Yiddish: schtunk

Cerros de Úbeda

Senior Member
UK
Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
Hi,

In Sergio Leone's film 'Once Upon a Time in America' there's this term used, 'Schtunk'. It is to be supposed to be a yiddish term, I gather.

The film is about a band of gangsters in New York City, in the context of Jewish neighbourhood youths/criminals during prohibition. They use the term as a derogative allusion to refer to someone despicable, as a synonym to 'lowlife'.

Phrase - In a club, Robert de Niro's character, just out of prison (1:42'), talking to one of his partners, jokingly says, referring to the others,

'Some bunch of schtunks. You know that?'

My question is, can anyone comment on the word?
Also, I'm wondering about the 'Sh- / Sch-' groups of word starts, that seem very common, as in this 'Shtunk', and in another case, also from the film, 'Schmettle'. Also, in a list from Wikipedia, where there are several.

Can you elaborate on it? Why is it so frequent? Does it associate with some meaning or kind of words in particular, such as nouns or verbs? Does it contain any specific meaning or connotation (derogation or humour), as I see it appears in negative words - shtunk, shtuck, schmaltz, etc.?

Thanks in advance
 
  • Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    The pejorative shm-reduplication, e.g., artsy-shmartsy
    Yes, Duvija, thanks...

    This also turns up in the film, in a different expression. This is from a scene in a brothel where a guy in the gang uses it with the madam, when she tells them about settling up for the week:

    - Madam - Let's settle up, guys. It's Saturday
    - Guy - 'Settle-Schmettle, Peggy! I'm going to take my own trade'
    - Madam - 'Oy, you're such a nudge!'

    I had heard a reference about the derogatory reduplicative 'Sh-' from 'The Concise Partridge Dictionary of Slang', not knowing quite what it meant. After your comment, it's clearer. However,

    'Schmettle'...

    What does this word mean?
    And what is its sense in the context of the reduplicative phrase?
     
    Last edited:

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    "Schmettle" has no meaning in itself. It only echoes "settle" with a "schm-" beginning,
    to show impatience or disregard for, in this case, settling.
    It can be used with almost any word to show disrespect or to set something aside.
    A: "I'll give you a dollar for that book."
    B: "Dollar-schmollar, just take it!"
    It's a Yiddish expression that has flowed into some varieties of American English.

    But returning to "schtunk" (or "shtunk"): on another forum it was suggested that the word has its origin in Hebrew.
    Is that documented? Or is there a possibility that it's from a Germanic root related to English "stink"?
     

    duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    a) -shm in the reduplicated word just means 'who cares/ I don't care'

    b) Shtunk, at least in Yiddish, comes from 'shtinken' - that's the verb infinitive in Yiddish, and as you can see, it's very similar to the German verb. I've never heard the version of any Hebrew origin, but origin shmorigin, it means what it means.
     
    Last edited:

    duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    I believe it says it is 'shtunken' (not 'tunken') Did I miss something? (and remember the infinitive shtunken can be also shtinken, depending on the geographical area.
     

    Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    "Schmettle" has no meaning in itself. It only echoes "settle" with a "schm-" beginning,
    to show impatience or disregard for, in this case, settling.
    Great, Cenzontle!
    That is very clear, as well as interesting.

    I had almost managed to guess it when I heard it in the film - that it was a nonsense, dismissive remark, in a mocking reduplicative -, but I didn't quite manage to articulate the idea, as I was bugged by the suspicion that the term might have some actual meaning, being as I am completely unfamiliar with yiddish.

    Thanks for your explanation.
     
    Last edited:

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    In case anyone is curious about the schpelling of "shtunk"/"schtunk":
    The Ngram Viewer shows the "sh-" version as more frequent for this word
    (as well as for "shmendrick", by the way)—but not for others, including "schlemiel", "schlimazel" and "schmuck".
    Yiddish is closely related to German, but it's traditionally written in the Hebrew alphabet.
    For English-speakers, a direct transliteration of the "sh sound" [ʃ] from the Hebrew is "sh";
    but English-speakers associate German-like words with the "sch-" spelling. So we get mixed results.
     

    duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    Yiddish has many normal words starting with [shm] that don't trigger anything, so you have to know it and the reason for the non-existence of the reduplication.
    "Shmate" (rag) is normal, and even if it may mean a piece of cloth that we dislike, there is no way to make fun of it and reduplicate a word that already starts with shm. There are other phonological reasons in other words, that prevent this game.
     

    Demiurg

    Senior Member
    German
    I don't know if we can trust the source I will linked here, but there it is said that the ending "tunken" (from farshtunken) comes from the german "stinken": What is Farshtunken in English? - Yiddish Slang Dictionary
    "farshtunken" is simply the 'English' spelling of the German past participle "verstunken" (derived from "stinken").

    For English-speakers, a direct transliteration of the "sh sound" [ʃ] from the Hebrew is "sh";
    but English-speakers associate German-like words with the "sch-" spelling. So we get mixed results.
    Exactly. "sh" is the English spelling of [⁠ʃ⁠] while "sch" is the German spelling. In front of 'p' and 't', [⁠ʃ⁠] is spelled 's' in German, hence "stinken" and not "*schtinken".
     

    duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    Yes, the prefix 'far' is common also in Yiddish. And the 'sh' is the transliteration in English from the Yiddish spelling for a 'shin' [sh] which is the normal Yiddish pronunciation and spelling. Here. It's the penultimate letter of the alphabet.
     

    OzzyM

    New Member
    Hebrew
    "Schtinker" (English "stinker") means in slang one who informs to the police or alike.
    Not sure though where and when it got this meaning.
    I think that shift of "i" vs. "u" is not uncommon among Yiddish dialects, like "git Shabbes" for "gut Shabbes" = good Shabbat.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top