Kobi wrote me with the following interesting question:

In Hebrew people use the word שויצר to describe a person who boasts. I found the word in Raphael’s dictionary but I have no idea if it’s a credible source.

shvits verb, participle ge…t, sweat, perspire adjectival form with -ik, adverbial complementdurkh
shvitser noun, plural in -s, gender m, braggart

I wonder where shvitzer comes from and if there is more to know about this word.

I wonder too; anybody know?


  1. Well, shvits “sweat” obviously is the same word as German schwitzen “sweat”, but how the agent noun came to mean “braggart”, I don’t know.

  2. That’s how it is explained, someone who is so concerned about making a good impression that one breaks sweat. E.g. from the Odessa slang discussion:

    Отвечаю: “швыцать”- происходит от еврейского (идиш) слова “швыц” -“потеть”. Смысловой перевод этого слова- хвастаться или еще “фраериться”, как говорили в нашем детстве.
    Думаю, это слово довольно наглядно рисует нам такого швыцара, который так хвалится, аж потеет.

  3. Can it be the Yiddish equivalent of German Schwetzer — someone who is all talk and no follow-through?

  4. From schwetzen = blather, not schwitzen = sweat.

  5. Can it be the Yiddish equivalent of German Schwetzer

    This is one of the theories suggested at The Forward, but in the end nothing is conclusive…

  6. (but examples of Odessa usage imply that it’s more about showing off than about taking too much; about *acting* in such a way as to mislead people and to pretend to be better or more important. Like one respondent remembers being told “ne shvitsay” ~~ “don’t shvitz” when he’d leave home without a hat (Sic!) in winter )

  7. MrThigron says

    This reminds me of one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s early successes:

  8. Slang researcher Ruvik Rosental says it’s someone “who sweats, and makes sure everyone sees it.” In other words, someone who shows off. I saw a similar explanation on some forum, too. It fits in with my concept of Yiddish wit, but I’d like to see a proof of it.

  9. J. W. Brewer says

    In the Yiddish-influenced variety of AmEng (and thus I assume in Yiddish proper), shvitz as a noun refers to a Russian-style steam bath (= banya), either the facility itself or what one does there (i.e. it’s idiomatic both to go to the shvitz and to go for a shvitz). So given a stereotype that the banya is a place where social interaction between sweating males includes a fair amount of gossip, blathering, bragging, and other lowbrow forms of discourse, there’s an obvious folk etymology just waiting to happen.

  10. @J. W. Brewer: I guess having never lived in an area where steam baths were a prominent thing in Jewish community life, I do not at all have that association for the word “shvitz” in my heavily Yiddish influenced American English. Then again, my perception of the word “shvitz” may just be idiosyncratic. The new rabbi at our temple used “shvitzing” in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, and it was very off-putting. I’m not sure if it was that the connotations seemed wrong, of it seemed inappropriate in context, or I just didn’t like the rabbi (who’s from Australia, originally) trying too hard to sound like a New Yorker.

  11. J. W. Brewer says

    I expect as with a number of other Yiddishisms in my lexicon (for passive understanding if not for active use), I acquired that sense of “shvitz” (and possibly also the more core sense of verb-meaning-to-sweat, although I’m less certain of that) after moving to the NYC area, now almost half my lifetime ago. It is good to be reminded that the NYC-area variety of Yiddish-influenced AmEng is not the only variety.

  12. I think of “shvitz” the same way J. W. Brewer does, and for the same reason.

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