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In another thread, user Em1 begins a comment with the phrase,

wenn ich mich nicht vertue ...

which I understand as

if I’m not mistaken ...

What is that verb he’s using? It looks to me like it comes from the Yiddish noun tuos (mistake), which in turn is from the Hebrew. Am I correct about this?

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  • The yiddishdictionaryonline.com translate "mistake" as "toes" not "tous", and English "do" as "ton". Do you agree with that? It wouldn't really change my answer, except that I maybe would quote a further part from Grimm: "nebenformen im 15. jahrh. tôn toen"
    – Em1
    Sep 5 '14 at 21:53
  • Yes, "toes" is the standard transcription, based on the northern or "Litvak" prononciation. In our Polish-Galician tradition it would have been closer to "tuos". Either way, it's definitely from the Hebrew...nothing to do with "tun". The Yiddish "ton" (to do) comes from the German without a doubt. Sep 5 '14 at 22:07
  • By the way, the phrase "wenn ich mich nicht irre" is much more common. Sep 6 '14 at 8:19
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    @RomanReiner Agree, but only in this context. Vertun is more apt for practical contexts. For example: when someone made a mistake while making a knot, er hat sich vertan seems more appropriate.
    – user6191
    Sep 6 '14 at 17:35
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The letters ver should always ring the compound bell. Also, the prefix gives more insight into the meaning than the straightforward tun (to do):

Among quite a few functions,

ver-

can express that something is done wrong. A few examples:

verrechnen (calculate incorrectly, to miscalculate)
verschießen (to waste a shot)
verfehlen (to miss (a target))
verspielen (to gamble away, to squander)

So in combination with tun, it basically means doing something the wrong way (to misdo). In everyday use, it often goes in the direction of misuse, misplace.

Finally,

when it's used together with a reflexive pronoun, it means to make a mistake, to err. In Em1's context, it could be paraphrased as "if I'm not making a mistake in the process of remembering/thinking" or "if I'm not typing/telling you something wrong". Note that in the cited context, sich irren is more common. Probably because sich vertun has a strong practical connotation.


As to the Yiddish aspect:

  1. According to Duden, vertun already existed in Old High German in the form of fertuon. That goes hand in hand with the relation of tun and tuon.

  2. If it's that old indeed, than it's older than Yiddish.

  3. So one would have to argue that it derives from the Hebrew טעות (taut?, tayt?, tavt?), and that ver- has the positive, attributing, final meanging here, of making sth. into sth., but that seems a rather weak alternative.

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The Verb he is using is vertun.

There are two meanings:

  1. Etwas (Wertvolles, Unwiderbringliches o. Ä.) nutzlos, mit nichtigen Dingen verschwenden, vergeuden. (to waste something valuable; no reason)

    coming from Middle High German: vertuon or Old High German: fertuon

    Examples:

    • Zeit, Geld nutzlos vertun (waste time, money)
    • eine Chance vertun (missing an opportunity)
  2. sich (bei etwas) irren, einen Fehler machen (make a mistake, to be wrong)

    Grammar: sich vertun

    It is a colloquialism.

    Examples:

    • sich beim Rechnen, Eintippen vertun (to mispurchase)

You can always look up German words (spelling, meaning, etymology) in the Duden online dictionary.

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