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English schmuck vs. German Schmuck - Tricky False Friends

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Don't assume the two have the same meaning. In fact, the two are false friends. "False friends" (or "false cognates") are pairs of words that are often similar in spelling but with a significantly different meaning. In today's post I explain why Schmuck wouldn't be an insult for a German native speaker.

Even though their spelling is identical, the two words are not linguistically linked at all. The English word "schmuck" has an interesting etymology. It goes back to Old Polish where it referred to a snake ("smok"), was subsequently adopted by Yiddish and used as a vulgar term for penis, before it took on its current English meaning of describing a person as "obnoxious" or "foolish". By contrast, The modern German word "Schmuck" originates from the Low German "smuk", which means "elegant". Nowadays, it means "jewellery". It's not an insult in German- I told you!

On our German Language Blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you also find posts on many grammar topics- from adjective endings in German, the cases in German, the passive in German, to German word order. We also have articles that are of interest to language learners more generally, such as a review of online dictionaries Linguee,, dict.leo, and Collins, and a comparison between Duolingo, Memrise, Babbel, and Busuu.



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