Thursday, February 23, 2006


Here's a word that I've come across a few times this week - istenis (alternatively transliterated as istnis, istinis and istanis.) - איסטניס (or אסטניס). It means a person who is (overly) sensitive, squeamish and finicky. It usually is refering to a person who is particularly sensitive about his bathing or eating needs, and the rabbis often allowed leniencies on his behalf. For example, people in mourning are not allowed to bathe, but an istenis has permission.

What is the origin of this unusual sounding word? It comes from the Greek asthenes (weak), from a (=not) and sthenos (=strong). The root sthenos is used in a number of medical terms, but to most of us is familiar from the word calisthenics -- kallos "beauty" + sthenos "strength."

Going back further, there are those that connect it to the Indo-European root segh, the root of such strong words as hectic, schema, and persevere. Certainly not the qualities of an istenis.

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