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luftmensch

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Pronunciation: luft-mench Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An airhead, a contemplative person whose head is in the clouds and has little if any idea of practical matters, like earning a living. 2. A petty tradesman, peddler, unsuccessful businessperson.

Notes: Today's word is another gift from Yiddish. Although chiefly limited to Jewish usage, it still occurs in the major English dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary. It is condemned to bachelorhood as a lexical orphan. The plural still follows the Yiddish: luftmenschen.

In Play: The original sense of today's word might be heard in this sort of statement: "Professor Silverstein loves to float about the rocket science conventions and chat with all the luftmenschen who convene there." The derived sense could be used in expressions like this: "That poor luftmensch Egon Loeser won't be able to keep his job even if he returns to work."

Word History: Today's Good Word came unchanged from Yiddish in the early 20th century. Yiddish borrowed it from German, where it is a compound consisting of Luft "air" + Mensch "man, person". We do not know how Luft came to be in German. It must have originated in Proto-Germanic, though, for we find luft "air" in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, Icelandic loft "air", and English luff "sailing closer into the wind". Mensch seems to have the same limitation to Germanic languages. We can establish a PIE source for it, though: manos "man, person", source also of German Mann "man, husband", Danish and German man "one, someone or other", and Dutch and Swedish man "man, husband". (Now an e-bow to Rabbi Fred Davidow for his suggestion of today's recently adopted Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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