DSL said he was sure schmoozing meant simply social talk rather than sycophancy; I said I had always thought of it as social with talk with connotations of a possible pay-off; D said:
I'm not sure about that. I've certainly seen synagogues here advertising
social evenings involving "schmoozing", and I don't take the implication to
be that lots of business deals will be conducted on the premises.
I then checked out the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary online, which says:
verb [I] INFORMAL
to talk informally with someone, especially in a way that is not sincere or to gain some advantage for yourself:
He spent the entire evening schmoozing with the senator.
This certainly tallies with my first instinct, which was to associate it with the sort of thing Bill Clinton and Tina Brown do so well. I do wonder, though. It could be that in the Jewish community the word is used simply as a synonym for 'chat', while in the larger pool of English speakers it carries with it the idea of chatting with ulterior motives. Or perhaps there is a pattern of usage but it does not fall along confessional lines. Hm.
Be that as it may, Pons seems to be decidedly unhelpful to Germans who come across Yiddish terms in common English use: nebbish, mensch, schlemiel, kibitz, kvetsh, shtik and chutzpah are all beneath the radar. 'Chuzpe' does turn up in my Deutsch-Englisch für Schule und Studium, defined as 'gall'. The thing that has dropped out, obviously, is that in English we have the word 'gall', which is pejorative, and we have the word 'chutzpah' which is a term expressive of admiration referring to the same thing. Many centuries ago the English responded to the Norman invasion by enriching the language: we have cows, pigs and sheep (the animals downtrodden peasants raise by the sweat of their brow) and we have beef, veal, pork and mutton (the comestible version that turns up on the oppressor's plate). Thanks to Yiddish we now have affectionate lexemes for all sorts of things for which the language already had unamused equivalents. This is exactly where one looks to a dictionary for guidance: if Chuzpe is pejorative in German, the user needs to know that it is in common use in English but does not have pejorative connotations.
There is another twist, though, which is that English-speakers often perceive Germans as brusque and unpleasantly direct. In other words, while 'gall' is undoubtedly pejorative in English, it's entirely possible that Chutzpe is not actually pejorative in German, it's simply the 'Let's call a spade a spade' term for the quality. In other words, it could be that it is only the English-speaker's search for the impossible dream, the perfect euphemism, that perceived 'gall' as harsh in the first place and felt a need for a friendlier term.
I had a quick look at the Cambridge American English Dictionary online.
to talk informally with someone
Mike's out on the porch schmoozing with the neighbors.
So does this mean that, in the view of Cambridge lexicographers, schmooze means 'talk informally especially with an ulterior motive' while in American English it just means 'talk informally'? (But DSL is British.)
Curiouser and curiouser.
The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary offers this for chutzpah:
noun [U] APPROVING
imaginative and shocking behaviour, involving taking risks but not feeling guilt
(And is there really no German word for this?)
The Cambridge American Dictionary defines chutzpah as
behavior that is extremely confident and often rude, with no respect for the opinions or abilities of anyone else
The movie was made with a little money and a lot of chutzpah.
I wonder who had the chutzpah to disagree with him?