A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Jeopardy. Come to think of it, it was celebrity Jeopardy. One of the categories that night was “Yiddish Words That Start With ‘Sch'”. Words like schnoze, schlemiel and schmear. Although I only know the very basics of the Yiddish language, it makes me sad to know that so few people actually speak it and that someday soon, it will probably be a forgotten language.
The thing I love about Yiddish words are they are so expressive. Is there a better word to describe some guy who is a major jerk than putz or schmuck. Actually, they both mean they same thing. A person who complains is a kvetch, which even sounds like like a person who complains.
Many people learned a few words of Yiddish through those cultural icons…Laverne and Shirley. “Shlemiel! Shlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated.” Millions of Americans singing their favorite TV show theme song without having a clue as to what it all meant. It was all Greek to them (well, not really).
Last summer, my daughter dated a very nice young man who happened not to be a member of the tribe. I don’t think they really bothered her until she asked for a bagel with schmear for breakfast and he wanted to know what a schmear was. What a schmear is? Are you kidding? The whole world knows what a schmear is. It’s a schmear. To me, a schmear is not a Yiddish word or a Jewish word, it’s a word you putz. What kind of schmuck doesn’t know a schmear is. Well, that was the end of that goy…I mean guy.
Another favorite is shtik, which I’m known for. Always makes me laugh when it’s mispronounced as stik. Listen, if you are going to use an expression at least know how to pronounce it. When you say it wrong, you sound like a schmendrick. I’m also known as a schmoozer because…well because I like to schmooze.
Of course there’s schmaltz, which literally translated means chicken fat or grease but is often used to describe something that is overly sentimental or corny. If you didn’t know that well then you probably don’t know babkes.
The good news about Yiddish is all the words I have used above have become part of the mainstream modern American English and will probably live on for generations. Many people will never know where these words come from but it makes me happy to know that part of my heritage and culture will live on.
Let me finish by saying that you shouldn’t be so meshugenner. Just be a mensch and tell some friends about my blog so that maybe I can figure out a way to make a couple of bucks off this kakameyme thing.