Schmaltz
Posted: 27 March 2017 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]
Moderator
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1147
Joined  2007-03-01

The other day I was in my kitchen rendering down some chicken fat and wondered, what precisely is the metaphor in schmaltz? Is it simply a sensory metaphor (analogous, say, to the ones in syrupy or sugary) for something cheap and obviously appealing but that easily cloys? Or is there any connotation of ‘old-country and old-fashioned, like Momma’s home cooking’?’ Does anyone actually know?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 March 2017 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1574
Joined  2007-03-21

Douglas Harper at etymonline has this

“banal or excessive sentimentalism,” 1935, from Yiddish shmalts, literally “melted fat,” from Middle High German smalz, from Old High German smalz “animal fat,” related to smelzan “to melt” (see smelt (v.)). Modern German Schmalz “fat, grease” has the same figurative meaning. First mentioned in English as “a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz” ["Vanity Fair,” Nov. 1935].

Haven’t checked OED.

Haven’t heard of the home-cooking sense.

Duden on-line has the cooking sense, but we would use the word “lard” in that case.

Bauchfett vom Schwein auslassen und Schmalz daraus machen
Schmalz auslassen
das Fleisch, den Kohl mit Schmalz anbraten
das Gebäck in, mit Schmalz backen

[ Edited: 27 March 2017 07:20 AM by Oecolampadius ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 31 March 2017 04:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Moderator
Rank
Total Posts:  27
Joined  2007-04-09

I associate the literal/figurative senses of schmaltz(y) with the similar, though not identical, literal/figurative senses of oleaginous.  There’s something of the same association with the notion of buttering up someone.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 April 2017 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2652
Joined  2007-02-19

I don’t think “schmaltz” and “buttering up” have anything in common.  “Schmaltz” (in Yiddish, at any rate) refers not to any oil or lard, but to fat from a fowl --- a chicken, or ideally, a goose; kilograms of schmaltz can be rendered down from an adult goose who has been properly brought up. This is a very rich, cloying sort of fat which, when used enthusiastically, can very easily go into OD mode.  I have a recollection of many years ago, eating the ultimate kneidel (dumplings) in chicken soup at Passover: huge balls of matza meal, each with a hefty core of chopped onions fried in, and oozing with, schmaltz.  It took courage and determination to confront even one of them……..  I have always understood the metaphorical sense of “schmaltz” to be of Yiddish derivation, but this may be mere Judaeocentricity on my part.

(Can’t find my copy of Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, to check his take on the word)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 April 2017 04:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6265
Joined  2007-01-03

The OED says German and Yiddish, with a first citation, for both the literal and metaphorical senses, from 1935. The entry is from 1982, so I bet it can be antedated by a few years. The first metaphorical cite in the OED is:

1935 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Nov. 71/2 Schmaltz (cf. the German schmalz, meaning grease) is a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz.

Which may be why that dictionary includes German in the etymology (although given the date, eliding any Jewish overtones would not be beyond the editors of Vanity Fair). I would have said just Yiddish, but it’s difficult to pry those two languages apart when it comes to influence on English. In any case, the word has a heavy tenor of Jewish culture associated with it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 April 2017 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2999
Joined  2007-01-30
Dave Wilton - 02 April 2017 04:13 AM

The first metaphorical cite in the OED is:

1935 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Nov. 71/2 Schmaltz (cf. the German schmalz, meaning grease) is a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz.

Do you know what that straight jazz is in opposition to, Dave? It seems a little early for bebop or modern, although I’m woefully ignorant of jazz history.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 02 April 2017 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4457
Joined  2007-01-29

I would guess the easy-listening Paul Whiteman variety (vastly popular among white folks in those times).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2017 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2652
Joined  2007-02-19

My copy of The Joys of Yiddish surfaced. Before it submerges (or i submerge), here is Leo Rosten’s answer to SL’s query:

Rosten defines “schmaltz” (for which he offers an alternative spelling, withouT the “c”) in three ways:

1. Cooking fat (mostly chicken)

2. “Corn”, pathos; maudlin or mawkish substance; excessive sentimentality; overly emotional mush; sugary banality.

3. Luxury; wealth; good luck. “He fell into a tub of shmaltz, that’s how lucky he is.”

No connection mentioned with “old country and old-fashioned, like Momma’s cooking” — certainly not in a Yiddish context.  Rosten is, I think, highly regarded as an authority on Yiddish.  Some may know him better as Leonard Q. Ross, the brilliant creator of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2017 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  467
Joined  2007-02-17

Do you happen to know the Yiddish for the fat of animals with four legs and no feathers, lionello?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 April 2017 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2652
Joined  2007-02-19

Sorry, no. But I’ll do some asking around. Not too many Yiddish speakers around my way, I’m afraid.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 April 2017 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4457
Joined  2007-01-29

I believe it’s (dos) fets.  (”Dos” being the neuter definite article, German das.)

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 May 2017 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2652
Joined  2007-02-19

From the few Yiddish speakers of my acquaintance, I have received confirmation of languagehat’s statement that the word for for non-schmaltz animal fat is fet (not necessarily fets)

Profile