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October 7, 2015 / 24 Tishri, 5776
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How to Say ‘Witty’ in Hebrew


שָׁנוּן, שְׁנוּנָה

 listen and repeat

If you’re familiar with Jewish prayer in its original Hebrew, you probably know the phrase וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ ( listen and repeat) – and you shall teach them to your children. The root of ושננתם ( listen and repeat) is שׁ.נ.נ (sh.n.n) meaning learning by repetition. It’s also the root of the word מִשְׁנָה ( listen and repeat) – Mishnah.
Modern Hebrew employs that root to refer to someone who has apparently learned enough to make wisecracks and witty statements: this person is שָׁנוּן ( listen and repeat) if a male and שְׁנוּנָה ( listen and repeat) if a female – in both cases, witty.
For example:
אָדָם שָׁנוּן לְעִתִּים קְרוֹבוֹת מַצְלִיחַ אָבָל הַרְבֵּה פְּעָמִים גַּם נוֹפֵל.
A witty person often succeeds but many times also falls.
Wit or sharpness is שְׁנִינוּת ( listen and repeat).

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About the Author: Ami Steinberger is founder and director of Ulpan La-Inyan.

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