Getting the Schmuck Out of “West Side Story”

Sondheim wanted “F@#$ YOU”; interesting how the F-word rhymes with the SCHM-word, and means about the same.

One Yiddish word I liked to use quite a bit when I was in my twenties was schmuck, meaning “an obnoxious, contemptible person; one who is stupid, foolish, or detestable.” I did not know until recently that, in some Jewish homes, the word had been “regarded as so vulgar as to be taboo”. The non-religious Jews I knew certainly used it often enough. The word’s derivation comes from the word representing that which beleaguered Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeted recently.

In his book Finishing the Hat, lyricist Stephen Sondheim talks about the evolution of the words to the song GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE from West Side Story.

Initially, they were:

Dear kindly social worker,
They say go earn a buck.
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schumck.

But the producer of the Broadway cast album Continue reading “Getting the Schmuck Out of “West Side Story””