Two commercial examples of Yiddish-accented reduplication, spotted within the same week.
I saw “Burglar Schmurglar” on a Bay Alarm truck in Oakland:
Flickr has the billboard version, with a clearer view of the corporate tagline “What Have You Got to Lose?” The signs are part of a long-running Bay Alarm ad campaign that I commended in a 2009 post. I’m pleased to see that the company has spruced up its web design and content since then.
Libros Schmibros is a lending library and used bookstore that opened in July 2010 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles; it's the labor of love of former San Francisco Chronicle book critic David Kipen. I took the photo at the Libros Schmibros temporary residence at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, where it will remain through November 5.
The store’s name reflects its current population (majority Latino) and its heritage (majority Jewish). My father grew up in Boyle Heights during the latter period; it was said that when they started to make money, the immigrant Jews of Los Angeles moved “from BH to BH”—Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills. Westwood lies just west of Beverly Hills.
The reduplicative pattern employed in Burglar Schmurglar and Libros Schmibros usually expresses disdain, disesteem, or a dismissive shrug: “poetry-shmoetry”; “facts-shmacts”; “virus-shmirus.” The formula is “pure Yinglish”—a blend of Yiddish and English—writes Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yinglish. In his entry on “fancy-shmancy,” Rosten says that “the sardonic shm- must have been among the earliest of what linguists call reduplications that was created or embroidered by Lower East Side Jews.” He devotes a separate entry to the particles sh-, shm-, sch-, and schm-, which he says are “solidly entrenched in Yinglish as prefatory expressions of mockery, scorn or derogation.” And he adds an “IMPORTANT NOTE”:
I strongly disapprove of using sch or schm instead of sh for English transliterations of Yiddish words. Sch is German; sh is Yiddish—which, in fact, uses a single letter (shin) for the sh sound. There is no letter for sch in Yiddish. I use the sh and exile the sch wherever possible.
The most famous example of the “x-ing shmx-ing” formula is, of course, the joke about the Jewish man whose psychoanalyst tells him he has an Oedipus complex. The punchline: “Oedipus-Shmoedipus, as long as he loves his mother!”