• schmaltz •
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Rendered goose or chicken fat, though it originally meant the fat from any animal. 2. Maudlin sentimentality.
Notes: Although schmaltz is not usually taken from ham, it does come from hamming it up, playing the audience, resorting to romantic claptrap. The adjective for this noun is schmaltzy and, if you need to separate the senses of this word, the noun schmaltziness refers only to the second sense above.
In Play: When candidates for public office begin telling you about their families and add the family dog to the picture, we are being fed schmaltz straight from the pot: "Ralph's speech started out bad enough, then ended with some schmaltz about giving candy to kids when he was fighting in Grenada." Elevator music is notoriously schmaltzy: Jackie Gleason was popular in the 1950s for his schmaltzy 'mood music', played by a huge orchestra heavy with strings.
Word History: Today's Good Word is yet another gift from Yiddish, this time shmalts, taken from German Schmalz "rendered animal fat". The German word comes from the verb schmelzen "to melt". This word has a Fickle S (which became SCH in German), an S that comes and goes for reasons of its own. The same root shows up in Latin without the S in mollis "soft", which we can see in words like emollient, mollify, and mollusk. We find it in English without the S, too, in melt, meld, and mild. (It is like falling in the schmaltz jar when Carol DeBaets sends us wonderful Good Words like today's.)
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