“Josephine, Schmosephine”

I recently watched A Series Of Unfortunate Events, and I was puzzled by the expression “Josephine, Schmosephine”. The narrator explains that when you don’t care about something or someone, you repeat their name, changing the first syllable by “schm-“. Is this a real thing? I haven’t been able to find anything about that on the … Read more

Yiddish loan words for the foolish & incompetent

Is there a Yiddish loan word to describe someone incompetent or amateurish, or who is a small-time player in a given field of endeavor? The closest I know of are general-purpose insults like shnook, shlemiel, schmuck, &c., &c., but I don’t think they have the specific meaning I’m looking for. Answer I learned (by usage-N.E. … Read more

Non-chess usage of “patzer”?

I’ve heard the word patzer used to describe an incompetent or amateurish chess player. Is it ever used in a non-chess context? Answer Yes, patzer evidently is (or at least has been) sometimes used in a nonchess context, as we see in this excerpt from Victor Niederhoffer, The Education of a Speculator (1998): As I … Read more

If someone with luck is lucky, someone with chutzpah is

What so you call someone with chutzpah? If someone who has strength is strong and someone who has luck is lucky, what is someone who has chutzpah? There’s lots of almost-there synonyms, eg brave, impudent, audatious, cheeky, but the gulf between the meaning of those words shows the subtlety and breadth of “chutzpah”. Is there … Read more

Is “act like a mensch” too localized for ELU readers (U.S. and/or British English)?

This question was motivated by an interesting comment that was made at https://academia.stackexchange.com/posts/comments/123681?noredirect=1 Part of Answer: I don’t think that particular research team would be a healthy place for you. The guy behaved badly. You need an advisor you can trust to act like a mensch. Interesting Comment: Your “be a mensch” comment might be … Read more

Why do American English speakers pronounce both syllables in “challah” equally?

I live in the US, and I’ve noticed that “challah” seems to be generally pronounced by Americans as something like /hala:/ (or possibly /ha:lə/), with either equal stress on both syllables or a slight stress on the first. However, for some reason, I’ve generally assumed that the stress should be on the second syllable. Wikipedia … Read more

Meaning and derivation of “so-and-so would know from X”

A couple of times I’ve seen a phrase much like “that’s horrible coding — and I would know from horrible coding!” This seems extremely peculiar to me (if only because of how ungrammatical it is), and while I can guess that it’s supposed to be some emphatic way to indicate the subject’s authority on the … Read more

Is “chutzpah” used by non-Jewish English speakers?

Chutzpah is a term common to both Hebrew and Yiddish, and has been imported into English, at least for Jews. It means approximately audacity, nerve, insolence. Is chutzpah also used by non-Jewish English speakers? I think I have only seen it once outside of Jewish publications / communities. Answer Yes. I was brought up knowing … Read more

What does “bupkes” mean?

There was the following passage in the New Yorker‘s (August 27) article titled, “A scandal at the C.I.A. May be.” : In January I (David Shafer, novelist) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the C.I.A., asking for any information relating to my grandfather and Thomas Whittemore and the events of June 1950. They … Read more