NEW YORK — Leo Rosten, who introduced mainstream America to the subtleties of schlemiels, schmaltz and chutzpah in "The Joys of Yiddish," has died. He was 88.
Rosten, who died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan, wrote dozens of works--including the humorous Hyman Kaplan stories--in a six-decade career. But he was best known for his 1968 guide to Yiddish expressions and their influence on the American vernacular.
"The Joys of Yiddish" became a bestseller soon after 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.
Rosten was teaching English classes to immigrants 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 with his inimitable linguistic manglings, first appeared in a series of New Yorker magazine stories in 1935 and in the 1937 book "The Education of H-Y-M-A-N K-A-P-L-A-N."
Rosten wrote two sequels, "The Return of H-Y-M-A-N K-A-P-L-A-N" (1959) and "O K-A-P-L-A-N! My K-A-P-L-A-N!" (1976).
Rosten also wrote a sociological examination of the film industry, "Hollywood: The Movie Colony, the Movie Makers" (1941); a study of the Washington press corps, "The Washington Correspondents" (1937); "The Joys of Yinglish" (1989); two mystery novels, and numerous screenplays.
He also taught at Yale and Columbia universities.
Born in 1908 in Poland, Rosten came to the United States when the family emigrated in 1911. He was raised among working-class Jews in Chicago and earned a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in political science at the University of Chicago in the 1930s.
Rosten is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. Rosten's second wife, the former Gertrude Zimi, died in 1995.