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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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    In U.S. English, at any rate, shpritz falls into a gray area between uncommon borrowing from a foreign language and fully anglicized (or Americanized) import. I think Yoichi Oishi's question is a valid one to ask at this site.
    – Sven Yargs
    Apr 11, 2021 at 8:18

8 Answers 8

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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 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, 2011 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. May 13, 2011 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. Jun 17, 2013 at 17:23
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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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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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Words imported relatively recently in English from another language go through a period during which their status as legitimate English (as opposed to foreign borrowings) may be in doubt. In the case of shpritz, we are dealing with two levels of complication.

First, we have the problem that the spelling shpritz identifies the word as Yiddish, not English. Although use of shpritz is not especially rare in the United States, the word doesn't appear in standard dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) or The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2011). On the other hand, it does appear in dictionaries of American English slang—and has for at least 35 years.

From Robert Chapman, New Dictionary of American Slang (1986):

shpritz n A bit or touch; a dose: each a free-associational shpritz of surreal hi-de-ho—Village Voice {fr Yiddish, literally, "a squirt"}

From Barbara Kipfer & Robert Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang, fourth edition (2007):

shpritz n A bit or touch; a dose : each a free-associational shpritz of surreal hi-de-ho—Village Voice {1970s+;fr Yiddish, literally, "a squirt"}

From Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006):

shpritz; schpritz verb to squirt or spray US Yiddish [Cited example:] The Irish got schpritzed and schpritzed and schpritzed. —Lenny Bruce, The Essential Lenny Bruce, p. 20, 1967

So it appears that at least since the 1970s shpritz has been a term in active use in U.S. slang or (in what Eric Partridge offers as an alternative language category) unconventional English.

Second, we have the complication that shpritz was preceded into mainstream English by a very similar term from German: spritz. Unlike shpritz, spritz does appear in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate:

spritz vb {G spritzen to squirt, spray} vt (1902) : SPRAY ~ vi to disperse or apply a spray — spritz n

But don't let that 1902 origin date in English fool you. The first edition of the Collegiate Dictionary series to include an entry for spritz was the ninth (1983)—before which time people could make the same argument about its legitimacy as a real English word that they are free to make today about shpritz.

But given that Merriam-Webster lists spritz as a verb in standard English meaning "spray," and given that Dalzell & Victor defines shpritz (as a verb) as meaning "to squirt or spray" in U.S. slang, how are we to distinguish between spritz and shpritz when someone uses the word in spoken English as a verb? Are they really two different words—one English and one foreign?

In the example that Yoichi Oishi asks about—"At 100 years old, Ms. Kaufman is still shpritzing jokes, Jewish and otherwise, which is in her genes."—the person being described is Jewish and the journalist's use of the spelling shpritzing signals the intention to invoke the Yiddish form of the word, but I can't for the life of me see any difference in meaning between the spraying, spewing, or squirting of jokes implied by shpritzing and the spraying, spewing, or squirting of jokes that would be implied by the spelling spritzing.

I suspect that native English speakers in the United States are not particularly conscious of any distinction between shpritz and spritz, whether used as a verb or used as a noun, and that for all intents and purposes the difference is simply one of pronunciation. Whether you are inclined to view neither as a real English word, both as real English words, or one as real and the other as an interloper, both function in the language as familiar (in the United States) slang terms for "a spray or squirt" (as a noun) or "to spray or squirt" (as a verb).

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

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It’s either German or Yiddish. I’m PA dutch, and Schpritz is used to describe a light drizzle or spraying something, like an aerosol can. If your spitting as you talk, you could imagine somebody telling you you’re schpritzing all over me.

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  • Hi Leo, welcome to our site. I can't see what value your post adds, as it simply restates what has already been said in the accepted answer. You may be unaware that EL&U isn't like other sites: we're not a forum for personal views. We're seeking detailed, authoritative answers supported by evidence, preferably linking to a published source. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take our Tour. :-) Apr 11, 2021 at 4:28
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So, while I agree that shpritz in this context means to spray, I think contextually it’s being used as a synonym for pepper. As to say they are peppering in jokes. However, to spritz, also meaning to spray or squirt is accompanied by the qualifier of the spraying or squirting occurring in quick, short bursts. You spritz perfume or cologne. You playfully spritz a child with a water hose when your watering the lawn.

I think the addition of the qualifier actually allows us to see what they intended. She peppered in jokes in quick short bursts. Implying that even at 100 years old she’s still quick witted and funny. The Yiddish version of the term and the other version have the exact same meaning.

it’s pretty obvious that i purposefully dont have my automatic capitalization on. worry about what i said, not how i said it.

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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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