shtum
Posted: 18 May 2017 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Today marked a first: looking up a word in an article from The Economist.  I’ve been reading it for about
forty-five years, always without recourse to dictionaries.  The following context was adequate to suggest the meaning,
but I looked it up to confirm.

In theory, he will be answerable to Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, yet the fact that Mr Sessions has recused himself from playing any role in the Russian investigation—after he was also revealed to have kept weirdly shtum about meetings with the same Russian diplomat, Sergey Kislyak—is an additional guarantee of Mr Mueller’s independence. 

Oxford offers this-

ADJECTIVE

informal
Silent; non-communicative.
‘He kept shtum about the fact that he was sent down for fraud’

Origin
1950s: Yiddish, from German stumm.

My question is simple.  Is this widely used in print and/or speech on either side of the pond?

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Posted: 18 May 2017 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It is certainly in common use among people who lard their English speech with Yiddish words. I’ve often heard it, and the associated expression “he [or she] took a shtum pill”

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Posted: 18 May 2017 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, shtum is very familiar indeed. Certainly in use in London and the South of England in the 60s. I knew it was clearly of Yiddish origin from the sound. I found it hiding in OED under shtoom with a 1958 first cite.

Edited to add that in my experience it was mainly used by young people back in the 60s. My parents wouldn’t have had a clue what was meant by it. I strongly suspect it began in London and in fact I have a strong memory of Morrie, a Londoner living in Portsmouth, using it a lot and that could be the first time I encountered it.

[ Edited: 18 May 2017 11:19 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 18 May 2017 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Not common in the US.  I recall Monty Python using it, once in particular in the sketch in Meaning of Life set during the Zulu wars, where Eric Idle’s leg has been bitten off during the night, and the doctor (Graham Chapman), after first attributing it to a virus, says it was probably done by a tiger. One of the officers present (Michael Palin) expresses incredulity ("A tiger? In Africa?") and another (John Cleese) shushes him with “Shtum, shtum.”

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Posted: 18 May 2017 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I was about to say that one hears it in the US, then upon reading Dr. T’s post I realized the only place I’d heard it was Monty Python.

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Posted: 18 May 2017 06:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I don’t hear it much these days. I associate it with the sixties and seventies.

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Posted: 18 May 2017 10:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’m amazed to learn that it isn’t common in the US, because Yiddish/Jewish slang in general isn’t anything like as commonplace and influential over here as it is left of the Pond.

I agree with Aldi about its London origin, and I’d suggest that it’s specifically an East End gangster origin. (I can’t say offhand if anyone in the film The Long Good Friday ever uses the word, but that’s its natural milieu.)

East End crime always had a vigorous Jewish element, and in the 50s and 60s notorious East End gangsters such as the Kray twins were, I’m sorry to say, considered glamorous by many, and fashionable people hobnobbed with them. Also, the Swinging Sixties saw the emergence of Cockney film stars such as Michael Caine and Terence Stamp, who unlike actors of previous generations kept and indeed flaunted their native accents and patois. I’d say (generalising wildly, of course) that such Yiddish slang as Rightpondian English includes mostly comes either from that era, or has been adopted second-hand from US English.

[ Edited: 19 May 2017 03:11 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 19 May 2017 12:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yiddish is, of course, over a thousand years old. Its use in North America and Rightpondia only became extensive during the second half of the 19c, during the great Jewish exodus from Eastern Europe (before that, most Jews in Western countries were of Sephardic origin). Different local usages developed, naturally, in R. and L. Pondia.  Shtum is apparently a great deal more prevalent in R. Pondia.; it is one of those words used by UK Jews who don’t speak Yiddish, but use a seasoning of Yiddish words and phrases, when speaking English to each other and to non-Jews.

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