We’re Shvitzing

The weather in our neighborhood has been 20 degrees above normal. Instead of a comfortable late spring, we’ve slipped right into the heat and humidity of summer. We know June brides who aren’t glowing — they’re dripping — and June grads who are thinking about going naked under their robes because it’s so hot.

The Word Mavens are shvitzing (v. Yiddish: to sweat heavily). In our Dictionary of Jewish Words, it’s a little ironic that shvitz is the entry right above shwarma – the Arabic word for spicy meat that roasts on a spit over an open flame. That’s how we feel when it’s 92 degrees in June.

The Jewish tradition of sweating for health is thousands of years old, and we are tired of it already.

As a noun, shvitz also means steam bath. Bathhouses are mentioned in the Talmud, and archeological ruins of steam baths have been found. The shvitz resurged in popularity in Eastern Europe, because few people owned bathtubs. When Jews emigrated to America, they brought along their traditions, including the shvitz, to places like New York’s Lower East Side. At steamy shvitz-bods, men could relax and socialize — all the while sweating.

We women take refuge at home, meticulously following tips from the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service to “slow down, don’t engage in strenuous activities, and drink plenty of fluids.” Unlike the directive from Homeland Security that advised us to make an emergency evacuation plan for the family or the instructions from the attorney to draw up a living will, we have no problem lounging on the sofa drinking ice tea and not cooking dinner.

The medical term for excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis. This isn’t your husband when he comes in from jogging. It’s 2-3 percent of the population who sweat all the time, no matter what the weather or their activity. According to WebMD, people who suffer from severe cases of hyperhidrosis can be so sweaty that it’s hard for them to “hold a pen, grip a car steering wheel, or shake hands.”

Those who live with us might argue that it doesn’t matter what the weather is outside: We’re always complaining that we’re hot and shvitzing. We’re pretty sure we don’t have hyperhidrosis, but we are women of a certain age, and menopause is one possible explanation for our need to sit inches from an air conditioning vent.

Other causes of excessive sweating include diabetes, hyperthyroidism and chronic arsenic intoxification. But if someone is slowly poisoning you with arsenic, being sweaty is the least of your worries.

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2 Responses to We’re Shvitzing

  1. Lisa Markc says:

    Dear Word Mavens,
    Thank you for an education on Shvitzing. When I was growing up I used to hear different men talk about going to the Shvitz in Philadelphia.
    Word Mavens, your writting is educational, clever and funny, keep on writting!


  2. Armando Feler says:

    I was raised in South America. Yidish and German were my first two languages. Shwitzer, besides describing a person sweating, was used to convey the image of individuals that worked very hard but never accomplidhed much.


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