Yiddishisms in the law." /> Legally speaking, schmuck is OK - LA Observed

Legally speaking, schmuck is OK

After seeing my post yesterday on the new Steve Carell movie with "schmucks" in the title, an LA Observed reader sent me to this Yale Law Review article from 1993 in which Alex Kozinski, the U.S. 9th Circuit judge, and Eugene Volokh, the UCLA scholar and law blogger, do a thorough briefing on Yiddishisms in the law. Excerpt:

There is, of course, one obvious question that must be on every reader’s mind at this juncture: what about "schmuck"? Regrettably, we were stymied in our schmuck search by the fact that many people are actually named Schmuck. This is an unfortunate circumstance for researchers, and even worse for the poor Schmucks themselves.

The same happens to be true of "putz" and of "mensch." We’d much rather be named "mensch" than "schmuck," but, oddly enough, a search for NAME (SCHMUCK) found 87 cases and NAME (MENSCH) found only 63 cases. Perhaps this is because there are more schmucks than mensches in the world; but wouldn’t the real schmucks change their names so as to better fool people, and real mensches change theirs out of modesty? Besides, the true schmuck-mensch ratio is much higher than 87 to 63....

In any case, returning to "schmuck," we can’t report on the degree to which schmuck has worked its way into legal English, which is too bad, because schmucks are even more common in courtrooms than schlemiels, schmoozing, and chutzpah. We can, however, mention that there’s a U.S. Supreme Court case named Schmuck v. United States; for what it’s worth, the petitioner was a used-car dealer. And there’s also People v. Arno, where the first letters of each sentence in a footnote spell out "schmuck" (apparently referring to the dissent). Harsh.

That should about exhaust this topic for me. Though you never know.


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