Sisterhood Blog

Yenta's Dirty Roots

By Rachel Rosmarin

Read a follow-up post by Ezra Glinter on the true Yiddish history of the word “Yenta.”

Pssst! Wanna know a juicy secret? Get this: The most well-known Yiddish word describing women doesn’t mean what we think it does. I’m no linguist, but after spending a little time on several authoritative Yiddish dictionaries, I’m convinced that this ubiquitous, pejorative term — Yente — has very little to do with gossip. Instead, it appears to have everything to do with vulgarity, and may even have roots that are downright dirty.

Of course, words change and evolve over time, especially in Yinglish considering almost nobody speaks the original tongue anymore. Take, for example, the Yiddish verb “shmuesn,” which means, literally, to converse — no implied brown-nosing or hidden agendas. In Yinglish, “to schmooze” means something altogether different. So it goes with “Yente.” The word probably entered the truly mainstream vernacular with the meddling Molly Picon matchmaker character in the 1971 film adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof.” But before that, humorist Jacob Adler wrote a decades-long column in the Forward featuring a character named “Yente.”

These uses refer to women named Yente, but somewhere along the line, the name took hold as a female adjective. Sure, some men co-opt the term: Larry David called Ted Danson a “yente” in the sixth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” If you’re anything like me, you grew up with your parents admonishing you (but not your little brother) not to “be such a yente” when your endless curiosity about their adult conversations got annoying. At the same time, the public park where my retired Holocaust-survivor grandparents hung out and played card games with their gabby friends was known as “the yente center (centeh?).”

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: yente, yenta, sisterhood, jewish women, fiddler on the roof

Why We Gossip

By Hinda Mandell

I’m enjoying this thread on gossip that Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer has taken up has taken up, because I love talk and I love information. And when you combine the two it’s likely you’ll cross the border into the realm of gossip. Does this mean that by extension I also love gossip? Sometimes I do. Other times I most definitely do not.

The High Holy Day liturgy takes on the issue of gossip — it includes “For the sin that we have committed before You in judging our neighbor/ And for the sin we have committed against You in slander and idle gossip” — so it’s a fitting time to reflect on the power of talk and its effects on others.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yente, Yenta, Gossip

Gossip and Girls

By Sarah Seltzer

Paramount
Is gossip gendered? (click to enlarge)

Alma Heckman’s JWA post about snark, yentes and gossip sent me on a further etymological treasure hunt for the roots of the word “gossip” — which as Heckman notes, went from positive, genderless connotations to a positive female one before arriving at its current incarnation. Gossips in England were once a group of women, a sisterhood of aunties, if you will, who enforced morality and the social order in local areas. That was before the concept was twisted and turned into something negative.

There’s no question that gossip remains gendered, and maybe with reason. We have long lived in a society where it’s easier for men to initiate direct confrontation or indicate disapproval.

Women who do so are labeled shrewish — or worse. So the notion of having to vent or share information through backchannels is one that women may have historically had to embrace. Of course, with Mama Grizzlies running around being blunt and proud and men like TMZ founder Harvey Levin and gossip blogger Perez Hilton taking charge of snark, these lines are getting blurred. The gendered connotations haven’t faded, but we remain faced with a divide between healthy and unhealthy chatter.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yente, Yenta, Kvetching, Gossip, Gender




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.