Shm-reduplication is a form of reduplication in which the original word or its first syllable (the base) is repeated with the copy (the reduplicant) beginning with shm- (sometimes schm-), pronounced /ʃm/. The construction is generally used to indicate irony, sarcasm, derision, skepticism, or lack of interest with respect to comments about the discussed object:
"Whenever we go to a fancy-schmancy restaurant, we feel like James Bond."
In this case, it is being used to intensify the meaning of "fancy", implying that it's really fancy.
In general, the new combination is used as an interjection. In the case of adjectives, the reduplicated combination can belong to the same syntactical category as the original.
Words beginning with a single consonant typically replace that consonant with shm- (table shmable).
Words beginning with a consonant cluster are more variable: some speakers replace only the first consonant if possible (breakfast shmreakfast), others replace the entire cluster (breakfast shmeakfast).
Vowel-initial words prepend the shm- directly to the beginning of the reduplicant (apple shmapple). Although this is conventionally accepted by English speakers as an addition of a new element to a whole word, from a strictly phonetic point of view this, too, is a replacement of the initial glottal stop by the shm- morpheme.
Some speakers target the stressed syllable rather than the first syllable (incredible inshmedible); a subset of these do not copy base material preceding the stressed syllable (incredible shmedible; cf. Spitzer 1952).
When speaking two words, usually the first word is shm-reduplicated (Spider-Man Shmider-Man). However, if the second word has more syllables than the first, the second word is often reduplicated instead (Led Zeppelin Led Shmeppelin).
Shm-reduplication is generally avoided or altered with words that already begin with shm-; for instance, schmuck does not yield the expected *schmuck schmuck, but rather total avoidance or mutation of the shm- (giving forms like schmuck shluck, schmuck fluck, and so on).
Many speakers use sm- instead of shm- with words that contain a sh (Ashmont Smashmont, not shmashmont).
Bert Vaux and Andrew Nevins' online survey of shm-reduplication revealed further phonological details.
Origins and sociolinguistic distribution
The construction originated in Yiddish and was subsequently transferred to English, especially urban northeastern American English, by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrations from Central and Eastern Europe. It is now known and used by many non-Jewish English speakers, particularly American English.
The construction was also adopted in Modern Hebrew usage as a prefix resulting in a derogatory echoic expressive. For example, March 29, 1955 David Ben-Gurion dismissed a United Nations resolution as "Um-Shmum", (U.M. being its Hebrew acronym, pronounced oom-schmoom).
Zuckerman wrote: "When an Israeli speaker would like to express his impatience with or disdain for philosophy, s/he can say filosófya-shmilosófya". In German Yiddish the same construction is possible, too, for example: Visum-Schmisum (i.e.: visa permits that have been somehow obtained, possibly below the level of legality).
Zuckermann (2009) mentions in this context the Turkic initial m-segment conveying a sense of "and so on" as in the Turkish sentence dergi mergi okumuyor, literally "magazine 'shmagazine' read:NEGATIVE:PRESENT:3rd person singular", i.e. "(He) doesn’t read magazines, journals or anything like that".
A similar phenomenon is present in most of the languages of the Balkan sprachbund, especially in colloquial Bulgarian where not only "sh(m)-" and "m-", but also other consonants and consonant clusters are used in this way, and its usage has its particularities that differ from what the English 'shm' indicates.[clarification needed]
As a counterexample in linguistics
Shm-reduplication has been advanced as an example of a natural-language phenomenon that cannot be captured by a context-free grammar. The essential argument was that the reduplication can be repeated indefinitely, producing a sequence of phrases of geometrically[clarification needed] increasing length, which cannot occur in a context-free language.
^P. Asenova. Main problems of the Balkan sprachbund. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. 2002. (Bulgarian: Асенова, П., Балканско езикознание. Основни проблеми на балканския езиков съюз. Велико Търново. 2002 г.)
^ abManaster-Ramer, Alexis (1983). "The soft formal underbelly of theoretical syntax". Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistics Society. 19: 256–262.