What is a putz?

Hi, I figure that putz is an American expression for a young person who has to run errands or do other minor jobs for his boss? I recently have seen this sentence:

… my goal is to earn $1M per year so I can pay some putz to type messages for me on this forum between fetching me beer.

Thanks again,

The dictionary says that a putz is a stupid or worthless person. It comes from a Yiddish word that I won’t write here (the software probably won’t let me), but the original meaning is a part of a man’s body that Germans sometimes call the “Schwanz”. Most Americans would use the word shmuck instead, which also happens to come from Yiddish and originally meant exactly the same thing.

Hi Jamie, according to your explanation and the dictionary definition the word putz almost seems to be a swearword. Why would anyone use it in the context I found it in? How many people in the US would know this word?
Thank you for your answers,

Have you ever noticed that when people swear in a foreign language they can’t feel it? If a swear word gets adopted into English, usually we can’t feel it, so we either don’t know or don’t care that it’s a cuss word. If we don’t even know what it means, then it’s not even a cuss word anymore in English. That’s the case with putz and shmuck. They’re informal, but they’re not obscene. In fact, many Americans use the word schwanz instead of an English word when they want to avoid being obscene!

In the Czech language you have a really funny situation with this. It’s exactly the opposite. For some reason, completely innocent German words are extremely vulgar in Czech. The word ksicht (from Gesicht) is a very vulgar word for someone’s face. The word k?eft (from Gesch?ft) is vulgar too. Sometimes it means “business” or “store”, but it has a very vulgar, ugly tone, as if something really dirty is going on there. The Czech word au?us comes from Ausschuss, and it is a vulgar term for junk or reject goods. And probably the worst word you can use is hajzl, which I think comes from H?usli or something like that. It means toilet, but it has many other uses, and is extremely obscene.

Nicole –

Here is another word used in the United States that would probably send Germans through the roof: shyster

It means a dishonest, unscrupulous swindler – usually a lawyer, but not always. It’s a completely normal word for us, and you can use it in very polite company, and no one will be offended or know that its origins in German are vulgar.

And these are the kind of words that students have the least problem with (or, which amounts to the same thing, are very interested in)! Swear words do sound funny when pronounced with a foreign accent or can completely lose their effect (though maybe not for the utterer) according to their pronunciation.

Then there are those which sound (even more) awful when translated. This is one of the reasons I don’t like to watch films that have been dubbed into Spanish. The image you get of the characters can be distortioned by things like that. (Speaking of which, I hate it when they give the same voice to several actors. For example, Bruce Willis, Kevin Kostner and at least one or two more get the same dubbing actor. He does a good job, but it’s half as exciting).

Anyway, there is one four-letter interjection beginning with ‘sh’ I use only in English (eventually in French) and I do feel it! Funnily enough, its equivalent in Spanish (far less used here) doesn’t help me to let off steam at all :slight_smile: .

I like to watch cartoons dubbed into Spanish or French to see what gets lost and what changes. In one of my favorite cartoon shows, “King of the Hill”, their local “big box” department store is called “Megalomart”. This is a very funny name, because “mega” means big, “lo” means low, and “mart” means market. However, “megalo” is the first three syllables of “megalomanic”, so when English speakers hear the name, we hear something that means “an enormous department store, with very low prices, which is run by powerful maniacs who are seizing control of the entire retail world”. In Spanish, they just call the place “el supermercado”. Sad and boring.

Once I was watching the cartoon show “Angela Anaconda” in French (probably for Canada). One of the characters has a sock puppet of a duck he calls “Lord Ducksworthy”. In French, the puppet is called “Signor Canardini”, which I found to be a good solution to the problem of translating his name.

Conchita, I think you need to look up the word “eventually”. It means “finalmente” or “con el tiempo”. “Eventualmente” means “contingently”, but we seldom use this word, and the best translation for it in your sentence is “or”. Continental Europeans have big fancy words that they use to mean “or in certain specific cases” (eventualmente, beziehungsweise, etc.), and they are best translated into English as “or”.

Exactly! So much can get lost in translation (if it is well done at all). It’s a pity. Some say you only need to know perfectly the language into which you are translating. Yet I’d say you must have a great knowledge of both. I’ve also heard some weird versions! One in particular I remember now is how ‘nightcap’ was literally translated to ‘gorro de dormir’ in a film. I mean, does anyone still use such a garment in this day and age, unless they are Amish or something like that?

Thank you for correcting me, Jamie (any correction is always welcome!). You are right, I sometimes erroneously use ‘eventually’ meaning ‘accidentally’. I’ll have to remember it’s a ‘false friend’. What I meant in my previous post was that I sometimes use the interjection in question in French too. Perhaps ‘occasionally’ could have been used or, as you suggested, ‘or’ with ‘sometimes’.