Newsweek’s still on its Jewish kick. A review, by Jennie Yabroff, begins “The movie is called Dinner for Schmucks, so naturally the climax happens at a dinner. Steve Carrell plays Barry, a schmo (yes, you need Joys of Yiddish to read this story)….”
Actually, as far as we’re concerned, everyone needs Leo Rosten’s rollicking and informative Joys of Yiddish, revised and updated by our friend Lawrence Bush, the editor of Jewish Currents magazine. (Jewish Standard readers may recall his excellent cover story for us two years ago on secular Jews – “I want to see our fences become fringes.”)
At any rate, The New Joys of Yiddish is so much more than a Yiddish word-book. As well as discussing usage and transliteration variants, it’s a treasure house of wonderful little stories, sayings, and laugh-out-loud jokes.
And by the way, “schmo,” at least according to Rosten, is “]a] euphemistic neologism for schmuck,” which in case you did not know it is a very naughty word. Schmo (or shmo) “is not a Yiddish word, but an Ameridish invention” – and was adapted by Al Capp as the name for the wonderful, giving shmoos of his cartoons.
Here’s the accompanying joke:
“Stolinsky came out of the richest mansion in town and confided to his wife: ‘I tell you, Hinda, things aren’t going to well in there!’
“‘What? I can’t believe it! What makes you say a crazy thing like that?’
“‘I saw both of his daughters playing on one piano!'”
“He was a bit of a shmo,” Rosten notes.