Saturday, May 9, 2009

What a schmuck!

Most of you are probably familiar with the word "schmuck," which comes from Yiddish and is usually used to mean a jerk. You are perhaps unaware that the literal translation from the Yiddish is "dick." Yes, I mean that part of the male anatomy.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that "schmuck," or "shmook," as it is pronounced in German, means "jewelry." Note that surprise = hysterically immature laughter whenever I saw a sign that said "schmuck."

Yiddish was the language of Jews from Eastern and Central Europe until WWII. Very few people speak Yiddish now, much to the regret of my grandfather, who still speaks it fluently and enjoys the days when there's someone at the Jewish Community Center with whom who he can "speak a few words of Jewish." Yiddish is a mix of mostly German words with a little bit of Hebrew and some other Eastern European languages thrown in, and is written with Hebrew characters. Many Yiddish words have entered common parlance in America - schmuck, putz, schmutz, chutzpah, tchatchke.... the list goes on. I was excited to learn that a tisch, which is part of the wedding reception in some Jewish weddings, means table in German, and to see nasch, which we use to mean a snack, figure into the Naschmarkt.

So I leave you with this reflection in Yiddish from my grandfather: Mein schweigen sol sein gebern.

Translation: my silence is my answer.

(Apologies to any who actually speak German and are horrified at my poor transliteration of that phrase - I have rudimentary knowledge of German pronounciation from singing it so many times in choruses, but that's about as far as it goes.)


parlez-vous-kiwi said...

Hahaha loved this post.

I can sometimes be immature when travelling and see words in their language that are hilarious in English. I even took photos. Oops.

Zhu said...

Given your explanations, I'm not sure if I would walk thought that passage... I'm picturing weird stuffs :D

au soleil levant said...

Glad you guys enjoyed the schmuck signs...

Zhu, you crack me up.