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Moodlike its nice cousins vibrations and energy, has become a ubiquitous internet buzzword, used to indicate identification with an image, aesthetic, behavior or attitude. Post a video of a Rollerblader eating it in a public park with the caption “mood,” and we’ll get a general idea of how you feel. Reply “mood” to a friend who tells you they don’t care if it’s rude to leave a party after an hour to go to bed, and you’ll both know where you stand in the battle between the social etiquette and self-care. The word, which comes from Old English wordwhich means “state of mind”, hasn’t changed much semantically over time, apart from having recently acquired the ability to function on its own as a general affirmative, like mhmmm Where always. But in recent years its use has exploded, producing familiar variants like great mood, a whole mood, and my favourite, mood.
Playfully add the shit- sound before a word beginning with m is surprisingly common. Through a process called shm-reduplication, you can do this with just about any word. In fact … Word, shmord! You can do it with whole sentences! You could probably do this for an entire sentence if you had the time. Shm-reduplication – the repetition of a base with the addition of the shm– prefix – came to English in the early 1900s via Yiddish, the Central European hybrid of Hebrew and High German spoken by the nascent Ashkenazi Jewish population. Shm-ify something can mean many things. He can intensify it (fancy-shmancy), generalize it (Joe Schmoe), or demean it (breakfast, shmekfast). Most often, the shm– does all three – injecting an element of sarcastic and condescending contempt.
But today sound has transcended this historical context. We started using the shm- prefix without a base phrase to indicate a sense of ironic distance. A showy display of wealth could simply be called shmancy. Rapper Bobby Shmurda used it to playfully disguise genre tropes in both his stage name and one of his biggest hits, “shmoney dance.” It is used most often when humorously attempting to disguise language. If I was a sitcom character asking someone for a recommendation for the best wart cream for my sick “friend”, I might call him Shmaleb Shmadison. Or if I was a parent trying to talk some fun uncle out of buying my daughter the latest fidget spinner or whatever kids are playing with these days, and I was in the presence of said daughter, I could say : “Shme’s shmetting shmit for shmer shmerthday.”
There’s something inherently funny and enjoyable about starting a word with the shm– ring. It rolls over the front of the mouth like a drunken whisper, not changing the meaning per se, but prefacing the word with an attitude of cynical malice. the shm– sound brings a new dimension to everyday speech, like putting a wig on a word. Semantically, mood works almost the same as humor, except for the slight tinge of irony and intensification of Yiddish redoubling. Which leaves us with Friday’s level hint: “Too relatable.”
Play the rest of Friday’s crosswords and follow the puzzles of the week.
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