Shm-reduplication is a form of reduplication in which the original word or its first syllable (the base) is repeated with the copy (the reduplicant) beginning with shm- (sometimes schm-), pronounced /ʃm/. The construction is generally used to indicate irony, derision, skepticism, or disinterest with respect to comments about the discussed object:

He's just a baby!
"Baby-shmaby".[1] He's already 5 years old!
What a sale!
"Sale, schmale".[2] I'm waiting for a larger discount.

The original word can be a noun, but also an adjective:

"Whenever we go to a fancy-schmancy restaurant, we feel like James Bond."[3]

In general, the new combination is used as an interjection. In the case of adjectives, the reduplicated combination can belong to the same syntactical category as the original.

Phonological properties

Further phonological details revealed by Bert Vaux and Andrew Nevins' online survey of shm-reduplication can be found here

Origins and sociolinguistic distribution

The construction originated in Yiddish and was subsequently transferred to English, especially urban northeastern American English, by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrations from Central and Eastern Europe. It is now known and used by many non-Jewish English speakers, particularly American English. The construction also transferred into Modern Hebrew usage, as a productive derogatory prefix resulting in an echoic expressive, as in David Ben-Gurion's famous dismissal of the United Nations (UN), oom shmoom (UN Shm-UN) during a March 29, 1955 government meeting. "When an Israeli speaker would like to express his impatience with or disdain for philosophy, s/he can say filosófya-shmilosófya".[4] In German-Yiddish the same construction is possible, too, for example: Visum-Schmisum (i.e.: visa permits which have been somehow obtained, possibly below the level of legality).

Zuckermann (2009) mentions in this context the Turkic initial m-segment conveying a sense of "and so on" as in the Turkish sentence dergi mergi okumuyor, literally "magazine 'shmagazine' read:NEGATIVE:PRESENT:3rd person singular", i.e. "(He) doesn’t read magazines, journals or anything like that".[4]

A similar phenomenon is present in most of the languages of the Balkan sprachbund, especially in colloquial Bulgarian where not only 'sh(m)-' and 'm-' but also other consonants and consonant clusters are used in this way, and its usage has its particularities that differ from what the English 'shm' indicates.[5]

As a counterexample in linguistics

Shm-reduplication has been advanced as an example of a natural language phenomenon that cannot be captured by a context-free grammar.[6] The essential argument was that the reduplication can be repeated indefinitely, producing a sequence of phrases of geometrically increasing length, which cannot occur in a context-free language.[6]

See also

Look up schm- in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. Holly R (December 1, 1986). "The Baby". Jews for Jesus. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  2. Christina Rexrode and Sarah Skidmore (December 7, 2011). "Shoppers say 'ho-hum' not 'ho-ho-ho' to sales". The Boston Globe. AP. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  3. Penn Jillette and Teller (1992). Penn & Teller's how to play with your food. Villard Books. p. 35. ISBN 0-679-74311-1.
  4. 1 2 Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009), Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns. In Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2: 40–67, p. 49, where he also refers to Haig (2001) and Lewis (1967).
  5. P. Asenova. Main problems of the Balkan sprachbund. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. 2002. (Bulgarian: Асенова, П., Балканско езикознание. Основни проблеми на балканския езиков съюз. Велико Търново. 2002 г.)
  6. 1 2 Manaster-Ramer, Alexis (1983). "The soft formal underbelly of theoretical syntax". Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistics Society. 19: 256–262.
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