Schmuck or shmuck in American English is a pejorative meaning one who is stupid or foolish; or an obnoxious, contemptible or detestable person. The word entered English from Yiddish (שמאָק, shmok), where it has similar pejorative meanings, but its original meaning in Yiddish is penis. Because of its vulgarity, the word is euphemized as schmoe, which was the source of Al Capp's cartoon strip creature the shmoo. Variants include schmo and shmo.
In Jewish homes, the word was "regarded as so vulgar as to be taboo." Lenny Bruce, a Jewish standup comedian, wrote that the use of the word during his performances in 1962 led to his arrest on the West Coast "by a Yiddish undercover agent who had been placed in the club several nights running to determine if [his] use of Yiddish terms was a cover for profanity."
The German word Schmuck means "jewelry, adornments"; In German the pejorative "schmuck" would be Schmock, closer to the original Yiddish word. The transition of the word from meaning "jewel" to meaning "penis" is related to the description of a man's genitals as "the family jewels."
The Online Etymology Dictionary derives it from Eastern Yiddish shmok, literally "penis," from Old Polish smok, "grass snake, dragon," but Leo Rosten cites Dr. Shlomo Noble of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research as saying that shmok derives from shmuck and not the other way around.
However, according to the lexicographer Michael Wex, the author of How to Be a Mentsh (And Not a Shmuck), the Yiddish and German "schmucks" are completely unrelated. "Basically, the Yiddish word comes out of baby talk," Wex said. "A little boy’s penis is a shtekl, a 'little stick.' Shtekl became shmeckle, in a kind of baby-rhyming thing, and shmeckle became shmuck. Shmeckle is prepubescent and not a dirty word, but shmuck, the non-diminutive, became obscene."
- Gross, David C. English-Yiddish, Yiddish-English Dictionary: Romanized Hippocrene Books, 1995. p.144. ISBN 0-7818-0439-6
- A Google search indicates the widespread belief that "schmuck" originally referred to the piece of foreskin removed during circumcision, but no authoritative source has been found to support this belief.
- Rosten, Leo. The Joys of Yiddish. New York, Pocket Books, 1968. pp. 360-362
- "Schmuck". dictionary.com. Retrieved 17 Jan 2011.
- Rosten, Leo. The New Joy of Yiddish. Crown Publishers, New York, 2001. pgs. 78, 162. ISBN 0-609-60785-5
- Paley, Maggie. The Book of the Penis New York: Grove Press, 2000. p.78. ISBN 0802136931
- "Schmuck" Leo – Online German-English Dictionary. Retrieved 13 Mar 2010, the pp. 360-362
- Rosten, Leo. Hooray for Yiddish! New York: Simons and Schuster, 1982. ISBN 0-671-43025-4
- "Schmuck" in Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 17 Jan 2011.
- Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Sister Schmuck Takes A Stand". The Atlantic (May 2011)
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