Buba Maasehs – etymology of expression

For countless generations, Jews have imagined that a bubbah meiseh is the Yiddish equivalent of an “old wive’s tale.” Yet historians disagree, claiming that the person responsible for the development of the term was the grammarian and Bible scholar, Elia Levita. A Maskil before the Haskalah existed, Levita was offered the chair of Hebrew at the University of Paris and established printing presses in Venice, Isny (in modern day Germany), and Wurttemberg.

At his printing shop in Isny in 1541, he published the first Yiddish secular storybook ever printed. This was the “Bovo Buch” named after its hero Bovo Dantona who experienced the sort of escapades generally experienced by literary heroes of that time. In other words, it was not kosher reading.

In the eighteenth century the “Bovo Buch” had gone through many reprints and became known as the Bovo Meiseh. This name morphed into the Bubbah Meiseh expression, no doubt inspired by the book’s ridiculous contents. So claim Jewish historians. How do they know that the term Bubbah Meiseh did not simply originate as Bubbah Meiseh? Perhaps they couldn’t imagine Jews coining such an insulting term against Jewish grandmothers.

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