Sunday, May 15, 2016

New York Fed: "...Echoes, Schmechoes, This Post Only Has a Drop of History in It"

From the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Liberty Street Economics blog:
You might hear: “Economy eschmonomy.” Another possibility is: “Economy schmeconomy.” This phenomenon of repeating a word with the prefix shm- (or sometimes “schm-”), is called shm-reduplication. It challenges the relevance and sometimes the value of the repeated word, and examples can be found in articles like this Newsday clip “The High End: Economy, shmeconomy — the rich still travel.”

Who cares about whether it’s eschmonomy or schmeconomy? A pair of linguists from MIT and Harvard, that’s who. This 2003 paper describes the authors’ attempt to understand how the shm-reduplication works (the linguistic rules that govern its use) and how the researchers used interviews and questionnaires to investigate those rules. The authors also review the Yiddish origins of this usage (there are competing theories), provide a short section on the meaning of phrases that use the reduplication, and inform us that there is a relative lack of study of this form of reduplication (there are a few other forms).

Who loves shm-reduplication? The media; print, online, broadcast . . . you name it. It’s a very compact linguistic device. A simple two-word phrase can convey a wealth of information about the author (or speaker), the audience, the object of the shm-reduplication, and the overall situation. “Economy eschmonomy” could mean the opposite of “it’s the economy, stupid” — phrased differently: Never mind about the economy, this other thing (aliens from outer space, for example) is much more important. Or it could be a more personal statement: Forget about the economy, I’m going on a vacation (this comes up in an example below).

Some illustrative examples of shm-reduplication on the web:
Currency shmurrency In Barron’s, columnist Alan Abelson says: “For even if Beijing were to up the value of the yuan by as much a 15% … it wouldn't get our somnolent factories up and smoking again. The reason is simply that what our manufacturing workers earn in an hour, their counterparts in China earn in a week. Currency, shmurrency, no matter how hard and how smart our folks work, that gap is as ugly and daunting as it is yawning.” (June 2005)

Interest rates, schminterest rates South African blogger, Piet Viljoen, says that interest rate fluctuations shouldn’t affect your stock portfolio. (March 2009) ...
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.