Here at Candleschtick we spend a lot of time thinking up fun cultural references that deliver a sense of nostalgia and warm humor. “Feeling Schmoozy” has become a favorite design theme, and with the country slowly returning to in-person socializing, seems to reflect our own state of mind as well.
To “schmooze,” according to our research, is based on the Yiddish shmuesn: to converse or chat. Although common enough today to merit entries in several online dictionaries, news articles, book titles, and more, “schmooze” reminds us of conversations with grandparents, and listening-in as children to the adult table at holidays. One of our goals at Candleschtick is to bring those old world vibes into modern life.
But what of schmooze? As I did more research on the word and its usage, I found that the term seems to have taken a turn in recent years.
In a 2006 NPR piece, “The Etymology of the Schmooze,” linguistics professor Diana Boxer traces the earliest written use of the word in English to 1897, and at that time, it was meant to describe a “warm chat.” The piece goes on to lament the damage done to the schmooze which has come to mean, in more recent years, “chatting with benefits.” A little heavier on the take than give-and-take…less of a conversation than a transaction, and not the schmooze I was looking for.
Further googling led me to “The Shmooze,” a podcast of the Yiddish Book Center and their 2020 episode, “How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish.” This interview with authors Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert discussed Yiddish in the zeitgeist. Their recent anthology speaks to both sentimental and scholarly explorations of the language and its evolution. Drawing from diverse voices, time periods, and world views, Stavans and Lambert highlight stories from the height of the lanugauge’s popularity during the 1920’s through its resurgence in America today.
Although I particularly enjoyed the stories about food (Latkes with Mole!!), what most resonated with me was the wild (vilde) diversity of Yiddish speakers, influencers and their histories. My concerns about “schmooze” lifted as I read the authors’ “Yiddish in America Timeline.” With usage spanning centuries, and languages themselves ever in flux with the dynamics of society, I feel hopeful that we can all nudge schmooze back toward a more kindhearted meaning….a meaning that seems more poignant after a year of mishegas and isolation.
Candleschtick was started with a question: What would make people smile? We hope that you find many opportunities to smile while browsing our catalog. But equally as important, we hope that our site helps you recall happy memories of schmoozing with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends at weddings, holidays and celebrations. We’re always up for a chat at Candleschtick and we’d love to help bring “schmooze” back.