Monday 14 May 2012

Schmaltz, Grease and Home

Sometimes the dictionary doesn't tell you the whole story. Every reference work I've seen puts the etymology of schmaltz as Yiddish shmalts meaning melted chicken fat, from Old German smelzan meaning melt. Indeed, the first recorded use of schmaltz in the figurative sense even mentions the etymology. It's from a 1935 article in Vanity Fair :

Schmaltz (cf. the German schmalz, meaning grease) is a derogatory term used to describe straight jazz.

So far, so not that interesting really. Schmaltzy = greasy. But today, only today I learnt that it's the smell and associations of the grease that are important. Melted chicken grease would be an integral part of the big family dinners that New York Jews associated with home, and mama and papa, and sentimentality and all of the other terrors of kinship. Thus schmaltzy = sentimental.

Schmaltz isn't just fat, it's family.

Home, sweet home.


  1. I like your blog but if you would not mind, please let your readers know that the Schmaltz logo you used in the blog is a Deli in Chicago IL and despite its name does not serve greasy food. It is a great family place. Howard Bender - Owner Schmaltz Deli. thank you.

  2. Duly noted, and may I encourage all readers in Illinois to pay it a visit.