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Puttin' on the Shmutz

Puttin' on the Shmutz

Excerpts from the New English-Yiddish Dictionary.

by Scott Blumenthal

I know some Yiddish, just not enough to form a sentence. But it's not in its subjects and predicates that the language flourishes today. Rather, it's in its daily shmear. In the well-placed shpilkes, kvell, and futzing. It's the exclamation point with which we pepper our daily repartee ("Stop calling me. You are such a nudnik."). It is the salve with which our mothers soothe our troubled souls ("What, better you never see this meeskeit again anyway. Stop with the pity party and eat your kugel."). It is the code with which lovers, fused by a veneration only they understand, exchange endearments ("You want Harold should eat lactose, what with his stomach tsores?"). It's woven into the fabric of our lives.

Though my own command of the language is limited to a handful of words, I have taken it upon myself to pen what is, as of this date, the highly theoretical New English-Yiddish Dictionary for the Well-Intentioned. Here's what I have so far:

shmutz (shmoots) n. any undesirable substance; squalor. Normally associated with anything that may stain a shirt.The last time I went to Crystal Palace, I got egg foo yung shmutz all over me. Also shmutzy.

schmaltzy (shmawltsee) adj. ostentatious; full of bravado; pretentious. Often associated with show business or Chinese restaurants. Morris, let's go to the smorgasbord place down the street; it isn't as shmaltzy.

shmear (shmir) n. a lump; a shapeless mass. Normally though not strictly edible, generally used as a condiment or relish. Forget Chinese tonight, Morris; let's stay home, watch "Dancing With the Stars," and have a bagel with a shmear. Also v. Just shmear it on there, Barbara.

shpiel (shpeel) n. wordy explanation; direction; collection or accumulation of any kind. Often used in conjunction with the word "whole." You don't have to give him your whole shpiel, Morris; just order the General Tsao's without water chestnuts. Also: Order the pu-pu platter and the egg drop soup with a wonton in it -- the whole shpiel, Morris.

shmatte (shma•ta) n. fragment of cloth; a scrap; an article of clothing of low quality. Morris, you're not going to Crystal Palace wearing that shmatte.

shmegeggie (shma•ge•gee) n. Not Yiddish, but adopted as such. A derogatory term; a clumsy or uncouth person. Morris, don't be such a shmegeggie and just take the water chestnuts OFF. Generally interchangeable with shlemiel.

shtick (shtik) n. routine; eccentricity; a person's "specialty." What, I'm going to pay $40 at a Japanese restaurant when half the money is to watch the knife guy, what with his chopping shtick? Then I'm supposed to tip him on top of that? Also shticky. If you want shticky, go already. I'll be at Crystal Palace.

October 20, 2007

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Bernard Yablin, March 31, 2008 8:08 AM

Current Yiddish

Add to Leo Rosten and Michael Wex.

(13) Michael Woolf, October 30, 2007 12:25 PM

Love to see the book.

Where can one buy it and what does it cost.

(12) Anonymous, October 24, 2007 1:26 PM

stop the trend to stoop to cass humor and call it Yiddish Humor...........................

Must you contribute to the DUMBING Down of Yiddish and Yiddish humor...Many of us know Yiddih by expressions...but why only low humor....Yiddish and ikts culture deserves a lot more !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(11) OLGA HILL, October 23, 2007 7:23 PM

How much for this book?

I can't believe I knew the meaning of every word, so I'll buy this book and try to find something I don't already know.

(10) Suzan Orchard-Farris, October 23, 2007 5:20 PM

Schmutzels are good

My dear Aunt Ethel would point to her cheek and say, "How about a little schmutzel?" After which I would gladly give her a kiss on the cheek.
As far as I know... schmutz means dirt and you must admit, there is nothing dirtier than the human mouth (saliva). And so, it is an apt expression, but also a very sweet one.
And yes, saliva will stain a shirt, but it is not necessarily unwanted dirt. The chocolate that stained the shirt was far from unwanted.
However, if one says, "Her house is full of schumtz." That is another matter.

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