As in the original German, the Yiddish noun schmutz designates soil, filth, or anything that stains undesirably. This can be anything from dust to ground-in dirt, from soot to grass stains. Less accurately, it is used to indicate a particularly foul or repulsive substance, such as feces or the fuzzy stuff growing in a jar at the back of the fridge. A Jewish comedian once defined schmutz as “dirt that moves.” As a verb, it can describe a tangible action, as in, “Five minutes into the party and she schmutzes on herself already,” or it can move into a figurative sense of messing up in general, as in, “I don’t need you to come in here and schmutz things up for me.” Its adjectival form is schmutzic (also shmutsik) and means dirty or soiled as in, “He dropped his blintz and got his shirt all schmutzic.”
Schmutz is in no way related to or interchangeable with either schmaltz or schmuck. Nor is it dreck, which should be reserved for garbage that is poorly made, worthless, or cheap. It is also not chazerai, which refers less to the inherent qualities of items and more to their state of disarray.
In colloquial use, the Straphangers Campaign, a New York City advocacy group, issues an annual "Subway Schmutz" report, which ranks the city's cleanest and dirtiest subway lines.
Schmutz is also used to describe features of a histological specimen that are unclear. It can also be used to describe objects that one does not want to spend time identifying or just to confuse medical students.
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