Word of the Day Lehashvitz

The Yiddish phrase 'schvitzing' is oft-used on those hot days when the pores open up and the whole body goes moist. The Hebrew word means something else entirely, but it's nothing to brag about. To understand the difference, just read below and don't sweat it.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

As someone with only passing familiarity with Yiddish, I knew that “to schvitz” meant “to sweat,” but it wasn’t until I encountered the Hebraization of the word -- “lehashvitz” (le-hosh-VEETZ) -- that I discovered it also means “to boast.” Though you can schvitz about yourself, the verb not infrequently refers to the act of sharing how much naches you’re schepping from your children or grandchildren, to use common Yiddishisms that refer to the pride and joy one derives from one’s progeny.

“How to schvitz about your kids without annoying others,” reads a headline on the Hebrew financial news website Calcalist, above tips like “Don’t use a picture of your child as your profile picture [on Facebook], because that’s really irritating.”

But while the Yiddish verb means both “to sweat” and “to boast,” in Hebrew “lehashvitz” means only the latter. When you sweat in Israel -- and you will, especially in the merciless sauna known as Tel Aviv in the summer -- the liquid pouring out of your pores is ze’ah (zay-AH).

Which takes us to lexicographer Avraham Even-Shoshan, who tried to coin an alternative to “schvitzer,” meaning “braggart,” by inserting a Hebrew equivalent into his classic dictionary. The Forward language columnist Philologos describes it as a faux colloquialism – a failed attempt to plant a made-up slang word that never actually made it into common usage. Even-Shoshan does, at least, give a nod to the Old Country in his definition, saying that “yazan,” which comes from the same root as “ze’ah,” is a translation of the Yiddish epithet “schvitzer.”

It looks like maybe Even-Shoshan should have waited a few decades before schvitzing in the (ostensibly objective) dictionary that his neologism had already entered the Hebrew language.

For previous Word of the Day columns, click here. To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com.

Right now, Obama is schvitzing in the Yiddish sense. But if he wins the election, he can schvitz in the Hebrew one.Credit: AP

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