Yiddish: schtunk

Discussion in 'Other Languages' started by Cerros de Úbeda, Oct 9, 2018.

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  1. Cerros de Úbeda Senior Member

    UK
    Spanish - Spain
    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
     
  2. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    Spanish - Uruguay
    From: Yiddish | About World Languages
    The pejorative shm-reduplication, e.g., artsy-shmartsy, is now part of everyday American English.

    This is not enough, so let's listen/read what Wandering J-J has to say.
     
  3. Cerros de Úbeda Senior Member

    UK
    Spanish - Spain
    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: Oct 11, 2018
  4. Cenzontle

    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"?
     
  5. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    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: Oct 11, 2018
  6. MiguelitOOO

    MiguelitOOO Senior Member

    Español - México
  7. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    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.
     
  8. MiguelitOOO

    MiguelitOOO Senior Member

    Español - México
    You right. It is "shtunken" from "stinken" according with the website.
     
  9. Cerros de Úbeda Senior Member

    UK
    Spanish - Spain
    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: Oct 11, 2018
  10. Cenzontle

    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.
     
  11. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    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.
     
  12. Demiurg

    Demiurg Senior Member

    Germany
    German
    "farshtunken" is simply the 'English' spelling of the German past participle "verstunken" (derived from "stinken").

    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".
     
  13. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Chicago
    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.
     

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