The Sheynest Punim of Them All

How A Word Made Its Way Into The Lexicon

Beautiful Faces: Andy Warhol’s many punims of Marilyn Monroe
Getty Images
Beautiful Faces: Andy Warhol’s many punims of Marilyn Monroe

By Philologos

Published December 16, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

In a variety of spellings (shayne, shana, shaneh), sheyne punim has been around in the American media for a while, sometimes italicized and sometimes not. What’s happened recently, however, is that “punim” has become decoupled from this combination and begun to occur in American English by itself. Usually, you’ll find it in a breezily written passage in which it’s meant to add to the with-it ambience. Here, for instance, is Steven Weber, writing in The Huffington Post in 2009:

“Between the menacing acronym TARP and the gag-inducing Nadya Suleman, AKA Octopussy, the latest credulity-straining events to occupy both ends of the cultural spectrum, we are still living in an Ian Fleming carny world and the always trusty media, ready to amass an unthinking crowd of agreeable consumers, barfs the data like a barker all over our passive punims.”

And here’s fashion writer Marshall Heyman in The Wall Street Journal in 2011:

“Sometime between midnight and one in the morning at the V Man party on Tuesday at the new Mondrian in SoHo, $5,000 in cash dropped from the ceiling as Kanye West (the magazine’s current cover star) and Stephen Gan (the magazine’s creative director) looked on. The $5,000 was mixed in with another $5,000 in fake bills featuring Mr. West’s punim.”

What’s curious about this is that it hasn’t involved imitation. Most Yinglish words that have entered general American speech — schlep, maven, chutzpah, etc. — have done so by a process of non-Jewish speakers picking up the word from Jewish speakers and circulating it among their non-Jewish acquaintances. Yet “punim” in the language of writers like Weber and Heyman has nothing to do with Judeo-English usage. American Jews never inserted “punim” into their speech in this way. We seem to be witnessing a purely written phenomenon in which “punim” is being used for literary effect. Almost always, spoken slang precedes written slang. It will be interesting to see whether in this case the process is reversed and “punim” eventually takes on a spoken existence.

Meanwhile, proceed with caution. The New York Times notwithstanding, “punim,” I’m told, still hasn’t been recognized as a valid Scrabble word.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • 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.