Meaning: A person of strength and honour and other admirable characteristics, taken from the Yiddish word for human, which in turn is taken from an old German word for man or person.
Usage: “He asked me… when was the last time I manned-up. The last time I was a mensch. I love that word. Because it’s not really manning-up. A girl can be a mensch too.” — Bruce LaBruce, in conversation with James Franco, in the new issue of Bad Day magazine.
You should know it because: For all I make fun of stupid man-trends, I can’t resist the apparent return of the mensch. Maybe it’s just that I’m growing up a little, but where bad boys used to figure in pop culture, I’m noticing more and more of the good guys, the super-dudes who are decent, too. Jason Segel, the actor and Muppets man who seems like everybody’s bro, got like 100,000 girls to follow him on Twitter in ten seconds. Neighbouring president Obama got Bin Laden and made it look elegant and is like the only US politician to not have a sex scandal this year; ok, well, there’s Mitt Romney, but nobody wants to do it with him. Hillary Clinton‘s a mensch, too; the word, though it’s mostly used for men because it’s associated with qualities we in turn, and wrongly, associate with guys, is perfectly gender-neutral. Tina Fey, who owned the year in comedy, is a total mensch. Alec Baldwin is, too, despite playing the opposite on 30 Rock and maybe even despite what American Airlines thinks.
And, of course, 2011 was the Year of the Goz. Ryan “A Real Hero” Gosling posed with puppies, broke up a street fight, and launched a thousand “Hey girl” tumblrs, all without so much as the whisper of a scandal. Where male actors of old (and by old I mean last year) would be spotted in Montreal strip clubs snorting white off green, Gosling took Eva Mendes (whom we can’t bring ourselves to say out loud is his girlfr… yeah) to Disneyland. It’s all so good-hearted I can’t help but miss him as the cracked-out, shirtless highschool teacher in Half-Nelson. Mensch rings of mid-century ideals, but my own nostalgia is a little more recent.