The actor Harrison Ford described himself as a ‘schmuck‘ last week after he mistakenly landed his plane on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. To land, he had to fly directly over a Boeing 737 commercial jet with 116 people on board. He was then heard on the radio to the control tower: “Yeah, hi, it’s Husky Eight-Niner Hotel Uniform and the ‘schmuck‘ that landed on the taxiway.”
A near miss by the sounds of things. Good job he wasn’t in the Millennium Falcon!
someone who is stupid
Why aren’t you giving the original Yiddish meaning as well and explaining it?
Hello and thanks for your comment.
Macmillan Dictionary is a learner’s dictionary and we do not generally give or discuss word origins. They are usually to be found in dictionaries designed for native speakers, such as the Oxford Dictionary of English or Collins English Dictionary.
We do occasionally give explanations of the stories behind unusual words, such as terms from literature or mythology. You can find them at the relevant entries under the title Word Story.
yes, what is the meaning in Jewish?
If you included the word’s origin, you’d realize that your definition is misleading if not wrong altogether. Yes, I have seen other dictionaries state the word means “stupid or foolish” but I think these are just remnants of more polite time. Usually, these same entries also mention “jerk,” which is closer to the true Yiddish usage. The word literally refers to a part of the male anatomy and it’s often used in exactly the same way we use an English slang term (for the same body part) to refer to someone who “stupidly” treats other people badly. When you leave that part out, Harrison Ford’s comment could be construed as “Whoops, I’m the stupid guy that made a mistake,” but more likely he meant it as “Yep, I’m the @#$! that just imposed on others because of my own stupidity.”
It means penis in Yiddish. It also means something like a jerk in English.
Jewish language? What’s that? Perhaps we are speaking about Hebrew and Yiddish which has its roots in German. The Google translator says that the German meaning of schmuck is Jewelry. When I took German I learned that schmuck was an adornment. In Yiddish it has come to mean penis and in English it is a vulgar word for the same.
Thanks for the interesting comments.
Mamaya Na Lang, you are correct to say that there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish language’; what the commenter meant I’m sure is Yiddish (as opposed to Hebrew).
B Silver: I agree that ‘jerk’ is closer in meaning than our rather bland definition. As a learner’s dictionary we try to define words in a way that can be understood by the average learner of English, and to define schmuck as ‘jerk’ would not be very helpful to such a user. But we will certainly be taking another look at this entry.
And although, as noted above, we don’t usually give etymologies, your comments have also given us another idea, which is to provide Word Stories for some of the Yiddish terms in our dictionary. We will be releasing an update later this year, so Watch this Space, as they say.
Sure, learners need to know nice, simple meanings and common usage, but there’s a significant difference between saying ‘I’m so stupid’ and ‘I’m such a shmuck!’, which could be deemed offensive by the listener. Learners need this information, too.
Thanks Daniel. You are absolutely right and this is why we are revising this entry for the forthcoming new release of Macmillan Dictionary.
it’s very interesting that people prefer to believe the definition of a word is vile rather than the true meaning. yes, friends, i married a Schmuck. this is why i am familiar with the true meaning. Schmuck is actually a German word. if you go to Germany you will see this word on many businesses. these are jewelry stores, and the meaning of the word Schmuck is jewelry, or literally, a beautiful adornment. the Yiddish word is a slang word that was the original German word. when you say someone is a schmuck, you are totally missing the real meaning, but that’s a choice, isn’t it? we all choose our way of thinking, but usually we don’t choose to offend people by misusing their name. i am sensitive for my husband, not for me. he is not as sensitive. 🙂
I thought that schmuck meant idiot until some Jewish boys in my class explained that it meant penis in Hebrew. Both schmuck and dick are used interchangably in English slang to mean a foolish and annoying person, or schmuck also means a gullible person who was tricked or conned by someone else.
My late parents, who were first generation children of recent immigrants from eastern Europe often referred to Yiddish as “Jewish.” I think the original spelling of Yiddish, which was something like “Juedisch,” would probably translate as Jewish from German or Yiddish.
So, I think people who grew up in Yiddish-speaking households, or households that spoke both English and Yiddish, would sometimes refer to Yiddish as “Jewish.” I don’t think it’s incorrect to call it Jewish, since that seems to be the colloquial term employed by many Jews.
From wikipedia: “The term “Yiddish”, short for “Yiddish-Teitsch” (Jewish German), did not become the most frequently used designation in the literature until the 18th century. In the late 19th and into the 20th century the language was more commonly called “Jewish”, especially in non-Jewish contexts, but “Yiddish” is again the more common designation.”
As far as the meaning of “schmuck”–well….it does have multiple meanings. As i found out to my embarassment once in a public discussion. To many in my audience, it was better known for its vulgar meaning.
I don’t necessarily agree with the comment above that, in English, “schmuck” and “dick” have interchangeable meanings of a foolish or annoying person. When I hear someone call someone else a “dick,” I think it means someone who is more than annoying, perhaps a nasty or bad person. I rarely hear it used to describe anyone. I have heard “schmuck” a lot over the years, and it is usually employed to describe someone who is foolish, dumb, or pathetic, but not necessarily bad.
Shirley, the original German meaning of “adornment,” makes sense. It is very possible that Jews used the word because it could be used to describe a male “adornment” or penis.
I’m certainly not fluent in either Hebrew or Yiddish but I did read somewhere that “Schmuck” is a derivative Yiddish slang of the German word for “adornment” that is even more precise than simply referencing the penis AS an adornment but actually an adornment OF the penis, i.e. the skin that is removed from a male baby during the ritual of circumcision. I’m open to verifications /rejections of this theory though please be aware that I couldn’t possibly have made this up.
First of all, the word “schmuck” is not a Hebrew word but a Yiddish word also used by Hebrew speakers but not to mean penis. The word for penis in Hebrew has many slang terms, including the name of a bird, a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and more. The medical word for it is ‘pin’ which is reminiscent of penis but the word is so rarely used that when I asked a doctor in Israel to look at my son’s ‘pin’ after his circumscision, she did not know what I was talking about. A nurse had to give her the slang word for it.
As for the Yiddish language or the Jewish language, when I was a girl growing up in the States, we called the language “Jewish”. When I moved to Israel, the language was called Yiddish and it is now called that in the States, too, as far as I know.
I think Bernard has a good line on this — a schmuck being something dispensable, as a foolish person is dispensable.
“Putz” seems to follow the same trajectory. Although “putz” in German often means “plaster”, it can also mean “finery”, “adornment”.
I’ll search out a copy of The Joy of Yiddish. I don’t remember if Leo Rosten went into these etymologies.
When Chris states: “schmuck also means a gullible person who was tricked or conned by someone else,” I think he is referring to a schnook.
As far as “Jewish” languages go:
Jews tended to be secluded in their habitats and traditions throughout the diaspora.
They consequently developed a plurality of lingos and dialects, that corresponded with the local native languages, and also with Hebrew and Aramaic, until they drifted off to comprise comprehensive new languages on their own account.
Yiddish is but one of many such languages, which originally corresponded with German.
Other such languages are Ladino (‘Jewish’ Spanish), various Jewish Arabic dialects, Jewish Farsi etc.
I’ve heard that it originally refers to the part of the foreskin that is cut off.
My mom is Jewish and once told me that it was a swear word. It’s highly offensive to her. They speak Yiddish.
My Gmom used to call me that and its not offensive at all
I’m a non-native to English, just struggling to understand the following:
“Yeah, hi, it’s Husky Eight-Niner Hotel Uniform and the ‘schmuck‘ that landed on the taxiway.”
In what context and what does mean by the first part Husky Eight-Niner Hotel Uniform….
Thanks for your question, Faisal. I have to confess that although I realised this was some kind of identifying code, I hadn’t thought to inquire further before you asked. The answer is that Mr Ford was flying a light aircraft called an Aviat Husky, and ‘Eight-Niner Hotel Uniform’ refers to the tail number 89HU (hotel and uniform are the words used to indicate H and U in the NATO phonetic alphabet). ‘Niner’ is used instead of ‘nine’ to avoid confusion with the German word ‘nein’. An example of a situation where linguistic precision can be a matter of life and death.
As I understand it, “Schmuck” means jewel in German. In Yiddish that jewel becomes a euphemism for penis. In English, “Schmuck” means something worse than stupid: more like “prick” or “dickhead,” which keeps the penile metaphor intact.
It’s a near hit, not a near miss. If you “nearly miss it”, you actually hit it.
Thanks for your comment, Mikael. You are not the first to note the logical inconsistency of the expression ‘near miss’. Of course you can call it a ‘near hit’ instead, and people will probably understand what you mean. The weight of evidence is against you, though. In our huge corpus of modern English there are under 200 citations for ‘near hit’, many of them comments like yours on the illogicality of the expression. There are nearly 9000 citations for ‘near miss’. In fact I don’t think the expression is illogical at all. ‘Near’ in this case means ‘close’ rather than ‘almost’. So a near miss is a miss, but one that comes close to being a hit.
Macmillan dictionary got it right regarding “near miss”, probably better spoken as “close miss”. Now if you’re looking for a real non-sequitur, what does a person mean when he says “I could care less!”? (Regionally pronounced, “ah cud keer layuss”.) Literally taken, that would indicate that the speaker already cares as strongly as is possible, but would consider caring to a lesser extent, and not “couldn’t care less,” which indicates that he already has a maximum lack of caring about the subject or person referred to.
I guess it’s my bete noire.
Thanks for your comment, David. I guess many of us have our own linguistic betes noires, often things that seem illogical (like ‘a near miss’, and ‘I could care less’ in fact). The first time I properly registered this phrase was on the TV series The West Wing where it was spoken by Toby Ziegler. Since the character is Jewish and from Brooklyn I assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that the phrase was of Yiddish origin. There are plenty of discussions online about could vs couldn’t care less: which phrase came first, whether one is correct and one not, why you should use one or the other, or neither. The fact is that it is perfectly clear what people mean when they say ‘I could care less’, just as it is when they talk about a ‘near miss’, and there seems no likelihood of it fading into disuse any time soon. So the choice is just whether to use it or not, according to personal preference.