Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Being a Kapusta Głowa

I have received a number of emails for using the word "schmuck" in my post, Mises, Hayek and Rothbard Turn Over in Their Graves.  I have always taken the word to mean some likable but not too bright person who ends up getting the short end of the stick.

Perhaps, I am way off. The word is yiddish. I am not of Jewish descent and perhaps have misunderstood its deeper meaning. But, I am pretty sure that some of my Jewish friends have called me in a lighthearted manner, a "dumb shmuck". And I believe, I have seen them call each other the same.

A quick race to wikipeidia informs that:
It is used in the title of the movie Dinner for Schmucks.

The word schmuck is used frequently in both the Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men movies.

The word is used in the sitcoms Two and a Half Men and $h*! My Dad Says.
So there appears to be something to my sense that the word can be taken in a lighthearted manner, the way I intended it.

On the other hand, I do note that wikipedia also says:

In Jewish homes, the word was "regarded as so vulgar as to be taboo"
I was not aware that the word could also be considered taboo, so my apologies, if I offended anyone by using the word. In the future, I'll try and stick to use of foreign language terms from a culture I know thoroughly. In other words, just call me a kapusta głowa for this mix-up.

Update: A friend emails
Just saw your explanation.

Technically, I think the elitists are the schmucks.


  1. Schmuck carries with it a condescending and derisive tone.

  2. Effing Morons works!

    I'm so over the political correctness that has bankrupted our country. David Walker's 'Our biggest deficit is our leadership deficit' is a prime example. Morons, effing morons like Bernanke of course don't get that he is talking about them.

  3. Per The Daily Schmuck: http://www.schmucku.com/main.html

    Schmuck, a Yiddish word, has a range of meaning depending on context. In its most innocuous use, a schmuck is a person who does a stupid thing, in which case "dumb schmuck" is the appropriate expression.

    A schmuck's behavior ranges from pesky and inconsiderate, to obnoxious and manipulative. A schmuck's personality type ranges from jerk to bastard.

    You might want to use schlemazel: Luckless person. Unlucky person; one with perpetual bad luck.

  4. @Star-gazer

    "Schlemazel", I like that, thanks.

  5. "Schlemazel" Is that what they're saying in the intro to Laverne & Shirley right before they launch into the corus? That's bugged me for years.

  6. My 4th grade substitute English teacher repeatedly called me a schmuck. I took it as an endearing reprimand.

  7. My father's preferred term was "schlemiel."

    Noun: A stupid, awkward, or unlucky person. (He worked as a kid in a grocery store owned by a Jew who used a lot of Yiddish.)

  8. I think it was "Schlemazel, Schlemiel,..."

    Ok...since we're on a roll here...

    Nebbish: A nobody or simpleton.
    Nebechel: A pitiful person or playing the role of being one.
    Schlemiel: Clumsy bungler, an inept person, butter-fingered; dopey person.
    (It is said that the Schlemiel spills the soup on the Schlemazel)
    Schmendrik: Nincompoop; an inept or indifferent person.
    Chaleria: Evil woman. (Probably derived from cholera). Why does an image of Nancy Pelosi immediately pop into my mind?

  9. "Schlemazel, Schlemiel,..."

    Or it might have been reversed, then something like "Hossenfeffer Incorporated...we're gonna do it..."

  10. Per Wikipedia:
    "At the start of each episode, Laverne and Shirley are seen skipping down the street, arm in arm, reciting a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlemazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" This then leads into the series' theme song which is entitled "Making Our Dreams Come True", sung by Cyndi Grecco."

  11. So, what are you saying? Krugman is more of a mensch than you?

  12. Sorry to come late to the thread, but better than never, nu?
    Schmuck also means "pendant", or something dangling, ahem, hence, "so vulgar as to be taboo."
    My favorite Greaseman joke, probably by way of the Catskills-

    Guy in NYC is informed by NYPD that he needs to get a license for his camel, so in the DMV he is asked for a description:
    "How big is the camel?"
    "I don't know. Big. Camel-Size, You Know?"
    "What color is it?"
    "I can't really say; brownish gray? Camel colored!"
    "Is it a male or a female?"
    "How the heck would I know? Wait, it must be a male, 'cause on the way over, I heard somebody say 'Look at the schmuck on that camel!'"

  13. It took me a second reading to get it, but that's pretty funny! Thanks racketmensch!