Friday, June 19, 2009

What is in a Name?

As our note at the top of the print newsletter "The Shmooze Letter" states, "‘Shmooze’ is Yiddish for chatting with a friend." That’s the official take, but there's a little more detail to be given. For some people, this word emblazoned on our masthead may seem foreign, and the tiny note explaining the meaning may not really help. So what about this word "shmooze"?

According to Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, the word means "a friendly ... prolonged, heart-to-heart talk." He states, "I have never encountered a word that conveys ‘heart-to-heart chit-chat’ as warmly as does shmooze." Well, that's a high goal we've set!

Yiddish is a Germanic language spoken by the Jewish people throughout Eastern Europe, and one of many languages of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. While Yiddish had been dying out as a spoken language, it is now seeing a minor resurgance. In any case, it has extended a pervasive influence on American English ("that bagel looks stale," "you’ve got quite a lot of chutzpah," "that bagel tastes even more stale than it looks").

Now, many words in Yiddish come from Hebrew, and the Hebrew origins of ‘shmooze’ turn out to be fairly relevant. It actually comes from the biblical word shmu’ot, meaning "things heard," or reports (see Dan 11:44). So in a very famous passage of Scripture we read "Who has believed our report (shmu’ateinu), and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed" (Isaiah 53:1). From the same root of that word we get the Shema, meaning "Hear" with the sense of heeding and obeying: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut. 6:4). Through sharing our through our newsletter and blog, our hope is that the good news of from our great God to Israel will be hearable.

There is also a pun lurking in the background. Sam’s name in Hebrew is Shmu’el, which can be shortened to Shmu, and so, "Shmu’s letter"="Shmooze Letter." However, we are assured that this pun came to mind after the fact.
(Picture above: An example of Yiddish text, in this case John 1. Yiddish is traditionally written in Hebrew characters. To receive the Shmooze Letter in print for free please email your info to shmooze @

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