Hot answers tagged

64

The Shm- is a carryover from Yiddish, as American port cities like New York at the turn of century came to embrace Eastern European Jews, with their food (knishes, bagels, matzo ball soup) and Yiddish inflected English (Oy, gotta have chutzpah, kvetching, schvitzing bullets, saying mazel tov, shmoozing someone, a shmear of cream cheese, or needing to shmear ...


42

As a native speaker of British English, I've never heard that phrase in my life and have no idea what it might mean. It's not a phrase I'd expect British people to understand, unless it's been used in one of the many American TV series that have been popular in the UK.


39

It is a type of productive reduplication forming a Yiddish “despective”, also known as shm-reduplication. (sometimes schm) Reduplication in English ranges from baby talk such as no-no and boo-boo, to rhyming (teeney-weeney, itty-bitty) to ablaut reduplication such as knick-knack and bric-a-brac. The above are non-productive reduplication in that they are ...


32

If it's any consolation, Yoichi Oishi, the various forms of bupkes were not widely used and understood in the English-speaking world either, until a few decades ago. Here are the first readable/intelligible occurrences of each spelling of the word that a Google Books search finds: bobkes: From Charles Angoff, In the Morning Light (1953): "As bad as ...


29

From my own experience, this is an idiom one can only use reliably in a diverse and cosmopolitan American milieu. I employ it with no hesitation if there are Jews present, because I am certain they will understand it. But educated people with a lot of multicultural awareness probably will as well. It is not something one would be likely to use in, say, a ...


27

Nearly fifty years old, born in the UK, living in N. Italy for too many years, but a frequent visitor to the UK and Ireland: can't say I have never seen ‘mensch’ online, or that my mind exploded when I read the OP's sentence. By the way, should it be written with a capital letter? In its proper context, the meaning of ‘mensch’ was easy enough to guess. But ...


26

I'm an American from the south, and in contrast to other Americans who have answered, I've never heard that idiom before. I didn't have any clue what the word mensch was supposed to mean until after reading comments/answers here, and I still have to look it up to be actually sure what it means. I find it surprising that this is referred to as an Americanism, ...


26

As a native British-English speaker, who has lived in New Zealand for over 10 years, I have never heard this word before in either country. I would say this is exclusively American-English, and probably only from certain big cities, as well. Its use is somewhat akin to my saying "I'm going to see the whanau" and expecting anyone outside New Zealand to ...


24

I didn't become familiar with the term mensch until the 1970s, when I moved from Texas to the east coast (Maryland) for college. At the time I assumed that it was simply a regional term. However, the frequency of "a mensch" in Google Books search results suggests that the term's popularity in published writings has grown substantially since the ...


15

"Bubkes" is actually a Yiddish word, and in this context has the same meaning as "nothing". They took two months to give me nothing. But to give me nothing, they were required to invoke a FOIA exemption.


13

I'd like to add to the other answers by saying that to me (as a British English speaker who's never heard this word), it sounds mildly insulting. When I saw the title of this question, I was expecting it to be similar to something like 'putz', i.e. quite a negative thing. To me, it sounds like a word that you'd use like "I couldn't stand that guy on the ...


11

Yes. I was brought up knowing the word, not coming from a Jewish background at all. I don't think this is uncommon. From Wikipedia: Judge Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh in an article entitled Lawsuit Shmawsuit, note the rise in use of Yiddish words in legal opinion. They note that chutzpah has been used 231 times in American legal opinions, 220 of those ...


10

As Bruce said, the word "schmuck" may be more familiarly used for "jerk" today. (The TV show Golden Girls used it regularly to refer to Stan, the ex-husband of Bea Arthur's character, Dorothy.) But since you asked about "polite company", I would take it a little further and suggest that name-calling or referring to someone as "jerk", "idiot", "bimbo", etc....


10

It's absolutely a real thing. Try plugging a few combinations into Google. Examples: clinton schminton will get you a Boston Herald headline. trump schmump will get you an Investing Daily post title. blog schmog will get you the title of a book. bible schmible will get you a blog about the Bible.


10

Leo Rosten, Hooray for Yiddish (1982) has a lengthy entry about this phenomenon under the modest title "sh—": sh— shm— Yinglish. As in Yiddish, these prefatory particles mock or negate the word they prefix. Sh— designates scorn or dismissal when used to prefix a word" "Sick-shtick, he should be in the office!" ... In addition to ...


9

As someone living in the UK most of my life I had never come across that word. If I had to guess at it then I would have associated it with the word untermensch, and from that taken it as human, possibly with a tendency to view it slightly badly due to deriving it that way.


8

I am an Australian. I have never heard of the phrase "act like a mensch" before. I am reasonably widely read, I studied Latin and French at school, and learned a smattering of Spanish. Putting aside whether your use of the phrase makes the piece more interesting, my suggestion is that it would not be widely understood. People like me would either guess that ...


7

I can't say for sure, but the phenomenon you're talking about probably has Yiddish roots. The "schm" prefix is quite common in that language. Yiddish, by the way, has been defined as "The language historically of Ashkenazic Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, resulting from a fusion of elements derived principally from medieval German dialects and ...


6

Pages 593-604 in the following book sets the record straight on the origin of the Eastern Yidish count noun באָבקע (bobke) ‘pellet of goat dung; pellet of sheep dung; small piece of any kind of excrement’: Gold, David L. 2009. Studies in Etymology and Etiology (With Emphasis of Germanic, Jewish, Romance, and Slavic Languages). Alicante. Publicaciones de la ...


6

Leo Rosten, in his classic (and funny) book, The Joys of Yiddish (McGraw-Hill 1968), says the word schmuck is defined first as an obscene reference to the penis: "Never use schmuck lightly, or in the presence of women and children. Indeed, it was uneasiness about schmuck that led to the truncated euphemism shmo ....", wrote Rosten. Ibid. p. 361. A ...


5

An Inquiry Into Bubkes and Kozebubkes Several authorities—including Anu Garg at A.Word.A.Day (cited by Hot Licks in a comment above) and Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary assert that the original form of the bupkes family of spellings was bubkes—and that this word probably derives from the word kozebubkes. Here is Garg's etymological note for bupkis: From ...


5

Instances of schtup/shtup, schtupped/shtupped, and schtupping/shtupping in popular fiction go back more than half a century. From Saul Bellow, The Victim (1956) [combined snippets]: "Three minutes. Two bits. They cost me eighteen. That's the con." He made his joke sullenly. His cheeks were heavy, his gaze unconciliating. "Three minutes. Don't ...


5

Slang dictionary coverage of 'from hunger' Harold Wentworth & Stuart Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, first edition (1960) provides the following entry for "from hunger": from hunger Inferior; cheap; ugly; lowbrow; disliked; unwanted; corny; hammy. 1935: Playing [music] from hunger: similar to 'corny,' meaning playing in a style to ...


5

This is an expression that means "horrible". At the start of every baseball season, my grandfather would wave his hand in disgust and shout, "The Mets are from hunger this year!" I would say that this is probably a local NY area expression, mostly used by those with Yiddush in their background.


5

Evidently, the phrasing arose as a result of literal translations of certain phrases from Yiddish to English. Fred Kogos, From Shmear to Eternity: The Only Book of Yiddish You'll Ever Need (2006) identifies two such Yiddish phrases followed by their idiomatic and/or literal English meanings: Zol ich azoy vissen fun tsores! I haven't got the faintest idea! (...


5

Following up on aparente001's suggestion (in a comment above) to consult Leo Rosten, I offer this brief entry from his Hooray for Yiddish! (1982): challa khale (standard) Pronounce it KHOL-leh, with a German or Scottish kh. The braided white bread, glazed with egg white, which is a Sabbath delicacy. Rosten is evidently giving the Yiddish pronunciation; and ...


5

For this Australian, I've encountered the word mensch in US media (TV and movies mostly) a number of times; each time I think the speaker was Jewish. The general meaning was always clear enough from context (to mean something along the line of 'a real human being', 'a good man', generally relating to a person who is consistently displaying qualities like ...


4

There is no single-word equivalent for fargin in English, though there are single-word antonyms like begrudge and resent. In the same way, there is no single-word equivalent in English of the French word frileux (someone who has the tendency to feel cold). That doesn't make Yiddish or French "richer" than English; there are many words in the English ...


4

Robert Mehling has it right. It’s old jive talk and means “not good, not cool, not desired”. It has nothing to do with hunger for food or affection, etc. As to origins, I don’t know that. I was born in 1941 (yes, children, I’m 71!) and the expression had been around for years before I was born. I used to think that Hungary was involved, as though if ...


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