Schlemiel (Yiddish: שלומיאל; sometimes spelled shlemiel or shlumiel) is a Yiddish term meaning "inept/incompetent person" or "fool". It is a common archetype in Jewish humor, and so-called "schlemiel jokes" depict the schlemiel falling into unfortunate situations.
The inept schlemiel is often presented alongside the unlucky schlimazel. A Yiddish saying explains that "a schlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup and a schlimazel is the person it lands on". The schlemiel is similar to the schmuck but, as stated in a 2010 essay in The Forward, a schmuck can improve himself while a schlemiel is "irredeemably what they are".
The etymology of the term is unsure. Ernest Klein in his Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language suggests that the word comes from the Hebrew term shelo mo'il, meaning "useless". Another theory is that the word is derived from the name Shelumiel, an Israeli chieftain.
Heyse and some other etymologists suggest that the name comes from the words "shlomi" + "el" in the meaning "God is my salvation", i.e., a Schlemiel hopes that God will save him.
The term was popularized by the name of Peter Schlemihl, the main character of a 19th century novella by Adelbert von Chamisso.
According to Harvard University literature professor Ruth Wisse, the schlemiel as a type emerges in the Yiddish literature of the period of Jewish emancipation.
- An archetype shlemiel entrepreneur is Menahem-Mendl of Sholem Aleichem.
- In a 1944 essay, Hannah Arendt argues that Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character is a schlemiel whose only comfort is "the kindness and humanity of casual acquaintances".
- Many of Woody Allen's films feature Allen portraying a schlemiel type, particularly in his relations with women.
- Larry David's character on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm serves as a modern schlemiel, encountering "problems that affect contemporary middle- to upper-class American Jews".
- In the sitcom Seinfeld, George Costanza "follows the pattern of the classic schlemiel", with Jerry Seinfeld's character serving as his schlimazel.
- The 1995 Israeli-European animated feature The Real Shlemiel centers on a village of schlemiels, with its rabbi even taking it as a given name.
- Software engineer Joel Spolsky coined the term Schlemiel the Painter's algorithm in 2001, based on a Yiddish joke, to describe a certain type of inefficient software method.
- The titular character of the 2004 comedy film Napoleon Dynamite embodies the traits of the schlemiel, according to researcher David Buchbinder.
- In the drama series The O.C. (2003–2007), Seth Cohen's personality "is self-deprecating and in line with that of past schlemiels".
- In the 2009 film A Serious Man directed by the Coen brothers, the character of Larry Gopnik is depicted as a schlemiel.
- In "Park Safety", a 2010 episode of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson states that his clumsy coworker Jerry "is both the schlemiel and the schlimazel".
- In Thomas Pynchon's novel V., the protagonist Benny Profane is identified as a schlemiel numerous times.
- ^ Harkavy, Alexander (1925). Yidish-English-Hebreyisher Verterbukh (in Yiddish). New York City: Alexander Harkavy.[page needed]
- ^ "Schlemiel Jokes | My Jewish Learning". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ Kibrick, Barry (2015-11-09). "Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ "Etiquette for Schmucks, Schlemiels, Schlimazels and Schmendriks". The Forward. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ "shlemiel". www.balashon.com. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ "Shelumiel – The First Schlemiel?". The Forward. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ a b Zeldner, Max (1953). "A Note on "Schlemiel"". The German Quarterly. 26 (2): 115–117. doi:10.2307/401795. JSTOR 401795.
- ^ The Shlemiel as a Modern Hero, by Ruth Wisse, University of Chicago Press, 1971. Review: Avni, Abraham. Comparative Literature, vol. 25, no. 4, 1973, pp. 361–363. JSTOR 1769513
- ^ Arendt, Hannah (1944). "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition". Jewish Social Studies. 6 (2): 99–122. JSTOR 4464588.
- ^ Feuer, Menachem (2013). "The Schlemiel in Woody Allen's Later Films". In Bailey, Peter; Girgus, Sam (eds.). A Companion to Woody Allen. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 403–423. doi:10.1002/9781118514870.ch19. ISBN 9781118514870.
- ^ Gillota, David (2010-11-22). "Negotiating Jewishness: Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Schlemiel Tradition". Journal of Popular Film & Television. 38 (4): 152–161. doi:10.1080/01956051003725244. ISSN 0195-6051. S2CID 143932889.
- ^ Johnson, Carla (1994-07-01). "The Schlemiel and the Schlimazl in Seinfeld". Journal of Popular Film & Television. 22 (3): 116–124. doi:10.1080/01956051.1994.9943676. ISSN 0195-6051.
- ^ Buchbinder, David (Summer 2008). "Enter the Schlemiel: the emergence of inadequate or incompetent masculinities in recent film and television". Canadian Review of American Studies. 38 (2): 227–245. doi:10.3138/cras.38.2.227.
- ^ Olson, Tamara. "Popular Representations of Jewish Identity on TV: The Case of The O.C.". Digital Commons at Macalester College.
- ^ Denby, David (2009-09-28). "Gods And Victims". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ "J. Hoberman Reviews the Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- ^ Garber, Megan. "The Downtrodden Jerry Gergich Is the True Hero of Parks and Recreation". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-11-17.