Recently, someone noted that a German-sounding word, "smuck, had a highly pejorative meaning in English, and asked if the word had similar connotations in German?

What does "Schmuck" mean in German?

A simple dictionary definition was that Schmuck meant jewelry. Some people might consider that the end of the question, and that it is "general reference." But while the question CAN be answered by a dictionary, the answer might not be all that "basic" or"definitive," given some surrounding facts.

A better question might have been, "The word smuck has pejorative connotations in English, and yet when I look up Schmuck in a German dictionary, it seems to mean jewelry. Are the two words totally unrelated, or does Schmuck have other meanings? Or is there a connection I'm missing?"

The answer was that the English "smuck" is not translated by the German "Schmuck," but by the German "Schmock." In other words, the two are "false friends." This result apparently surprised the native speaker who came up with it.

And sometimes there ARE words with hidden connections.

Difference between "euch" and "du"? And some insight into words like "Spiel"?

Could it be that it is worth probing such connections, and that a question that does so is NOT "basic," or "general reference?"

  • 1
    The problem with the above question was that the asker obviously did not bother to look up "Schmuck" in a dictionary and instead wonder here why jewelry was given that name.
    – Phira
    Oct 23, 2011 at 10:46

1 Answer 1


Yes, a dictionary definition can be insufficient. Dictionary definitions don't always convey all the nuances of a word. This holds especially for non-natives who might not understand everything in a large monolingual dictionary, and so resort to bilingual dictionaries which are often terrible at conveying nuances.

Now, the Schmuck question is an example of a bad question. I'd close it as “general reference” if I could. Lacking that I use “too localized” to mean “your question isn't making the Internet any better, answering it would only help you and not future visitors”. A good meaning-of-this-word question would be something like “I've looked up this word in dictionaries X and Y, which said that it meant A, but that doesn't fit in the context where I found it: ‘some sentence’. What meaning does the word convey?”.

The spiel question is a good one. Here, the asker had a cognitive block that was not alleviated by reading the definition because his native language doesn't split the concepts in the same way. That is exactly when asking a question is useful. Similarly, the du/euch part isn't something you can understand from a textbook alone (however, the two should have been asked separately).

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