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.

  13. shvitzer is derived from the german word “Schwätzer”, which means :
    1] Someone who, usually without being asked, makes excessive comments on any topic that none of those present actually want to hear
    [2] Someone who talks about their project or makes promises, but does not put them into practice

  14. That was suggested eight years ago by Gary, but there’s no way of proving it.

  15. Stu Clayton says

    Schwätzer means what Peter says it does. Whether it is related to “shvitzer” is a different pot-au-feu de poisson.

  16. Schwätzer means what Peter says it does.

    Nobody disagreed, so I’m not sure why you’re pointing that out. The entire issue is whether it is related to “shvitzer.” The vowel makes it look unlikely.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Perhaps borrowed from a Yiddish variety with more vowels into one with only five? Schwätzer should have had [e] at some point, and that would be bound to confuse people who only have [ɛ] and [i].

  18. I mean, maybe, if there weren’t another obvious candidate that didn’t have the vowel problem.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Uh, sorry, I forgot to mention that the same applies to how schwitzen changed from “sweat” to “show off”: maybe schwätzen (“talk a lot”, “talk insignificant/worthless stuff”, “lie, exaggerate”) was borrowed and confused with schwitzen.

  20. Now you’re talking!

  21. PlasticPaddy says

    Is the unmarked sense of schwätzen as “talk” (e.g., Alemannic, South Tyrol, maybe even your own dialect?) older or newer than the meanings you give? If newer, then there are other possibilities, e.g., schwätzen itself was influenced by schwitzen (or by contact with the Yiddish word) and other “[excretion] reden” idioms.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Is the unmarked sense of schwätzen as “talk” (e.g., Alemannic, South Tyrol, maybe even your own dialect?) older or newer than the meanings you give?

    Probably newer (a dysphemism); the word is completely dialect from my dialect.

    There’s an adjective schwatzhaft “prone to talking too much” that doesn’t look new; older than its synonym geschwätzig in any case.

    If newer, then there are other possibilities, e.g., schwätzen itself was influenced by schwitzen (or by contact with the Yiddish word) and other “[excretion] reden” idioms.

    Both of these would greatly surprise me. Even the metaphor of nonsense as bullshit or anything like that is much more common in English than in German; there is no generalization to excretions in general, and then the choice of sweat as one would still be random. Instead, the pejorative of Unsinn “nonsense” is Blödsinn.

  23. the unmarked sense of schwätzen as “talk” (e.g., Alemannic, South Tyrol,

    Also Pennsylvania German, therefore with some time depth.

  24. wrote something cranky about the ways that the time & place just doesn’t work for the kinds of yiddish/german and ivrit/german contact that a lot of this seems to depend on, but then i realized i had something slightly more productive to offer:

    it seems to me that the odessa slang is glaringly obvious as the source for the israeli usage: the meaning matches, and there are clear groups of people to carry it at several different points in time. i’m not sure why we need to look farther.

    personally, i think there’s no reason to think the odessa usage isn’t entirely from yiddish, possibly through a ganovem-loshn slang meaning, and there’s no reason to fantasize a german source.* but to be fair, odessa is also the only place i can see a plausible case for the german term to have made contact: either by way of tsarist officials (there were more than the usual number of germans in the mix there, iirc) or the anabaptist settlements nearby in novorossiya (who might well have been thought of as that kind of bossily arrogant). if i thought it was a likely element, that’s where i’d be looking for evidence.

    p.s. @Brett: is your rabbi from melbourne? if so, they’re likely to have had significantly more yiddish in their social worlds than the vast majority of non-hasidic rabbis in new york city.

    * and i really don’t understand why “fantasize a recent german source, no matter how vaguely plausible” is still a thing in relation to matters yiddish and jewish (thankfully, not so much around here!). it made a certain kind of sense a hundred years ago, when german was a prestige language in eastern and central europe, and scholars of jewish culture were desperate for prestige. but it’s always been garbage, analytically speaking, and i don’t see what people get out of it at this point.

  25. @rozele: Yes, she was born in Melbourne. However, from her other comments that I remember, it seemed that she did not really grow up in an environment infused with much Yiddish culture. For example, until she came to America, she had never known the Eastern European trope for reading Torah, having grown up only using the trope that was standard in England.

  26. @DM: Grimm agrees that “chat, babble” is the oldest attested meaning for schwatzen / schwätzen.

  27. Thank you, rozele, for that sensible assessment of the evidence!

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