|Slang City Mail|
|July 3 , 2003|
Slang of the Week: schmuck
My charming colleague Michele recently took a trip to Austria, where she was shocked to see "schmuck" stores. After asking a friend, she discovered that they don't sell schmucks there (at least not the American kind) - they were jewelry stores. But both of these meanings come from the same root.
Originally, schmuck meant decoration or ornament in German. It's easy to see how that would become a word for jewelry, but what about the other meaning? In Yiddish (a language related to German, spoken primarily by European Jews), schmuck means penis, and you can still use it this way, though it's less usual than the first meaning. Apparently at one time, a man's schmuck was considered decorative. This is similar to the slang expression family jewels (testicles).
Many Yiddish speakers moved to the United States, and we adopted a lot of their slang. Eventually, like other "dangerous" body parts (ass, dick, etc.), schmuck became an insult for people. Of course, because of it's Yiddish meaning, it is considered offensive by some people (though not very). If you're concerned, you can always use the more polite variation schmo (also schmoe) instead for fool. If you're interested in this week's topic, our body parts page and insult page have many similar expressions. Check them out!
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