Prentiss Riddle: Language

aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada

Prentiss Riddle

home art austin books
causes chuckles garden
kids language movies
music time toys travel
Search this site

Archive by date
Archive by title

Putz vs. putz

I know roughly what a "putz" is in English but I had to look it up to find out that its origin is virtually identical to the better-known "schmuck", i.e., Yiddish for something pretty > the male anatomical ornament > an epithet. Here's the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Putz: "obnoxious man, fool," 1964, from Yiddish, from Ger. putz, lit. "finery, adornment," obviously used here in an ironic sense. Earlier in slang sense of "penis" (1934, in "Tropic of Cancer"); a non-ironic sense is in putz "Nativity display around a Christmas tree" (1902), from Pennsylvania Dutch.

Or rather it's close to what I thought was the origin of "schmuck". The same source says that the family-jewels connection is a folk etymology!

Schmuck: "contemptible person," 1892, from E.Yiddish shmok, lit. "penis," from Old Pol. smok "grass snake, dragon." Not the same word as Ger. schmuck "jewelry, adornments," which is related to Low Ger. smuck "supple, tidy, trim, elegant," and related to O.N. smjuga "slip, step through" (see smock). In Jewish homes, the word was "regarded as so vulgar as to be taboo" [Leo Rosten, "The Joys of Yiddish," 1968] and Lenny Bruce wrote that saying it on stage got him arrested on the West Coast "by a Yiddish undercover agent who had been placed in the club several nights running to determine if my use of Yiddish terms was a cover for profanity." Euphemized as schmoe, which was the source of Al Capp's cartoon strip creature the schmoo.

putz graffiti

The real mystery, however, is why putz and a variant putz grila are ubiquitous slang in Brazilian Portuguese. They're not in my Larousse but here's one definition:

Putz grila: gíria. Interjeição que exprime espanto, surpresa, impaciéncia, desapontamento, zanga, etc.; puxa vida; poxa(�).

(Putz grila: slang. Interjection which expresses fright, surprise, impatience, dissapointment, anger, etc.; gosh, jeez.)

Is there any connection between the North and South American uses of putz? Could its use in Brazil be of Yiddish origin? I know there's a significant Jewish population in Brazil; did they influence Brazilian (or perhaps Carioca) Portuguese much? Or is putz grila a common term in Portugal as well?

(I suspect there are just two readers of this blog who could hazard a guess; Neuza and Colin, are you there?)

language 2006.07.14 link