I came across an interesting book the other day by Diana Boxer entitled The Lost Art of the Good Schmooze: Building Rapport and Defusing Conflict in Everyday and Public Talk (2011). She writes, “Various societies know that small talk, or schmoozing, is a must-do before getting down to business. It lubricates the social setting that leads effortlessly into work interaction. For example, the Japanese never start right into business talk, even in the most serious of discussions in business meetings.”
The word schmooze derives from the Hebrew word shamuwah, which can mean rumour or news. In 2 Kings chapter 19 it is written, When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah the prophet, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour (shamuwah) and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’” The king of Assyria was attacking Jerusalem, after making waste of the northern kingdom Israel, and appeared to be on the verge of victory in Judah also. But conquest would not happen, for the King would hear of schmoozing against him going on in his own land and return to quell any rebellion that could develop because of the talking back home. God would make sure the King was aware of what was going on in Assyria. Judah would be saved, and the Assyrian king would be no more.
The chatting of the events and issues of the day is to schmooze. “For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news (shamuwah); his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112 6-7) Proverbs 25:25 declares, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news (shamuwah) from a far country.” The sharing of good or bad news is to schmooze, to chat about things.
In the late 1800s the word schmooze came into the English language from Yiddish. Yiddish is the language of central and eastern European Jews, the Ashkenazim. The Yiddish schmues derives from the Hebrew shamuwah. The usage of schmooze in Yiddish referred to conversing informally. It came to be used as a time to chat in a friendly persuasive manner. When the term was borrowed it meant to have a warm conversation, to shoot the breeze, to pass the time chatting. People came away from the schmooze having opened or strengthened relationships. Later, to schmooze acquired a sense of gaining favour or connections. Today schmoozing often means chatting with benefits. Unfortunately to schmooze has acquired a negative connotation. Schmoozing has become associated with lobbyists and referring to one who desires to ingratiate themselves into a group that might normally be beyond their social status or connections.
Health advisors are constantly encouraging us to step back from busy lives, recharge, and develop healthy relationships with family and friends. It is time to rediscover the benefits of a good schmooze. In its original intent, to schmooze can be valuable for fostering healthy community connections. Schmoozing, in its fundamental sense, is very constructive for personal relationships.
We need to reclaim the art of the schmooze in our lives. It should not be dominated by lobbyists or people trying to weasel something out of others. Schmoozing can help us feel good about just chatting. It need not be focused on networking or gaining favour. The schmooze should enable us to just interact. Whether it be in a video call, a phone conversation, or in person, schmoozing is crucial for personal development and fostering relations with others.
Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com. He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.