Yiddish in English – an endless debate

Dear Reader,

In his recent post on diablog, Pete introduced a few Yiddish words. And already his first one opens a debate.

Nobody will disagree, shmuk can mean idiot, or “S.O.B”.
Common knowledge also says, it is highly offensive and rude.

But the roots and its original meaning are something very different.
A shmuck is a penis.

It might come from the (old) German “Schmuck”, meaning decoration or jewelry. That seems logical, as you Brits refer to a penis as the crown jewels, or non-royals as family jewels.
If you don’t believe me, check Leo Rosten, who’s brilliant book, The New Joys of Yiddish, I had recommended earlier on diablog.

Another school says, it comes from the (old) Polish word smok, meaning snake or dragon. The connection is obvious.

Yet another lexicographer says:

“A little boy’s penis is a shtekl, a ‘little stick.’ Shtekl became shmeckle, in a kind of baby-rhyming thing, and shmeckle became shmuck. Shmeckle is prepubescent and not a dirty word, but shmuck, the non-diminutive, became obscene.”

If you want to find more Yiddish words, that made their way into English, preferably less offensive ones, read Leo Rosten. Or Wikipedia, it already has a list of English words of Yiddish origin, and a list of Yiddish words used in English.

See, even Wikipedia can’t agree on one list. I love debating.

Have an easy fast tomorrow,
Engine Room

One Reply to “Yiddish in English – an endless debate”

  1. What an understatement ! ER admits to loving debating. We would never have known this.
    Great Autumn in Vienna. 28 degrees today.

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