Leo Rosten, whose best-selling “The Joys of Yiddish,” introduced non-Jewish America to another culture, died Wednesday at 88.
Rosten wrote dozens of works of fiction and nonfiction in a six-decade career, but he was best known for his 1968 guide to Yiddish expressions that had made their way into the American vernacular.
“The Joys of Yiddish,” was a best seller when it was published and since has become the standard reference work on the language.
“It illustrates how beautifully a language reflects the variety and vitality of life itself; and how the special culture of the Jews, their distinctive style of thought, their subtleties of feeling, are reflected in Yiddish; and how this in turn has enhanced and enriched the English we use today,” Rosten wrote in the book’s introduction.
The Polish-born Rosten moved with his family to the United States in 1911. He grew up in Chicago and earned bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in political science at the University of Chicago in the 1930s.
Forced by the Depression to temporarily abandon academia, Rosten was teaching night-school English classes to immigrant students when he met a man named Kaplan who inspired his most famous fictional creation.
Hyman Kaplan, who signed his name with a flourish of asterisks and tortured his long-suffering teacher ith his inimitable linguistic manglings, first appeared in a series of New Yorker magazine stories in 1935 and later in the 1937 book, “The Education of HYMAN KAPLAN”
Rosten wrote two sequels, “The Return of HYMAN KAPLAN” (1959) and “O KAPLAN! My KAPLAN!,” (1976). “The Education of HYMAN KAPLAN” also enjoyed a run as a Broadway musical in 1968.
His other works included a examination of the film industry, “Hollywood: The Movie Colony, the Movie Makers” (1941), a study of the Washington press corps, “The Washington Correspondents” (1937), two mystery novels and numerous screenplays.
He taught at Yale, Columbia and the New School for Social Research.