Here’s one version of a question I get a lot:

On the TV show Lavern & Shirley they start the opening with the words (not sure of the spelling) Shlimeel and Shlimazel. Gary Marshall explained that a Shlimeel is a person that spills soup, a Shlimazel is the person he spill the soup on. I found the word Shlimazel in your book but I could not find Shlimeel. Is this a real word? Also, as a kid I remember hearing the word Shmendrake used to describe an idiot. I could not find this word either. Is it a real word?

The difference between shlemiel and shlimazl is merely a matter of dialect: shlemiel is the western Yiddish for the sort of person called a shlimazl by speakers of the East European version of the language. Much as I admire Gerry and Penny Marshall, I wouldn’t take either of them for experts; they’re Italian.

Shmendrik is very much a Yiddish word for what might be described as a bumbling fool-the undertone of incompetence is very strong: think of FEMA’s performance in New Orleans and you’ve got it. I think that Mad Magazine once did a take-off on Mandrake the Magician called Shmendrake the Magician. A shmendrik is very like a shmegege.