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Mama Deb
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December 2010
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Language changing

Once upon a time, there was a name - Juanita. Feminine version of the Spanish name "Juan."

When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, some of the women had this name, and they took it eastward with them. Over time, it became the Ashkenazi name "Yenta." It had no other special meaning. It was just a name, equivalent to "Jane." It did have a nickname. Yentl, equivalent to "Janie". It did eventually come to have a meaning - a gossip.

Then came the Yiddish stories "Tevye and his Daughters" by Sholem Aleichem. These became the stage and then movie musical "Fiddler on the Roof." One of the characters, who was both a terrible gossip and a matchmaker, was named "Yenta."

And for many, many years, the word "yenta" meant "a gossip." "She's a real yenta, " someone might say of a woman who never got off the phone.

And then, somehow, in the last ten-fifteen years, the meaning changed to "matchmaker." Which is probably a result of the movie.

Meanwhile, Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote a story called, "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy." Which could be translated as "Janie the Yeshiva Boy." And it was made into a movie - and I've seen it used a time or two refering to women pretending to be men - the female version, if you will, of "Tootsie."

And today, I saw this. Somehow, "yentl" has come to mean matchmaker in this person's head.

I am amused.

Current Mood: amused

Huh, I always thought the character in Fiddler on the Roof was named Yentl-- I can hear that one snippet of the matchmaking song in my head, "Oh Yentl / make sure that he's gentle" or something. I suppose it was an inexact rhyme. ;) I always knew that the word for matchmaker was "yenta," though.

But, see, the word for "matchmaker" is "shadchen". "Yenta" for that meaning is a recent Americanism.

Well, that's what I mean-- I knew the borrowed word was "yenta," not yentl. (Actually, probably anyone who ever spent time in TS fandom is familiar with that usage of "yenta." *g*)

I was amused that the very young person (from my perspective) who made that post conflated the two terms.