May 6, 2010, - 12:43 pm

Meet the New York Times’ New Linguist, Debbie Schlussel: NYT Quotes Me on the Meaning of “Schmuck”

By Debbie Schlussel

Debbie Schlussel — a kind of all-purpose film critic, political commentator and Web opinion spinner

The New York Times


It’s not the first time the New York Times has cited and quoted me, but it’s definitely the best description of me they’ve given. This week, the nation’s most liberal mainstream media newspaper, the one known as “the newspaper of record,” even cites me with approval as the paper’s Yiddish expert and confirms my Yiddish linguist skills are solid. All those years of listening to my parents and grandparents speaking Yiddish when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying (after we figured out the Hebrew they spoke before that), finally paid off. I wonder what my late father and grandparents would say if they knew the New York Times quoted me on the meaning of the word “schmuck.” Hmmm . . . . Here’s the full quote:

A few weeks ago, Debbie Schlussel — a kind of all-purpose film critic, political commentator and Web opinion spinner — took issue not just with the trailer promoting “Dinner for Schmucks,” about which she wrote on her Web site,, “it looks like utter garbage,” but also with its use of Yiddish.

“The more correct title would have been ‘Dinner for Schlemiels,’ ” Ms. Schlussel insisted, if the filmmakers were trying to describe the geeky behavior displayed Mr. Carell in the pratfall-filled trailer.

The Online Etymology Dictionary would seem to agree, as a schlemiel is described as an “awkward, clumsy person,” while the sort of “contemptible person” referred to in the title would seem more like the characters, one of them played by Paul Rudd, who act like jerks by giving the dinner.

While I can’t really speak a lot of Yiddish, I can understand it quite well, and I’m working on it with books in my collection.  But I love etymology.  Having learned Russian, French, Hebrew, and Arabic, I’m always interested in the similarities between various words, roots, and conjugation in these languages.

By the way, if you click on over to the New York Times story and aren’t familiar with the word in the title, meshugas [pronounced “Mi-shuh-GOSS”] means “craziness.”

That’s probably how I’d have described the idea of the New York Times citing me on the meaning of one of the most crude words in the Yiddish language, had someone predicted it.  But, hey, I’ll take it.

Thanks to New York Times reporter Michael Cieply for recognizing my work in “Movie Title Meshugas.”

More on the word, “schmuck,” at Schmuck U.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

32 Responses

Yes, my question was: what is a definition for “schmuck”?!!


goldenmike4393 on May 6, 2010 at 1:12 pm

My father used “Schmuck” all the time and I always thought it was a German word he learned from his German born father. As it turns out he picked it up in high school in Milwaukee from his Jewish friends. Great word. So descriptive and so fun to say.

Kaiser Sozay on May 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Kaiser, Schmuck really is a valid word in German too. But in German, you have to spell it with a capitol “S” as all German nouns begin with capitol letters. In German, Schmuck means jewellery.

    Greg Solomon on May 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

[Debie – All those years of listening to my parents and grandparents speaking Yiddish when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying]

Oh the memories …

I_AM_ME on May 6, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Well, the New York Times can come up with something from time to time that is worthwhile. I am glad that you got that recognition.

worry01 on May 6, 2010 at 2:43 pm

You Rock Debbie!!

CaliforniaScreaming on May 6, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Good job, Debbie!

DS_ROCKS! on May 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I really thought it was Jewish slang for the part cut off during circumscision adapted for a type of bozo.

G on May 6, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Debbie you really opened up some memories for me, of my family sitting around in the back yard of our house in NYC, speaking in several different languages all at the same time; German, Polish, Yiddish, Russian and English. Long ago days, long gone now. But a nice memory. Thanks.

kenny komodo on May 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Google Translate does Yiddish (not so well though), so in theory you can browse the entire Internet in Yiddish! is where start, this page:

Give Google an A for effort.

Jewish Marksman on May 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

The libs pretend they don’t care what conservatives are saying or doing, but we know better. They hang on every word and kibbutz accordingly.

Seymour Del-Uziens on May 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I also love etymology and Hebrew!

Here’s what I wrote about the etymology of schlemiel:

Dave (Balashon) on May 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Now, that I learned the meaning of schmuck, what is a “putz”?

Patrick on May 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I learned all my Yiddish slang from Seinfeld.

Kramer on May 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Well, nice that they quoted you but they picked just about the most base way possible to do it. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a trend and they will quote you on more weighty topics in the future.

Little Al on May 6, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Congratulations on your being mentioned in the New York Times.

Like Little Al at 7:52 pm, I also hope that you will be mentioned and quoted on more important topics in the future.

JeffE on May 6, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Have you ever noticed that all Yiddish epithets begin with the letters “SCH?” Schmuck, Schlamiel, Schlamazzel, Schnook, Schtoonk, Schlub and on and on. Depending on the longevity and popularity of this website, perhaps in the not too distant future, people will begin insulting loudmouthed pushy women by calling them “Schlussels.”

Daniel H on May 7, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Y’all forgot one of my all-time favorites: “Schmegegge”, a term that could also be liberally applied to Bill Maher.

    c9mice on May 7, 2010 at 11:25 am

    You putz! Gay khaken offin yam!

    Doda McCheesle on May 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Daniel H. At best, you are a schmegeggie

    Cat K on August 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

The meaning of “schmuck”: from German, it literally means “jewel” and it has come to mean in Yiddish “family jewels” in other words, male genitals. G and Patrick: “putz” means the end of the penis. Also, demotically, in means a complete idiot, with the implication that the idiot is malicious.

I always wanted to open an account at the Schmuck Bank in Switzerland, just so I could have checks printed with “Schmuck Bank”.

Lucinda on May 7, 2010 at 2:33 am

Yiddish words may well be the most descriptive by sound, of any language. The sound of ‘Schlemiel’ to me, infers that type of person it. Same goes for ‘putz’ , ‘ganse velt’, etc. But my fave these days is ‘fahrBLUNjet’ (= lost), which describes a large part of North American Jewry as well as North American culture. Excuse the spelling.

Not Ovenready on May 7, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Not Ovenready: Ha-ha You are so right! Fahblunget and fahmisht is putting it mildly.

    Cat K on August 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

The word schmuck is someone who’s either stupid, moronic, halfwitted, dimwitted, etc. I use the word almost everytime and I’m not either yiddish or jewish! And I almost forgot that the word schmuck is a yiddish word, also yiddish words are putz, shelp, shlemiel, yenta, schmendrick, etc. You can look up those words on wikipedia.

Liberalism is a Mental Disorder!!!

“A nation is identified by it’s borders, language & culture!”

Sean R. on May 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Sean R.: you may, in fact, have the mental disorder. Or at least, you have little to no grasp of proper punctuation. In the future, use “its” unless the word is used as a contraction for it is.

    Also, don’t use the ampersand (&) in sentences unless it’s part of a formal title.

    Finally, according to Webster’s Dictionary, a nation is defined as: a territorial division containing a body of people of one or more nationalities and usually characterized by relatively large size and independent status.

    You might consider writing fewer stupid comments in the future.

    anthony on May 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Actually, the Yiddish pronunciation is “shmock”. Americans think it is “shmuck” because, for some reason, they frquently, but not always, pronounce the sound “o” (as in the word “lot”) as a “u” (as in the word “cut”). Ditto for “potz” (not “putz”), which means exactly the same thing, ie the English slang word “dick”, in all its uses.

The German word “Schmuck” meaning jewellery has nothing to do with the Yiddish “shmock”.

Brian R. on May 7, 2010 at 1:40 pm

A cunning linguist?

Doda McCheesle on May 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Mazel Tov!! A well deserved shout-out to you, Debbie, from the New York times!!

BK on May 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm

i married a Jew, divorced the Jew, lived as a Jew [conservative] for 15 years. Many, many of these words listed are very familiar to me…but the term i still use the most, that says the most, in addition to schmuck [oft used by me as a derogatory term] is “oy vay”! When i reach final exasperation point these two awesome words together say it all for me…encapsulate my awe or shock or wonder. I love the term OY VAY so much — it’s the best!

reader 07 on May 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Lol you’re really ugly in that picture

Me on May 17, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Debbie..I’m 76 and am sorry to say that Yiddish wasn’t taught to me by my parents or grandparents when I was young.. BUT…. If you go to (on line) Biography of Al Capp, Page 2 of 3,you will see an “action” picture drawn by Al Capp depicting just how Shlemeel, Shlemozzel, Shnook, Shtoonk, Shnorrer, Shloomp, and the Shlepper are “defined” in his eyes. Enjoy…..

Richard Selmonsky on March 16, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Leave a Reply

* denotes required field