What’s a Schmuck?

05/05/2010 11:26 AM |

Also, a surname
  • Also, a surname

In German, it means “trinket”; in Polish, it’s “dragon”; in Yiddish, it’s “penis”; in American English slang, it’s “an obnoxious, contemptible person; one who is stupid, foolish, or detestable,” according to Wikipedia. Thus the confusion, laid out in a recent Times article, about the upcoming Steve Carell/Paul Rudd movie Dinner for Schmucks. Do they mean Dinner for Penises?

The movie, a remake—er, reboot—of the French film The Dinner Game, is directed by Jay Roach, who has no shortage of euphemistic titles on his resume, including Meet the Fockers and Austin Powers in Goldmember. But this one’s different because it involves Jews.

“The more correct title would have been ‘Dinner for Schlemiels,’ ” [a budinsky told the Times], if the filmmakers were trying to describe the geeky behavior displayed Mr. Carell in the pratfall-filled trailer.”

Except, what the title does is appropriate a word that has adopted a meaning of its own in English, rather than use the Yiddish meaning, because language changes, especially when co-opted by other languages.

Whether the title will pass the muster of advertisers is another matter. Kevin Smith’s recent cop out Cop Out changed its title from A Couple of Dicks over advertiser anxiety, and Smith’s previous film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, was often advertised as Zack and Miri. Would the Times run an ad for Dinner for Schmucks?

The paper’s head of advertising acceptability (wait, they have one of those?) told the paper he’d have to consult a “rabbi or two.”

2 Comment

  • >> in American English slang, it’s “an obnoxious, contemptible person; one who is stupid, foolish, or detestable”

    So a schmuck is a dick, no? Meaning intact.

    P.S. In German, Schmuck means jewelry.

  • ok, but what’s a “mook”? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGGk0FpGIxM

    Pretty sure “schmuck” is not derived from Polish word “Smok”/dragon. “Smok” is never used as slang for penis and does not have the same first sound – hard “s” vs the “sh” sound.

    “schmuck” reminds me of Polish word “Ćwok”, which is common usage slang for a low-grade moron, and also sounds somewhat similar. This is a question for Prof. Miodek!