Schmus, n.

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 2 02:02:14 UTC 2001

I mistakenly sent this just to David, when I'd intended to send it to the
list. Sorry about

David Bergdahl said:
>1st half of the 19thC < thieves' cant (rotwelsch) is what my Reclams
>Etymologisches Woerterbuch says.  There's also a verb schmusen meaning
>"to chatter."  But an anecdote reveals how different meanings can be.
>When my first wife--a Bavarian speaker--died I was visited by a family
>friend who's Jewish and who sprinkles her English with Yiddish
>expressions.  She told me she had come over just to schmoose.  I was
>taken aback.  Rather than meaning "engage in friendly conversation" I
>was used to schmuzing as, well, "foreplay." :-)  Just one of the ways
>two closely related dialects can c ause misunderstanding.  (My first
>wife used to pride herself on the fact that she could understand her
>friend's Yiddish-only grandmother while her friend couldn't.)

Well, no-one's followed up to this, so I'll throw in a bit of handwaving;
the relevant reference books are still enboxed (I've just moved). In
Yinglish, anyway, schooze can refer to just chatting or it can be chatting
with a covert manipulative goal. As for the mutual comprehensibility of
Bavarian (and to a lesser extent other High German varieties) and Yiddish,
no surprise there. Over 20 years ago, Bob King and I published a paper
demonstrating that, from a dialectological point of view, Yiddish has more
(and more systematic) similarities with Bavarian and East Central German
dialects than with the Rhenish/Franconian dialects that it might be
expected to have close ties to, based on standard accounts of Eastern
European Jewish history. (We concluded, inter alia, that these accounts
need substantial revision.) Finally, Rotwelsch. There's a fairly well-known
paper in one of the Field of Yiddish volumes (which is what I would dearly
love to locate at the moment) on the Yiddish sources of some Swiss
horsetraders language and I believe that a direct link with Rotwelsch has
also been demonstrated. The author's name is similar to my grandmother's
(isn't tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon grand?), so it's by someone with a name
sort of like Florence Greenberg.

Back to unpacking (well, after I finish reading email...)

Alice Faber                                       tel. (203) 865-6163
Haskins Laboratories                              fax  (203) 865-8963
270 Crown St                                   faber at
New Haven, CT 06511                               afaber at

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