"the whole schlemiel"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 20 23:58:46 UTC 2009

I wrote earlier:
> 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").
I should have written "game and play", which is what I intended, but got
distracted several times while composing the post. I am not entirely
convinced that it also stands for "story" except in American English
interpretation, but I will defer to those with better knowledge of the
three languages in question.

As for "mishpukhah/mishpoche" (or any other combination of vowels and
consonants that resemble it) and "megillah", I probably should not have
assumed universal familiarity with the words. I was either distracted
again or under impression that these words should be just as familiar as
shpiel and shmear (again, in any spelled form). I hear these in
conversation--Northeast Jews and non-Jews alike--so frequently, that I
sometimes fail to acknowledge their regional (bi-coastal, mostly, but
not only) distribution. And, in this context, I also heard "the whole
mishpukha" used as a "whole thing" euphemism. It was certainly less
frequent than "whole shpiel" or "whole megillah", but present.

> >Jews and Latinos have a strong historical connection to Boyle Heights.
In the early twentieth century, the East L.A. neighborhood was teeming
with kosher butchers, bakeries, delis, the whole mishpucha.

> >After the Vatican, the most important sites include Mother Angelica’s
magnificent site, which backs up her Catholic television network EWTN
with an immense range of teachings, Catholic documents, the whole mishpucha.

In any case, thanks for the additions and corrections.


Geoff Nathan wrote:
> 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)

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