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Pronunciation: shli-mah-zêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A person with no luck at all, a sort of loser who magnetically attracts misfortune. A schlimazel could be hired as a "cooler" in a casino.

Notes: Today's word is almost always defined in terms of interaction between schlimazels and schlemiels. According to Leo Rosten in Hooray for Yiddish!, if a waiter spills the soup he is carrying, he is a schlemiel. The person who gets it down the neck is a schlimazel. When a schlemiel accidentally knocks over a priceless vase, he blames the nearest schlimazel. Most dictionaries will allow you to omit the [c] after [s] (shlimazel), but our spell-checker frowns on the practice.

In Play: Although both these words refer to unfortunate people, they are generally used in good humor, often with sympathy attached: "The poor schlimazel had just cashed $500 in traveler's checks when he was mugged." In fact, this word rarely occurs without the attribute poor preceding it: "One time in his life he runs a stop sign and the poor schlimazel hits a police car."

Word History: Today's word comes from Yiddish shlimazl "bad luck, unlucky person" from an ancestor of German schlimm "bad" + Yiddish mazl "luck". Mazl comes from Late Hebrew mazzal "constellation, destiny". Mazzal was borrowed (and never returned) from Akkadian manzaltu, mazzatum "position of a star", the noun from the verb izuzzu "to stand". The Yiddish variant of mazzal is also found in mazel tov "good luck", the indispensable toast at Jewish weddings, from Mishnaic Hebrew mazzal tob "good luck". (Today let us in a chorus wish Evelyn and Morty Hershman of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, "mazel tov" for suggesting another lexical jewel loaned to English by Yiddish.)

Dr. Goodword,

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