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Ineffectual people: words from Yiddish Login/Join
 
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quote:
"In the vocabulary of character-types, nebekh stands (along with nudnick, shlemiel, shlimazl, shnuk, shmendrick, yold, Chaim Yankel, shlepper) in that pantheon of special Yiddish words coined to describe the ineffectuals of this world.
- Leo Rosten, Treasure for Jewish Quotations
This week we'll enjoy such Yiddish words that have come into English. We'll notice the fine distinctions and gradations of ineffectualness. And we'll take heavily from Rosten's New Joys of Yiddish. (AHD has many of these words, as "slang", but its definitions are vapid and, I think, imprecise.)

Let's start with a matched pair words. Each of these words carries a distinct note of pity, not contempt.

schlemiel – a foolish simpleton, a hard-luck victim type, a born loser. Proverb: "The schlemiel falls on his back and breaks his nose." [Subsidiary meanings: a butterfingered, all-thumbs type; or, a social misfit; or, a pipsqueak, a nobody. Rhymes with "reveal".]
-- Roston: "Can a brilliant or learned man be a schlemiel? Of course he can; man a savant is: the absentminded professor, the impractical genius, are paradigms."

schlimazel – a chronically unlucky person, for whom nothing seems to turn out well; a born "loser". [Rhymes with "thin nozzle". From German schlimm "bad" + Hebrew mazel "luck".]
Proverbs:
  • When a schlimazel sells umbrellas, the sun comes out.
  • From mazel to schlimazel is but a tiny step; but from schlimazel to mazel – oh, is that far!
The two terms seem similar, but schlemiel carries the concept of maladroit: Rosten explains: "A schlemiel can make a fortune through sheer luck; a schlimazel loses a fortune through bad luck. A gifted, able talented man is no schlemiel, but he may run into such bad luck that he is a schlimazel. A schlemiel is a man who is always spilling hot soup – down the neck of a schlimazel."
 
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A book I read in college written by Adalbert von Chamisso (a French aristocrat born and raised in Berlin, because of the revolution) is called Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (Peter Schlemihl's Wonderful Story). It's about a young man who sells his shadow to the devil and then wonders why dogs growl at him and children are frightened by him. Chamisso also visited California in 1813 or thereabouts and was the first person to describe the California poppy. He was the botanist on board the Rurik, a Prussian ship contracting to the Russian Empire. It visited Fort Ross in Sonoma county and the Presidio in San Francisco. (When I lived in Bonn, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of Yiddish loanwords in German.)
 
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And to completely take this out of the realm of intelligent conversation.....

Anyone remember the show Laverne and Shirley? Remember the theme song? It included what certainly sounded like these words. (And, when you mentioned a "matched pair of words", I immediately had that theme song come to mind. Wink
 
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Yes, Lori, those were the exact words spoken at the beginning of that theme song. The verse was part of an old rope-jumping refrain.

And...

quote:
Originally posted by jheem:
A book by... ...Adalbert von Chamisso... ...about a young man who sells his shadow to the devil...

Wonder What it Cost to Ship?

Higgledy Piggledy
Adalbert Whatsizname
Wrote about Peter, a
Clever young man,

Pitching to Lucifer
Entrepaneurally
"Shadows for sale on the
"Lay-away plan!"


OK, so "Adalbert Whatsizname" is a complete cheat but that first name is such a great dactyl. Plus, I did restrain myself from exploring the possibilities of "Shadow's for sale" so that should be worth something.

Overall, a C+.
 
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CJ, does "entrepaneurally" mean "between breads"? Roll Eyes

(retires, whistling innocently Wink)
 
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klutz – a clod; a clumsy, slow-witted, graceless person (Rosten)
Wordcrafter's gloss: 1) At root the word klutz is contemptuous (not with the pitying note of schlemiel and schlimazel), but has come to be used in friendly familiar deprecation. 2) The klutz's clumsiness can be either physical ineptness or social ineptness; the latter usage has probably become more common.
quote:
For a man recently returned to office with a massive majority, Peter Beattie is doing an excellent impersonation of a political klutz. Sacking ministerial staffer Teresa Mullan for taking a bottle of wine on a flight into the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River, where alcohol is banned, was a harsh over-reaction. But the Queensland Premier's subsequent behaviour over the incident has been bizarre. A week after firing Ms Mullan, Mr Beattie has changed his mind and appointed her to his staff. This is after she admitted lying to police over the offending bottle of plonk, and publicly questioned the honesty of her former boss, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Liddy Clark, and her new employer, the Premier.
– The Australian, March 12, 2004

Prime Minister Paul Martin's wife Sheila told a biographer that her husband was such a kitchen klutz, he couldn't cook his favourite meal --Kraft's macaroni-and-cheese classic -- which is about as complicated as boiling water. At the time, Harper had declared that not only could he prepare the stuff, but sometimes went hog wild and added wieners to the mix.
– Don Martin, Calgary Herald, March 16, 2004
Bonus word:
plonk
- Brit/Aus slang: cheap, inferior wine
 
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Well, Adalbert Chamisso works as a double dactyl. Better to cut off his von than obliterate his family name. BTW, there's a Chamissoplatz in Berlin. I seem to remember the shadow being sold in person not by parcel post.
 
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OK, first off, "entrepreneur" is one of those words that I just got sick and tired of having to consistently look up to confirm the spelling off (along with "occasion," "consistent" [with no "A"], "stationery" [meaning writing paper], and a number of others) so one day I sat down and simply forced myself to memorize the correct spellings. Seeing as how "entrepaneur" was the result of me being sure I didn't need to check myself with Dictionary.com, I suppose I'll have to sit myself down again.

And I would have gone with "Adalbert Chamisso" but I assumed the stress in "Chamisso" fell on the "MIS." (calls for a DD sequel: )


Docking Myself a Full Grade for Poor Spelling

Higgledy Piggledy,
Adalbert Chamisso
Star of a DD that
We won't discuss.

jheem proposses a
"Surname-von-ectomy."
This one's a "C" but the
First one? "D+."


And, granted, that's a shaky "C" at best. I promise to try to cut back on my admittedly bad habit of coining mildly preposterous 6th line words.
 
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schmendrick – a Caspar Milqueoast; a kind of schlemiel – but weak and thin. (A schlemiel can be physically impressive, but not a schmendrick. A schmendrick is small, short, weak, thin, a young nebbish, perhaps an apprentice schlemiel.) ALSO: 2. a pipsqueak; a no-account.

Rosten's example: A woman began to beat her schmendrick of a husband, who crawled under the bed. "Come out!" she cried. "No!" he said. "I'll show you who's boss in this house!"
quote:
From Napolean at the Movies [TCM network webpage describing four movies depiction Napolean]:
It was a schmendrick from Brooklyn who delivered the final blow to the exalted memory of the French Emperor. In Love and Death (1975), Woody Allen played Boris, an intellectual Russian landowner recruited to serve in the Army.
Schmendrick can also be used as derisive and miniaturizing slang for penis.
 
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shlepper – a drag, a drip, a jerk, a maladroit performer;
also, someone unkempt, untidy, run-down-at-the heels (Rosten)
quote:
The Rebbe [rabbi] looked up. Standing there in a tattered, oversized coat, a battered hat, with two pitiful eyes staring out from beneath, was Pinchas the Shlepper, the poorest Jew in town. He was the town porter and the downtrodden local doormat; people could wipe their feet on him and not even notice.
– Hasidic tale, on-line

But while rabbis may come and go, the lay leaders of the synagogue must attempt to keep the enterprise going, irrespective of whether their religious leader is a superstar who can pack the pews or just an uninspired shlepper.
– Jonathan Tobin, Take My Rabbi ... Please, Jewish World Review, August 12, 2002
But the word schlepper has a variety of usages. To schlep is to carry or drag onerously ("Don't shlep those packages; let the store deliver them"), so the literal meaning of shlepper is "a porter". A porter's job is drudge work, serving as a beast of burden, perhaps leading to AHD's definition, "shlepper: a clumsy or stupid person". Retail salesmen can refer to their customers as "shleppers".
 
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My favorite example of the use of this word provides an apt illustration:

"All day long the sun was out and there I was schlepping this stupid umbrella all around town!"
 
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nebbish – an innocuous, inneffectual unfortunate; a "loser". First cousin to a schlemiel, but more to be pitied. A nebbish is the kind of person who always picks up what a schlemiel knocks over.

It's worth quoting at length from Franklin Foer of The New Repubic Magazine, who mused about "nebish" and distinguished it from "nerd".
quote:
The popular parlance conflates nerd with nebbish. But the overlap between the two concepts is not large

While one could build a Nerd Hall of Fame, nebbishes are almost always anonymous. By definition, nebbishes are whiners, lacking self-confidence, generally inept, and on the losing end of social transactions—all characteristics that work against their ever achieving fame. The only famous nebbishes are fictional characters: George Costanza, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimple the Fool, George McFly in Back to the Future, and virtually anyone played by Woody Allen or Rick Moranis.

Other attributes: 1) Nebbishes are necessarily schlumpy, never handsome or physically robust. 2) The term is usually applied to men—often implying effeminacy. ... 3) Few nebbishes are actually nerds or intellectuals—some Woody Allen characters excepted. They lack the nerd’s enterprise and obsessivesness. By contrast, many nerds can be handsome (Gore) or self-confident to the point of arrogance (Gates, Gingrich).

At the heart of the nerd–nebbish divide is pity. Nebbishes are too pathetic to warrant actual disdain. They are too easy a target. On the other hand, nerds evoke envy. We hate them because they are smarter, or more studious, or more focused than we are. Nerds are genuinely threatening.

Nebbishes will never ascend to the heights of nerds. There will be no Revenge of the Nebbishes, no nebbish liberation. A nebbish could never gain real power. More easily, one can imagine nebbishes banding together to promote a nebbish agenda, kvetching that they are systematically discriminated against, demanding Nebbish Studies at universities, and complaining that history textbooks treat them as losers. But only a schmegegge would ever bet on a nebbish.
 
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schnook – a timid schlemiel, a meek patsy; also: a Sad Sack, more to be pitied than despised. A schnook is pathetic but likable. (Rosten)
quote:
The chief chiselers are Walter Matthau, an ambulance-chasing legal eagle, and Jack Lemmon, his schnook brother-in-law, a television cameraman whom Matthau entices into an elaborate, one-million-dollar insurance swindle after Lemmon is slightly roughed up.
- Vincent Canby, The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made, reviewing The Fortune Cookie
Think of a Jack Lemmon character, and you think of a schnook.
 
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schmo; shmo - 1. a boob, a schlemiel; a hapless, clumsy, unlucky jerk 2. an average nobody, a man-in the street; "Joe Shmo," like "Joe Blow," is a slightly more colorful way to say "John Doe." (Rosten)
quote:
Surveys on American giving routinely demonstrate that people earning more than $1 million (that includes you, celebs) give less than 1 percent of their income to charity. Of course, even that tiny sliver of, say, Julia Roberts's income would be a heckuva lot more than the average schmo's United Way contribution.
– Hank Stuever, Question Celebrity, Washington Post, March 28, 2004

... "Love and Taxes," Josh Kornbluth's amusing one-man show about his sad-sack journey into the heart of fiduciary darkness. Balding and stocky, and wearing a print shirt and black slacks, Kornbluth presents himself as an average schmo with brains.
– Peter Marks, Love and Taxes: Lien Times, Richly Revisited, Washington Post, March 1, 2004
Al Capp modified 'shmo' to create the shmoo character in his L'il Abner comic strip. From this enjoyable site: This "unusual creature loved humans, laid eggs and bottles of Grade A milk in an instant, and would gladly die and change itself into a sizzling steak if its owner merely looked at it hungrily. ... The Shmoo was an unprecedented media and merchandise phenomenon (1948-52). America went Shmoo-crazy. There had never previously been anything like it."
 
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Great site, wordcrafter. Considering how very popular they were (they even airdropped them in Berlin!), I am surprised that I haven't heard of them.

The schmoo seems to be a lovable creature. How does that relate to a schmo?
 
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I am doing Yiddish words on Wordcraftjr this week. Someone sent me an e-mail using the word "kitschy," and I thought it would be a great Yiddish word to use. However, when I looked it up, all the sites said that the etymology was German, but nothing indicated that it was actually Yiddish. It sure sounds Yiddish. Does anyone know if it is?
 
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Kitsch is not in Weinreich's Yiddish-English dictionary, but it is in Harkavy's, except as an iterjection 'hush'. I looked it up in Kluge's etymological German dictionary, and it's there. The origin he gives from 1870 in Munich from the English word sketch. When people sold pictures that weren't worth much, they listed them as sketches instead of paintings. But it seems doubtful to me. Hope that helps.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I would have thought it Yiddish. The AHD said that it's "German, probably of dialectal origin," and I wasn't sure if that meant it was Yiddish or not since Yiddish is a dialect of German.

The AHD gave this wonderful sentence using "kitsch": “The kitsch kitchen … has aqua-and-white gingham curtains and rubber duck-yellow walls painted in a fried-egg motif” (Suzanne Cassidy, New York Times 8/30/93).
 
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