Schlemiel, Schlimazel

Any fan of the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” (and who wasn’t in the late seventies?) knows the iconic and catchy opening theme, which has the two of them hopscotching while saying a chant with some pretty weird-sounding words:  one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight (here comes the weird part) schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated.”

A schlemiel is an awkward and clumsy person, very accident-prone. A person with such a name is mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 1:6), and the Talmud says he met with an unfortunate end. Their awkwardness is painful to observe. As the BBC colorfully puts it, “When a schlemiel leaves the room, you feel as if someone came in.”

Schlimazel has the root “mazzal” which means “luck” in Hebrew, as heard in the toast “mazel tov” (“good luck”). When combined with the German-origin “slim” (meaning crooked), we have “crooked luck.” So, basically a schlimazel is usually down on their luck and gets dumped on a lot. Sometimes literally (it is said that a schlemiel spills his soup, and a schlimazel is the one he spills it on).

Speaking of German – or, speaking German – we come to hasenpfeffer, a nice German-sounding word for rabbit stew (literally, “pepper rabbit”), as you may remember from Bugs Bunny, who wanted to avoid being an ingredient.

So, this hopscotch chant, while seemingly nonsense (which I think is a pre-requisite for hopscotch chants), makes reference to both German and Jewish immigrants who settled in the Milwaukee area, where “Laverne & Shirley” was set. It also suits the title characters, who were often accident-prone and unlucky, and who probably had hasenpfeffer with their beer.

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