“Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).”
At one time I often used the word “schmuck” to describe a person who was annoying, obnoxious, stupid, or just a plain screw-up. I liked using that word because I thought it sounded funny and was a lot softer than a word like “idiot” or something more vulgar. It also had a satisfying feel when it came tripping off the tongue. “He’s such a schmuck!”.
One day I used that word in the office to describe someone for a reason I have long forgotten. My supervisor at the time who had some familiarity with Yiddish said “do you know what that word means?”
I told her what I thought it meant. Then she told me what it really meant. Uh-oh.
You will need to read the definition on Wikipedia to find out. Let’s just say that word is forbidden in some Yiddish speaking households.
So the lessons I learned from that are this:
- Don’t borrow words from other languages unless you check the meaning first.
- Even more important: don’t think so poorly of others that you end up calling them names — in any language.
From this experience I learned it is better to be a mensch than a schmuck.