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From Yiddishלופֿטמענטש(luftmentsh), from ⁧לופֿט(luft, air) + ⁧מענטש(mentsh, man). Compare German von Luft und Liebe leben (to disregard the practical matters of life, literally to live on air and love), German Luftikus (impractical, quixotic, or careless person).

The word first appeared in Yiddish literature in 1860s (Nicolas Vallois, "The Luftmentsh as an economic metaphor for Jewish poverty: a rhetorical analysis").


luftmensch (plural luftmenschen)

  1. One more concerned with airy intellectual pursuits than practical matters like earning an income.
    My wife is such a luftmensch she missed our anniversary dinner because she was too busy reading her books!
    • March 24, 2007, Helen McLean, “Marc of Distinction”, in The Globe and Mail, Books, page D6:
      Chagall was a luftmensch, he says, a man of the air...
  2. (Yiddish usage) a beggar, petty trader, peddler, and various types of paupers