German Advent Calendar 22 – Look at this Schmuck

Written By: Emanuel Updated: December 29, 2021

Yourprettygerman Advent Calendar


Look at this Schmuck


Hello everyone,

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.”
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Thomas verkauft Marias Schmuck um in Crypto zu investieren.
  • Thomas sells Marias jewelry to invest in crypto.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • 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 :)


Do you think German "Schmuck" (jewelry) and Englisch Schmuck (dickhead) are related?

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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 :)

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