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July 3 , 2003

Slang of the Week: schmuck (noun)
obnoxious person or fool

Example:
Not only was I late for the movie, but some schmuck had parked his Corvette diagonally across the last two parking spaces. I'll bet it was the same guy who answered his cell phone during the love scene.

Celebrity quote:
"I see it more as a silent comedy in the style of Buster Keaton, the kind of film where you see a poor schmuck trying to go with his life despite all the humilations and disappointments that come with it."
-Jack Nicholson on the movie About Schnmidt

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!

What’s new at Slang City?
We explore the South with Greetings From North Carolina! Take a look at examples of real slang in newspapers, bumper stickers, and store signs from the small town of Black Mountain, NC. See if you can find our bonus opossum recipe!