"the whole schlemiel"

Geoff Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Thu Aug 20 22:44:25 UTC 2009

The word 'shpil' means not only 'story' but also 'play', in both senses (it's the same semantic extension as English), both in German and in Yiddish (note Wagner's Singspiel for example).
'Whole shlemil' is undoubtedly a malapropism, although the original target is somewhat unclear, as others have said.
'Whole mishpokhe' is, of course, different in meaning ('the whole family' rather than 'the whole thing (as in 'I can't believe I ate...').
The preceding benefited from discussion with Margaret Winters, whom some of you know, and who *is* to some extent a Yiddish scholar.

Geoffrey S. Nathan
Faculty Liaison, C&IT
and Associate Professor, Linguistics Program
+1 (313) 577-1259 (C&IT)
+1 (313) 577-8621 (English/Linguistics)

----- "Victor Steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> From: "Victor Steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 5:19:02 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
> Subject: Re: "the whole schlemiel"
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "the whole schlemiel"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> That (being a simple malapropism) would be true if this really was
> "schlemiel" for "s(c)me(e/a)r". But would you still insist that it was
> a
> simple malapropism if it was based on "s(c)(h)p(i/e)el". Or something
> that also should sound familiar: _the whole megillah_. Another one is
> "the whole mishpu(k/c)h(a/e)(h)" (clearly no relation to "schlemiel"
> ;-).
> All three are well matched with some variant of Yiddish
> *gansah/gantzeh*, which means, basically, "whole"--I don't believe
> the
> same goes for "schmear". (I actually don't know the details of
> Yiddish
> morphology, so I must rely on external sources for this one.)
> When I was poking around in my memory banks, the version that came up
> first was "the whole schpiel", which actually makes sense (unlike
> "the
> whole schmeer", which may be an yidcorn*--a very popular one--of its
> own). The other two also sound familiar, but I can't recall ever
> noticing "the whole schmear" (I am sure I've heard it, without paying
> attention, but it would never occur to me to use it, but I've used
> the
> other three in the past).
> There are plenty of examples of the latter (schpiel), no matter how
> you
> spell it (see all the parentheses above). Oddly enough, there are 5
> times as many of "the whole shmeer" type, but more than 90% with one
> spelling (schmear). But not all cites are created equal--I checked
> rather far into "the whole schmeer" list and they all (175K) appear
> to
> be legit. But of the 2.4 mil ghits on "the whole schmear" many appear
> to
> be irrelevant.
> Then, there is this gem:
> schmeer also schmear or shmear (shm�r)
> n. Slang
> A number of things that go together; an aggregate: /bought the whole
> schmeer/.
> In case you were wondering where this is from, it's AHD4. Same
> citation
> on Dictionary.com also gives
> schmear (n.)
> 1961, "bribery," from Yiddish shmir "spread," from shmirn "to grease,
> smear," from M.H.G. smiren, from O.H.G. smirwen "to smear" (see smear
> (v.); cf. slang to grease (someone's) palm "to bribe"). Phrase the
> whole
> schmear "the entire affair" is attested from 1969, originally show
> business jargon
> This one is from the "Online etymology dictionary". There is also a
> whole piece on schmear in the Forward, but "Philologos".
> http://www.forward.com/articles/1651/
> "One common meaning of the word �shmear� that is indigenous to
> neither
> Yiddish nor German, and that is an entirely American development, is
> that which is given by my Encarta (it actually lists it first) as �an
> entire set or group of related things.� This of course comes from the
> expression �the whole shmear,� meaning �everything� or �the works.�
> To
> what exactly �the whole shmear� originally referred has not been
> researched extensively, but it�s highly likely that it comes from the
> Sunday bagel breakfast so beloved of American Jews (who were eating
> bagels long before anyone else had even heard of them)."
> I'll stick with schpiel, unless context demands megillah or
> mishpukhah.
> But there is an interesting twist on that too--the way I've heard
> people
> use "schpiel", it seems to indicate "story", so being very similar to
> "megillah". But that is not the actual meaning--in Dutch and in
> German
> "spiel" is "game" (Dutch "speller" means "player"). One of many
> online
> Yiddish glossaries makes the same suggestion:
> > > Also, colloquially, a story, a sales pitch, a speech. "Don't give
> me
> the whole shpiel. Just tell me how much this is going to cost me."
> http://www.bubbygram.com/yiddishglossary.htm
> I am wondering if there isn't a backwards derivation here, from "the
> whole schpiel" and "the whole megillah" to the assumption that the
> two
> are equivalent.
> And now that I've thought about it for a bit, "schmear", which
> originally meaning "grease" (unlike "schmaltz", which means "fat" and
> cannot be used as a verb**), also acquired the meaning of "spread",
> as
> in, "to spread cream cheese on a bagel". "The whole spread"--at least
> to
> me--means abundance, although, of course, it's a slightly different
> gloss for "spread". But why not "schmear" for both once the word
> migrates into American English?
> VS-)
> *yidcorn--I'll admit, I just made up the word. It made sense to use
> something that represents the attitude, "If it sounds Yiddish, it
> must
> be good!" There are a number of expressions where originally Yiddish
> words are either twisted virtually beyond recognition or are used
> interchangeably without justification (as in the present case). A
> feature of yidcorns is that they appear to be directly involved in
> the
> production of yidclones--four of which appear in the first paragraph
> of
> this post. As to whether one must distinguish between eggcorns and
> yidcorns (or snow clones and Yidclones) is up to you.
> **schmaltz--as I had a moment to reflect on it, "schmaltz" is
> occasionally used as a verb, although it does not mean "to fatten".
> To
> "schmear" has an obvious meaning of bribing someone, "greasing the
> palm". To "schmaltz" someone has been used to mean "to flatter", "to
> butter up". Fatten, flatter--it's all the same if it's Yiddish!
> PS: Are there no Yiddish scholars on this list??
> PPS: I don't believe the original subject is a "simple malaprop".
> Someone who says it clearly tried to make sense of it, recognized the
> Yiddish connection, and made an effort to fill the mysterious gap
> with
> the closest Yiddish word he knows. So, yes, that's a yidcorn. I'll
> leave
> the determination as to whether it is an eggcorn or not to experts.
> Laurence Horn wrote:
> > At 1:07 PM -0500 8/20/09, Jim Parish wrote:
> >
> >> David A. Daniel wrote:
> >>
> >>>  Unless I missed something here... MW has schlemiel as "an
> unlucky
> >>>  bungler" so what you've got here is, I guess, a malapropism (for
> whole
> >>>  shmear) as it certainly could never, ever, under any
> circumstances, be
> >>>  an eggcorn.
> >>>
> >> Has anyone claimed that it is?
> >>
> >
> > Not unless it's guilt by association.  Victor Steinbok mentioned it
> > as a yidcorn, which is not necessarily an eggcorn, and in the same
> > sentence alluded to the reanalysis of "mano a mano" as 'man to man'
> > (see also my previous message), which *does* involve eggcorns (as
> > noted there).  But I agree "the whole shlemiel" is a simple
> > malapropism.
> >
> > LH
> >
> >
> >> I mentioned only as an interesting
> >> construction, that I had never encountered it before. (We do
> discuss
> >> other things besides eggcorns, do we not?)
> >>
> >> Jim Parish
> >>
> >>
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