When Julia emigrated to New York City from the Dominican Republic, she noticed that her Jewish friends on Long Island often playfully altered words, repeating a word and adding an SHM sound, such as changing deserve to deserve, schmeserve and cool to cool, schmool. This addition of shm- or schm- to a word in this way is what linguists call shm-reduplication or echoic dismissive shm. This construction arose in 19th century Yiddish, where the rhyming dismissive term tata, shmatta employed the words for “father” and “old rag,” and might be rendered in English father, shmather. Similarly, gelt, schmelt was used dismissively about money, suggesting money, shmoney. Another example is fancy-schmancy. A fancy-schmancy restaurant, suggesting it’s a particularly high-toned establishment, often ostentatiously or pretentiously so.

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