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I came across the word shpritz in the following sentence of a New York Times article (May 12th) titled, "At 100, Still a Teacher, Quite a Character":

At 100 years old, Ms. Kaufman is still shpritzing jokes, Jewish and otherwise, which is in her genes. Her grandfather was the great Yiddish storyteller Sholem Aleichem, a writer who was able to squeeze heartbreaking humor out of the most threadbare deprivation and wove the bittersweet Tevye stories that became the source for “Fiddler on the Roof."

As I am unfamiliar with the word shpritz, I consulted several English dictionaries. Neither Cambridge Dictionary nor Merriam Webster Dictionary had entry of this word. Readers English Japanese Dictionary defines it as

vt. attack, slander. n. a bit.

Urban Dictionary defines it as

A word of german language origin - similar meaning to that of semen, or spunk. Now used in popular English to describe the act of being impressed, aroused, happy, or ecstatic, upon seeing or tasting a person/substance/product. More commonly used to describe uncontrollable release of excitement or joy

However, neither the definition from Readers English Japanese Dictionary nor Urban Dictionary seem to me to apply to the phrase "Ms. Kaufman is still shpritzing jokes, Jewish and otherwise."

Though I think there’s good reasons for picking up the word, shpritz, what does it mean exactly? Is it a "popular" English word as Urban Dictionary asserts?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Found a little history on the word. It is indeed Yiddish:

shprits
spurt, to squirt, to sprinkle ∙ (m.) שפּריץ

Neal Karlen in The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews, says the word took on new meanings within a community of young Jewish comedians (exemplified by Lenny Bruce) in New York in the 1940s:

Using Yiddish as a base, the young Jewish comics helped develop only the second art form indigenous to the United States: the shpritz, a.k.a. "Jewish jazz." (African-American jazz is often thought of as the only such legitimate claimant. Curiously, "jazz" is slang for ejaculate: shpritz is Yiddish for "spray." Talk amongst yourselves.)

Wikipedia has this description from Albert Goldman of Lenny Bruce "shpritzing" during a famous Carnegie Hall concert:

Lenny worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor and Free Association. He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall.

Because of the word's historical association with Jewish comedy, its use in the quote you found is quite appropriate and well-chosen—even if a bit esoteric.

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1  
Why the downvote? –  Callithumpian May 13 '11 at 3:57
1  
+1 I don't know what the downvote is about -- this is a great response. I didn't know about 'spritzing' or the term 'Jewish jazz' as a style of joke telling. –  gbutters May 13 '11 at 18:03
    
@gbutters: Thanks. I figured there was something more to it. Makes me wonder if the author knew all this or if he had to do a little homework for just the right word. –  Callithumpian May 13 '11 at 22:11
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Probably worth mentioning that Jews are disproportionately represented in American comedy (Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, the Marx Brothers, etc.) and American humor has been a vector for Yiddish and Yinglish words to enter common use. A shpritzer is a drink of wine diluted with carbonated water. The original quote both connects Ms. Kaufman to her Jewish heritage and implies an effervescent, bubbly personality. –  Andrew Lazarus Jun 17 '13 at 17:23

When used in Jewish jokes, the word has the specific meaning of "in your face," meaning the joke is in your face, like a spray (shpritz) of water. But even more precise is its meaning as soda squirted from a distinctive seltzer bottle as used by vaudeville clown. Thus, the expression attributed to Lenny Bruce that he insults gentiles directly—"spritzing the goyim."

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spritz or shpritz comes from Yiddish meaning a spray:

spritz 1917, from Yiddish or Ger., lit. "spray." Spritzer "glass of wine mixed with carbonated water" is from 1961.

I don't think it is often used with 'spritzing jokes', but the writer is deliberately using it to draw a connection with Bel Kaufman's Jewish heritage. The use of Yiddish in American writing is common enough in novels and writing. Philip Roth comes to mind when I think of writers of Jewish identity that often use Yiddish words to pepper their writing and draw on their cultural identity.

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It's not actually an English word; it's slang, most likely of German and/or Yiddish origin. These words starting with shm- or schm turn up a bit amongst English speakers with Jewish heritage. That said, the word "schmuck" seems to have entered common usage, at least amongst speakers of American English.

(disclaimer: my knowledge of such things is based purely on watching American TV and movies and hanging out on the internet - I hope my words don't insult anyone.)

From context, I would guess that shpritzing means telling jokes or stories.

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It is Yiddish: shpritz corresponds to the German spritz meaning spray in standard English

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