Yourprettygerman Advent Calendar
“Look at this Schmuck“
and welcome to day 22 of our Advent Calendar. And today, we’ll look at another one of those words that’s an absolute staple for Christmas.
Now some of you are probably like “Oh yeah, that’s my uncle.”
But that’s the ENGLISH Schmuck.
The German Schmuck is something different. Because the German der Schmuck is basically small decoration. The prime example is jewelry like earrings, necklaces, bracelets or piercings. But also the stuff we put on a Christmas tree – the Christmas balls or little straw stars and tinsel – all this is also called Schmuck and the process of putting it up is called schmücken.
The origin is the unnecessarily ancient Indo-European root *meug-, which was about the idea of slippery. This idea is still pretty much alive in the words mucus and moist. But another branch of the family soon shifted a little toward the sense of gliding, slipping. One offspring of that branch is the verb to smuggle (schmuggeln in German) – you basically “slide” contraband through somewhere.
And another offspring of that idea is the word smock, which originally apparently was some kind of garment – something you “slide” into – primarily for women.
And THAT’S where schmücken and der Schmuck come from. It originally was about putting on a fancy dress but then it slowly shifted toward the idea it has today – fancy decoration.
Now, I think we have to mention that Schmuck is NOT a general translation for decoration. It sounds a bit fancy and pretty, and the two prime contexts are definitely jewelry and the Christmas tree or the house. I guess it could also work for decorating your house for Halloween for instance, but me personally, I’d lean toward dekorieren in that case. Unless your decoration is really really beautiful.
Anyway, let’s look at a couple of examples.
- “Das Horn? Ach… äh… das … das ist nur Schmuck.”
- “The horn? Oh… er… that…. that is just decoration.”
- Thomas verkauft Marias Schmuck um in Crypto zu investieren.
- Thomas sells Marias jewelry to invest in crypto.
- Die Kinder haben den Weihnachtsbaum geschmückt.
- The kids have decorated the Christmas tree.
Oh by the way, this family is also where the word smug is from, which originally simply meant well dressed, sleek and which then shifted toward being a little too full of oneself.
And I think the only question left now is what’s actually up with the English Schmuck…. the one that’s NOT an adornment to anything.
Does that belong to the family as well, and with some mental gymnastics we can tie the idea of someone being a dickhead to nice earrings? Or is the identical spelling just a coincidence and there is no connection at all.
I’ll give you the answer in a second, but let’s do a quick poll, just for fun… what do you think :)
I’m really curious for the results :).
But now let’s clear up the mystery and the correct answer is that the two words, and I am being a little wordy here so people don’t accidentally see the answer before answering the poll, are not related. English Schmuck comes directly from Yiddish, and it was a profanity there already. I couldn’t really find anything more about it though, except that it’s related to shmoe and shmoo, so if you know more, please share it in the comments.
And that’s it for today’s door.
Have a great day, and I’ll see you all tomorrow. Like… ALL of you! Don’t you dare not show up :)
Another piece of the puzzle is that “schm-” acts as a sort of productive morpheme for Yiddish-influenced English speakers, as a way to dismiss or minimize a topic. For example:
A: Etymology is an important part of linguistics.
B: Linguistics, shminguistics. They make all that stuff up.
Are you sure that’s where this comes from? Because I feel like it’s super super common and definitely not limited to people who have contact with Yiddish influence.
yes, it is definitely a yiddish word and used a lot in New York in everyday English. Dickhead is not the correct translation; it’s more like someone who is not very decent, someone always overlooking other people’s needs, always out for himself; insensitive and stupid, a lout
Jewish friends use schmuck for jewellery that’s a bit overdressy. So for me it has slightly negative connotations. I like the german version.
I know a lot of words in Yiddish, but never spoke that language. I know a lot more words in German and once even spoke it. So my sense of ‘Schmuck’s’ various meanings is no sure bet.
With that stated, this is the extent of my knowledge.
‘Schmuck’ does mean ‘jewel’ somewhat in the sense of ‘bauble’ or ‘costly, pretty thing’, only not as playful and indirect as those words and phrases. German has other words for ‘jewel’ but ‘Schmuck’ seems commonest.
How to get from Yiddish ‘Schmuck’ to ‘dickhead’?
First, Yiddish’s main word for ‘pecker’ is ‘Putz’. What connotations attach?
Calling a male sb a Putz, in Yiddish calls him a stupid guy. We don’t do that in US English, but UK English does something similar, when calling a male sb. a ‘prick’. In England that means a male sb. who is stupidly unaware.
In US-speak, however, a ‘prick’ means a male who goes out his way to make others miserable. But OUTSIDE the US the male organ is often seen as a stupid appendage. Still even in US-speak we call obnoxious, male dumbasses ‘dickheads’.
How did ‘Schmuck’ become an unaware male? First, it was made into a euphemism for the male organ. The link becomes clearer if one has ever heard a guy, usu. an adolescent, euphemise his organ as ‘my pride’.
So some Yiddish-speaker decided to be more delicate and call his ‘root’ his ‘Schmuck’ or ‘jewel’. Clearly, many others liked it because that usage spread far and wide.
But the original ‘Schmuck’ meant ‘jewel’.
That seems enough of that! Any further thoughts?
Hi! This is probably just folk etymology and completely wrong, but I thought you might want to know. I was always told by my grandmother that many jewelry sold jewelry in the US (jew-elry) and were heard saying schmuck because it was related to their profession. Not knowing the meaning the identified it with the jews. Racist people then started using it as a slur. It evolved… Take with a grain if salt.
I believe English takes the metaphorical Yiddish meaning of Schmuck (and Putz) to refer to “the family jewels” (i.e., male genitalia) and their use as a derogatory term, as in “dick”.
I knew the answer. I worked in Brooklyn in a Kosher bakery. Schmuck was very often used there. It’s surprise to me, that this word is used in English, too.
Ooops. Did you mean the asterisk between sine squared and cosine square to be an addition sign, not multiplication as was the other one?
Oh sorry, I didn’t even look at the comments before I posted. But what I did also just notice while looking for an edit or delete button for something already posted, were the 3 bars next to the “comments” on top. It keeps track of all the previous comments that I have made. Is that new? That is quite helpful actually, in case we were looking for an answer to a question. Thank you.
Yes, that’s new :).
yes.. schmuck is Yiddish for penis. My dictionary (which is fairly large, in case you were wondering) traces “schmuck” ( preferred spelling) to the Polish for dragon and the Bulgarian for grass snake: smok. Which would jibe with your mention of slippin’ and slidin’. Which brings us to another Yiddish word for penis: schlong. Which is obviously from “snake”. More slippin and slidin. My personal, unscientific feeling is that “schmuck,” like “putz,” was originally an ironic euphemism. The irony of calling one’s dangling participle an “ornament,” )which is the origin of the word putz,) is just too funny.
Ha, that was a little light bulb moment. I knew “schlong” but I never ever noticed how similar it is to “Schlange”.
Gotta admit I love solving your little daily heart equations on top of each article.
I believe you wanted to add a + instead of the * between sin(❤️)^❤️❤️ and cos(❤️)^❤️❤️.
The article was great as usual!
I do too.
My calculator says sin(1)^2 x cos(1)^2 is one, which would make it correct as it stands, no?
Yeah, that was my thinking.
Eh? What sort of calculator is that? sin(x)^2+cos(x)^2 = 1, regardless of x, but sin(x)^2 * cos(x)^2 has a maximum of only 1/2, attained at odd multiples of pi/4 radians.
Oh, I meant “+”. I think the other person had the same thought.
Emmanuel, when you are in the States, you are welcome to use “Schmuck” (just not around Yiddish speakers, apparently). Schmuck has taken on its own connotation in American English that, while negative, is not vulgar. I would say calling someone a schmuck is closer to calling them a loser. It’s not a bad word.
Separately, other examples of a “smock” are the white zippered jacket with pockets that doctors wear, or the little jackets that people in retail stores wear over their clothing.
I agree, Scotty. I lived for many decades in New York City, where most people casually sling around many Yiddish words, and the vulgarity of the original meaning of some of them has been greatly watered down. However, I once sardonically referred to myself as a “shiksa” to a Jewish man, and he was horrified. He said “don’t you know what that means?!” I said I thought it simply meant gentile woman, but he said it actually means “crawling creature” and is a real insult and I shouldn’t label myself that way. So, it all depends on who your audience is! :)
I think I’ll stay away from it then. With the States, it’s sooo hard to tell who reacts how to certain words. Like… some people are really offended by the f-word, others have no issue with it at all.
Not using the controversial ones is the safer bet then :).
I understood it to be someone who was a bit of a doormat.
But doesn’t the word schmooze sound a lot like something a Schmuck would do?!
Schmooze just means chatting and gossiping, but I don’t think it’s a mean word— there other “sch” words in use from Yiddish, like schlemiel, schlimazel, schmendrik, schmeer….some of them are more negative, but some are a little affectionate, too, at least in my experience.
Schmooze is a good word. Mingle leaning towards networking.
So could you use that for a Christmas party at a co-working space? Like… as a description why you’re going?
Amerikanskan is 100% correct about the etymology and meaning of “schmuck.”
“toward the idea is today of fancy decoration” (toward today’s idea of fancy decoration – this is a suggestion, there are other ways of saying the same thing, but I thought this was the least “clunky”)
The poll made me laugh – I went for the twisted connection there!
This was my reasoning: calling someone a dickhead might possibly be interpreted as “decorating” their head with a dick – mind yoga or what?
Very strong your mind yoga has become, indeed :)!
A French friend of mine whose parents were Yiddish speakers assures me that “Schmuck” can even be used affectionately: his father would call him “petit Schmuck” like one would say “you little rascal”.
I was under the impression that schmuck in Yiddish referred specifically to the (i guess discarded) foreskin, not the whole dick. So in that way it’s kind of a little decoration ;)
But everyone else in the comments seems sure its the whole dick (well… Dick sans foreskin so therefore not whole actually, but let’s not start another political debate already, I’m barely recovered from Elon Musk)
XD… you should then stay away from the comment section of the actual video.
Despite my wordy comment, I didn‘t make it clear that although I see how Schmo could come from Schmuck, like dsng from damn, I don‘t KNOW that it does, not a linguist and wasn‘t there when someone said, „I wanna call him a Schmuck, but I gave up swearing for Lent (see what I did there? A Jew giving up swearing for Lent?) so I‘ll say Schmo instead of Schmuck.
And then I wasn‘t present after that to hear people admit that they were using Schmo to mean, fool, idiot, etc instead of Schmuck for a real Dick. (Not dickhead – that‘s more Schmo).
Schmuck is NOT English but rather Yiddish – ok, in AE (and pro‘lly BE) lotsa Yiddish words are integrated and used democratically by everyone.
Schmuck is a very vulgar word for the male genitalia. Calling someone a Schmuck is NOT calling them a dickhead, it‘s calling them a C**K.
Like Shitstorm in German, Schmuck gets used liberally by people with no feeling for the definition, which is good – it takes the edge off a word. But, ask any English speaker and we will tell you that hearing „Shitstorm“ on the news makes us prick up our ears for several reasons, one of them being that Shit is NOT a „news“ word. Just as a German wouldn‘t use Scheiße on the news.
Same for Schmuck. Having grown up hearing Yiddish (Grandparents Ukie Jews) I can tell you that Schmuck ain‘t English and it doesn‘t mean dickhead but rather a vulgar term for dick.
Sorry for no quotation marks around the words – thumbing this on a godforsaken smartphone.
Schmo sounds like it comes from Schmuck, just like dang it for damn it
usw. and means a fool, idiot, NOT a dick.
Can‘t say, not a linguist and I never understood how people „know“ where words come from – like who was there in the middle ages when someone said: I‘m gonna coin this new word by taking this finno-ugaric root meaning this to express this? Is this stuff documented? In my opinion, it‘s there with fake news and conspiracy theories. Make similar comments every year on this topic.
Schmuck = C**K
Yiddish, not English
Schmo = fool, moron, not to be confused with putz or schlamazel.
Ha, yeah, I know your dislike for etymology.
For what it’s worth… they’re not just making stuff up. They’re digging through old texts and do analysises of trends and so on. And they’re transparent when they’re not sure.
It’s quite common to have multiple theories where they can’t find conclusive evidence and then they’re left arguing forever.
Thank you for the background about Schmuck! I had no idea it was that offensive. I’ll make sure to NOT use it if I’m in the states, then.
Schmuck is totally usable (like Schicks) with Goyim (Yiddish for gentiles).
Most Jews use Schmuck as well, it having lost some of it‘s edge. But sound out your audience first. Like Shiksa, some find it very offensive.
Compare to many Yanks who take offense at swear words – I use lotsa 4-letter words but many take offense. Same with Schmuck and Shiksa: just because one uses them with no offense intended, doesn‘t mean that people won‘t find it offensive.
Remeber the „shitstorm“ a few years ago about you swearing in posts? Same same. That being said, I love swear words. Pro‘lly my own way to rebel after girl‘s boarding school where we weren‘t allowed to have an unaccompanied cigarette between our lips.
We do what we can.
Hahaha, I DO remember that!!! That’s actually why I will try and stay clear of vulgar swear terms (unless among friends only). It’s like playing minesweeper… you never really know when someone gets triggered by “f***” or “shit” or “Jesus”. I have decided to draw the line at “f***” but I will keep saying “shit”, because I can use my being German as an excuse :)
The best I could find is that “schmuck” probably comes from a Polish word “smok” that means something like dragon or snake-like creature. But there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer.
“Schmo” is apparently a shortened form that was invented so people didn’t have to say the full word, which is apparently pretty offensive in Yiddish.
The link is a little slow to load, but it’s the best source I could find.
As someone who grew up around Yiddish speakers, I am fairly certain that the word schmuck is not all that offensive within the Yiddish context, and I never heard the word schmoe in Yiddish. However, within the American English speaking context, schmuck was considered an obscenity. Thus I believe schmoe to be an American word, not Yiddish, which was used as a substitute for schmuck.
In American english Male genitalia is often referred to as “jewelry”, ur; “the family jewels”. It is in this same sense that the Yiddish/Deutsch “Schmuck” refers to male genitalia.
kein schwer vorstellbar, ja?
You mean “Nicht schwer vorstellbar” :).
But yeah, the connection makes sense. Christmas decoration is often hanging balls, after all.
Hi Emanuel the audio is repeated for two of the sentences. My oma and mother used to wear a smock. So, the word s still used for an outer garment worn to protect one’s clothing. Painters wear smocks too.
And so did farm workers.