A Shmendrik’s Progress

By Gabriel Sanders

Published May 25, 2007, issue of May 25, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Two weeks ago, The Shmooze reported on an unexpected occurrence of the word tsoris on HBO’s “The Sopranos.” Even “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams found it odd, saying that, unlike chutzpah, which everybody knows, tsoris belongs in a more rarefied class, alongside words like mishpokhe, shpilkes and keynehoreh.

But if we are to go by a recent article in The New York Times, tsoris may not be all that rare after all. The article, about the headaches that come with owning a second home, quoted one Conn Nugent, proud owner of a western Massachusetts fixer-upper, as saying that the property was a source of nothing but “tsoris.”

While on the subject of Yiddish words in unlikely places, we would be remiss if we did not dwell for a minute on the new Gatorade ad starring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and actor Harvey Keitel. The scene: a baseball field. The music: atonal suspense-film score. The mood: noir. Reprising a role he has played in any number of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino films, Keitel is standing behind first base dressed in black, devilishly egging Jeter on toward stealing second. He offers Jeter his take on the situation: “That shmendrik [the pitcher] keeps looking over here. And that one [the catcher], he’s got a gun. But you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Shmendrik, a gentle pejorative meaning “fool” or “idiot,” is of relatively recent vintage. It began life as the title of an 1877 Abraham Goldfaden operetta and quickly found its way into general Yiddish and, later, English usage. What’s interesting about Keitel’s use of it in the Gatorade ad is that we hear it coming not so much from a Jew but from an ethnically indeterminate mafioso.

From the Yiddish stage to a television ad in less than 150 years. Keynehoreh.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.