So we were discussing the matter of how people are perceived by others versus what their character is actually like. And somebody mentioned that I come across as being nicey nicey and unassertive at first, she said, I think it's because you're quite... frum. She fumbled for the word, and decided it didn't exist in English. But I got very excited as she was defining it for me because it turns out that the Swedish word frum means exactly the same as the Yiddish word, the lack of which I frequently deplore in English: religious in the sense of being committed to the rules and formal observances of the religion. Like pious but more specific. Cool, huh?
Frum is not very different from observant, no; if you interchanged the two in any given sentence, you'd most likely end up with sentences that made sense. But it's a particular kind of observant. I think the difference is that it refers to one possible attitude towards religious rules. Someone might be observant of a really radical, bleeding-edge liberal kind of religion; they wouldn't be frum.
In English ... or at least to Americans ... or at least to THIS American, "pious" used to describe oneself is insufferably self-aggrandizing, and used to describe someone else is a put-down implying hypocrisy somewhere along the line. Similarly you don't want to go around saying how devout you are -- it carries the taint of bragging. Frum at least doesn't have those connotations, though there is the word "frumpy," which means something like "very badly dressed," and "frump," a woman who is at the same time unfashionable, modest and sloppy.
Mm, thanks for these observations. I agree with you that pious and devout are either inappropriate boasts, or frank insults. I'm not sure whether frum is connected to frumpy in reality, but it's an interesting thought. Frum at least can be neutral or even positive, though it isn't in all cases.
Dutch has the word vroom which is clearly (ha! Famous last words) related. I usually translate it as devout in English, which latter I usually interpret without the possible negative connotations one might get with pious.
Vroom, cool, I thought that was the word that Pratchett made up for the sound a tree makes when it's growing very very fast. I have a native Dutch speaker who is also a frum Jew hanging about here somewhere, maybe she can shed some light. But thanks for adding in another comparison!
The thing about frum is that people who are frum will use it as a compliment, but people who are not frum (or who are, but are defensive about not being frum enough), tend to use it as a (usually mild) insult. If you've mainly heard the word from people in the second group, you may have a more negative impression than you would get from a random sample. I think the same is true of conservative, mind you; people who are conservative think it's a good thing to be, but people who are not use it to imply excessively rigid, sexually repressed, authoritarian and so on.
Hi there bro! Glad you found my real blog; the other one is just an attempt to look serious and professional (don't laugh), but this is where all my friends hang out and where I actually talk about my life.
What are you doing for Pesach, anyway? (Answer by email or Skype if you'd prefer.)