even be aware that the word is German, whereas “‘cin cin’, ‘santé’, ‘na zdrowie’ etc etc” are completely unknown except to world travelers or members of the appropriate ethnic communities.

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Posted: 19 June 2011 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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I’m not sure the practice will disappear with the decline in the superstition, or if it does disappear it won’t necessarily be because of it. Customs like this are a kind of social lubricant. Saying something when someone sneezes acknowledges their presence and can express a concern for their health. It continues to serve a function even if the original rationale is long gone.

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Posted: 20 June 2011 03:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Dave Wilton - 19 June 2011 07:24 AM

I’m not sure the practice will disappear with the decline in the superstition, or if it does disappear it won’t necessarily be because of it. Customs like this are a kind of social lubricant. Saying something when someone sneezes acknowledges their presence and can express a concern for their health. It continues to serve a function even if the original rationale is long gone.

Exactly.  Atheists will say “good bye” without a thought.

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Posted: 20 June 2011 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Or even “My god!” and “God damn it.”

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