Schlump season

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When I was a student at Dartmouth (1961-1965), from around mid-December to mid-March, we had roughly three feet of snow on the ground much of the time, but then came the big melt, and we called it the "schlump" season.  The paths across campus were so muddy that the buildings and grounds crew placed "duck boards" on the ground for us to walk on.

We never paid attention to the origins or affiliations of the word; all we knew was that this was the time of mud and mire, and "schlump" sounded just right to describe it.  "Schlump" was one of scores of words I learned at Dartmouth that I didn't expect anyone back home in Ohio to understand.  For that matter, I wouldn't have expected anyone outside of Hanover to comprehend many of our special expressions.

Another part of our argot was "sophomore slump", which was that period in your four years at the College when everything seemed to go to hell.  At the time, little did I realize that "schlump" and "slump" were closely related words (read on).

I probably never would have written this post or even given much thought to the actual meaning and derivation of "schlump" had a friend of mine not apologized for the sloppiness of her university's administrators by referring to it as "Schlamperei" ("laziness, inefficiency, muddleheadedness").  Since I was not familiar with that word, I looked it up in Wiktionary, and that led me to Duden, where I noticed an apparent cognate, Schlampe, that looked suspiciously like that old Dartmouth word "schlump" that I was familiar with back in the early 1960s.

At that point, I turned to Merriam-Webster to see if it had an entry for "schlump".  I was surprised that it did, but perplexed that it didn't mean what we Dartmouth College students meant by it:

Yiddish shlump sloppy or dowdy person

First Known Use: 1948

This didn't sound right, but the spelling was identical, and there was somehow a vague resemblance between "mud that drags you down" and "sloppy or dowdy person".

Anyway, by this point, I was already starting to become convinced that "Schlamperei" and "schlump" were probably related.

The next thing that happened in my search for the origins of "schlump" was pure serendipity.  Well, not really purely serendipitous, because it was the result of reading hundreds of Google search headings.  What I found was a beautiful photofacsimile of Benjamin Homer Hall's (1830-1893) wonderful A collection of college words and customs (Cambridge:  John Barlett, 1851), pp. 284-5.

There is a complete, searchable file here, but since the book is in alphabetical order, it is easy to find entries in it without doing an electronic search.  Here's what I found relevant to my current quest:

SLUMP. German schlump ; Danish and Swedish slump, a

hap or chance, accident, that is, a fall.

At Harvard College, a poor recitation.

SLUMP. At Harvard College, to recite badly ; to make a

poor recitation.

In fact, he 'd rather dead than dig ; he 'd rather slump than squirt.

                                         Poem before the Y. H. of Harv. Coll., 1849.

                         Slumping is his usual custom,

                         Deading is his road to fame. — MS, Poem.

The usual signification of this word is given by Webster,

as follows : "To fall or sink suddenly into water or mud,

when walking on a hard surface, as on ice or frozen ground,

not strong enough to bear the person"; to which he adds :

"This legitimate word is in common and respectable use in

New England, and its signification is so appropriate that no

other word will supply its place."

From this meaning, the transfer is, by analogy, very easy

and natural, and the application very correct, to a poor reci-


I love the mention of New England, because what it says about "[t]his legitimate word" is exactly how we felt toward "s[ch]lump" up there in the Granite State.

Despite having made some progress, I was still feeling a bit like John Bunyan's pilgrim who had reached to the other side of the Slough of Despond.  I had read Bunyan's classic as part of my training as an English major (specialty in Middle English), and it had a great impact on me; it seemed like a metaphor for getting through Dartmouth, and indeed through life:  "slough" — "muddy place," Old English sloh "soft, muddy ground," of uncertain origin. Compare Middle Low German sloch "muddy place," Middle High German sluoche "ditch." Figurative use (of moral sunkenness or Bunyan's "Slough of Despond," 1678) attested from mid-13c. (from Online Etymology Dictionary).

Now it was time to turn to colleagues who know more about Yiddish and German than I.

From a German friend:

I don't really like used/dirty snow either.  The word schlump (w. u) is probably misspelled and comes from schlampig (w. a) — obvious carelessness or disorderliness.

From a German acquaintance in Frankfort:

This dictionary vs. colloquial matter is bound to get out of hand right away, here my $ 0.02: Not being a speaker of Yiddish, I suspect a handful of German residue. One could be a Schlumpf (cf. "Freq. used as a term of affectionate abuse.") as found in a well-known TV-series for children, about the adventures of some charmingly innocent, yet prank-scheming, cave dwelling gang of blue-skinned dwarfs.

Etymology has it derived from "Schlamm", which is "mud." So there is your association with anything or anybody from a disorderly background, cf. American "mud people" for SE Asians.

In German we have that connotation in "Schlampe," who is a female of a loud and very bad demeanor, a harlot. Her male counterpart would be a Schlambambel where I come from, who doesn't care about his appearance and behaves like a madman; but some 20 kms away they call that a "schlampige Frau" (adj. "schlampig").

"Duckboard" seems easier to grasp if you grew up in the country. Chickens walk up a steep ladder to get inside their shelter at night, which ducks cannot do because they are flat-footed. Slats nailed across the board help them not to slip on their way up into safety for the night.

From Kathryn Hellerstein:

In Harkavy's 1910 Yiddish-English dictionary, DER SHLUMPER is "1. the dirty trail of a dress; 2.  a slovenly person."  The adjective SHLUMPIK means "sluttish, slovenly, nasty."

Yiddish dictionary online says SHLUMP ; American Jewish) "a person who is stupid, foolish, inept; a person who is sloppily or poorly dressed; a careless dresser, untidy person."

I don't know if the German SCHLAMPEREI is cognate with SCHLUMPER or not.

Remarks by Paul Goldin:

The relevant dictionaries are kind of unclear about all this.  Shlump and Schlamperei could be related, but as far as I can tell no one really knows.

There's no doubt that Schlamperei goes back to schlampen, "to hang limply," hence "to be disorganized in dress". Schlampe, the derived noun, means something very close to our "slattern" (also with an uncertain etymology, incidentally): an untidy woman (with sexual connotations in both cases).  More common is schlampig, "messy, sloppy, lazy."  You can read all about it here. Might be related to Schlamm, our word "slime"–but then again it might not be.

OED says that the Yiddish word shlump (and shlumperdik, the adjective, which is very common) might be from the German word Schlumpe, "slattern"–but the problem is that Duden doesn't even recognize a word Schlumpe.  OED must be thinking of Schlampe.  That's a good example of Schlamperei right there!

Wiktionary notes that the word has been borrowed into Ukrainian as well.  Not a big surprise, considering that there used to be millions of Jews in the Ukraine:

I'd have to suspect that shlump is related to German Schlumpf, a mild insult of unknown origin (now used as a translation of "Smurf").

One would think that some of these words must be related to "slump," but that's not so clear either.  The etymology of "slump" is uncertain (sensing a theme here), and OED suggests a playful variation on "plump."

There's two problems going on: one is that I don't know of a Yiddish etymological dictionary; the other is that I suspect a lot of onomatopoeia in these words (shlump, zhlob, etc.), and once you get into onomatopoeia, there's really no way to trace etymologies anymore.  (A lot of sl- words in Germanic refer to messy shit.)  People in ethnic and linguistic melting pots like New York City in the early twentieth century would hear words like zhlob and our "slob" (for the record, OED derives "slob" from an Irish word meaning "slab"–I'm almost positive that's wrong), and they must have instinctively treated them as essentially the same.  There is a town called Zhlobin in White Russia; my grandmother was from Zhlobin, and the joke was that someone from Zhlobin is a zhlob.  Coincidence?  Who knows?

Additional note by Paul (commenting on the etymology of "schlep"):

Schleppen is a very good Low German word that's cognate with High German schleifen, "to drag."  Schleppen is "to drag," both in Yiddish and German.

[VHM:  This word has come into English as the Yiddish-derived "schlep", both as a noun ("stupid person; loser") and a verb ("to carry; drag").]

As somewhat of an aside, several correspondents have wondered why a German metro station would have the name Schlump.  I suppose it is because that area was customarily muddy or messy, but people from Elmsbüttel, Hamburg may know better.

Working toward a conclusion, permit me to quote from our dictionary of record (despite the fact that Paul seems to have caught it in an act of Schlamperei on this very word ["schlump"]).


Additions 1993

schlump, n. slang (chiefly U.S.).


Also schloomp, shlump.

[App. a Yiddish formation; cf. Yiddish shlumperdik dowdy, cogn. w. G. Schlumpe slattern.]

A dull-witted, slow, or slovenly person; a slob; a fool. Freq. used as a term of affectionate abuse.

1948 Life 15 Mar. 23/2 Schlump is a friendlier, more sympathetic term than ‘schmo’, which has completely replaced ‘jerk’.    1968 L. Rosten Joys of Yiddish 350 That shlump can depress anyone.    1979 J. Heller Good as Gold viii. 350 Kissinger would not be recalled in history as a Bismarck‥but as an odious shlump who made war gladly.    1980 Washington Post 20 Nov. f1/1 She was the All-American schlump, the ‘she's so pretty, too bad she can't lose some weight’ working girl, the patron saint of imperfect.    1986 Daily News (N.Y.) 23 May (Suppl.) 10/1, I laughed at a poor schlump being gobbled up by a giant Venus flytrap.    1987 S. Bellow More die of Heartbreak 39 To Dad, Benn was a schlump, an incompetent.



[f. duck n.1 + board n.]

Usually pl. In the war of 1914–18, a slatted timber path laid down on wet or muddy ground in the trenches or in camps; also in wider use (spec. see quot. 1940). Also attrib. Hence ˈduck-boarded a., furnished with duckboards.

1917 War Illustr. 17 Mar. 109 Walking wounded are helped along the duck-boards that flank the light railways.    Ibid. 14 July 467 They‥flung duck-board bridges over the Douve river.    1920 G. K. Rose 2/4th Oxf. & Bucks Lt. Infty. 31 For four miles the path lay along a single duckboard track, capsized or slanting in many places.    Ibid. 72 The day was spent in‥rebuilding dug-outs or laying fresh duckboards (wooden slats to walk on in the trenches).    Ibid. 73 A duck-boarded communication trench.    1925 Fraser & Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words, Duckboard glide, a common term for after-dark movements along the trenches, when secrecy and quietness was essential.‥ Duckboard harrier, a despatch ‘runner’ or messenger, whose duty took him along the duckboards in the trenches.    1926 Glasgow Herald 9 Jan. 9 Certain underground stations are feeling the effects of the flood, particularly that of Mirabeau, where duck⁓boards have been laid upon the platform.    1932 E. Bowen To North xix. 196 Lady Waters, in grey knitted wool, standing out on a duckboard.    1940 Chambers's Techn. Dict. 270/2 Duck board, a board which has slats nailed across it at intervals and is used as steps in repair works on roofs.

We've covered a lot of ground in the above discussion, some of it rather murky and mucky.  By way of summary, let us survey the various definitions for "slump", as listed in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

intr.v. slumped, slump·ing, slumps

1. To fall or sink heavily; collapse: She slumped, exhausted, onto the sofa.
2. To droop, as in sitting or standing; slouch.
a. To decline suddenly; fall off: Business slumped after the holidays.
b. To perform poorly or inadequately: The team has been slumping for a month.
a. To sink or settle, as into mud or slush.
b. To slide down or spread out thickly, as mud or fresh concrete.


1. The act or an instance of slumping.
2. A drooping or slouching posture: read defeat in the slump of his shoulders.
3. A sudden falling off or decline, as in activity, prices, or business: a stock market slump; a slump in farm prices.
4. An extended period of poor performance, especially in a sport or competitive activity: a slump in a batting average.
5. See grunt.

[Probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Norwegian slumpa, to slump.]

It is remarkable how many of the connotations of "schlump" are included among the definitions for "slump" in AHD.  But what is even more noteworthy, to me at least, is that "slump" by 1851 — and undoubtedly long before that, since Webster, as quoted by Benjamin Homer Hall, treats the New England usage as well-established and indispensable — already meant what "schlump" did over a century later when I was schlepping through the mud on the Hanover Plain.  To me, that's the biggest linguistic mystery of all:  how "slump" of pre-1851 times seems to have reverted a hundred years later to what would appear to be an earlier Germanic form.  In truth, while "schlump" has a more German-looking guise than "slump", they're both Germanic.  So far as the Hanover Plain and New England in general go, compared to "slump", "schlump" is a relative latecomer.

[Thanks to June Teufel Dreyer, Lila Gleitman, Nancy Steinhardt, Paul Rakita Goldin, Heidi Krohne, Michael Carr, David Moser, Julie Wei, Stefan Krasowski,  John Rohsenow, and Bernd]


  1. Robot Therapist said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 1:25 pm

    Is a slump not also a fruit pudding?

  2. Ø said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

    That's just what I was going to say: my wife refers to a certain kind of baked dessert as an apple slump, or shlump.

  3. Jin Defang said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

    'Schlamperei" was a word frequently used in our house for a task poorly done. A paint job that had too many drips. a sewing repair whose seams weren't straight; a homework assignment poorly done.

    I'd always assumed (without knowing) that the New England dish called slump was called such because another meaning of the word slump is "collapsed," which is what the fruit does when cooked.

  4. Shiamin Kwa 9D5 said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

    I certainly remember falling in the stuff, and kicking it up on the back of my legs, but I don’t recall what we called it (although it DID have a name, so maybe it was in fact schlump). Did they call the blend of dog hair, beer and vomit on the fraternity basement floors “mung” back in the day? I always wondered about that one…

  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

    From Ted Levin, long-time professor at Dartmouth:

    No, I've never heard "schlump" used at Dartmouth, but thanks for sharing the etymology. I can't recall ever seeing duckboards, except around the Outing Club house on Occum Pond, for the use of skaters. Perhaps the widespread adoption of the more colloquial "mud season" illustrates increasing integration of town and gown. I do know the word "schlump" because it was a moniker applied to me with a mixture of affection and disdain by certain people in my grad. student days at Princeton in the '70s, during part of which I lived in a tent in a professor's backyard (after returning from a year of fieldwork in Central Asia and finding no grad student housing or rental apartment availability). I knew then that it was a Yiddishism that meant something like a slob–something between a shlemiel and a tramp. Thinking back on my lifestyle in those years, the moniker was not entirely undeserved.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

    From Gil Raz:

    There is another word that is used in Yiddish from the same complex: shlumper – someone who is very messy, usually about clothing

  7. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

    From Pamela Kyle Crossley, another long-time (since 1985) professor at Dartmouth:

    Strangely I have never heard that appropriate and wonderful word used to describe our present season. People just call it "mud season" or "the mud" but schlump does a much better job of describing the comprehensive effects of the conditions.

    I enjoyed the discussion of schlump and so on. I didn't know you were a Middle English major –i was an Old English major, so I am always interested in these things. As you know the tendency in IE root derivations is to find a very small number of roots giving rise to a very large number of contemporary words, why not. Seems all the words you discuss are related to IE * (s)lei for anything that slips or is slippery. Since the root is one of those that tends to lose the first of a double-consonant pair, your root is related not only to slime and slip and Schlamm and schleppen and schlumpf (and i would think possibly also to slum) and so on but also to words like limp (as one who is walking through mud). To me the strange thing is that s[ch]lump (or Old English lampem) today means not an outright fall but a sag, a deterioration, a slowing down. but it is still within the general zone of being slow, impeded, retarded, hindered, below-par, unkempt, uncoordinated. And this probably also relates it to German lumpen as in lumpenproletariat.

  8. Q. Q. Switcheroo said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    Renowned Dartmouth grad Dr. Seuss has used variants of "schlump" at least twice in his children's books.

    1) "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" (1973):

    And poor Mr. Bix!
    Every morning at six,
    poor Mr. Bix has his Borfin to fix!
    It doesn't seem fair. It just doesn't seem right,
    but his Borfin just seems to go shlump every night.
    It shlumps in a heap, sadly needing repair.
    Bix figures it's due to the local night air.
    It takes him all day to un-shlump it.
    And then…
    the night air comes back
    and it shlumps once again!

    2) "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" (1990)

    I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true
    That Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.
    You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch.
    And your gang will fly on.
    You’ll be left in a Lurch.
    You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump.
    And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.
    And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.
    Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

  9. Rubrick said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 5:15 pm

    Interestingly, I associate "sophomore slump" with the music industry, wherein an artist's second album is often a flop. It had never occurred to me that the origin of the phrase must have been actual school experience.

  10. S Frankel said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    "Apple slump" gets 4.6 million ghits. The first is for Louisa May Alcott, who named her house that, so that would be mid-19th century. The apples are underneath a crust, typically biscuit-like, that slumps down into the fruit and I'm getting hungry.

    Huffington Post, quoting *American Regional English* says the first recorded usage is 1831.

  11. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

    The term "sophomore slump" was formerly used in baseball for a player who declined badly in his second year after a good rookie season. I haven't seen that use in some years, though. It was also in use at Harvard when I was there (1955-59) and had the same meaning as at Dartmouth.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 7:04 pm

    @Q. Q. Switcheroo


    Notice that in both cases, he puts the "s[h]lump" at the climax in the last lines.

    I wonder whether Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, class of 1925) might have been instrumental in (re)popularizing and remaking "s[h]lump" at Dartmouth. Notice that he spells it both ways.

    He is indeed one of our most illustrious and revered alumni.

    Robert Frost, another famous son of Dartmouth (entered 1892), was often characterized as slumping down in a chair, and he referred to himself as falling into a slump from time to time, but when he wrote about "schlump season", he called it "mud time", as in the first stanza of this poem:


    Out of the mud two strangers came
    And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
    And one of them put me off my aim
    By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
    I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
    And let the other go on a way.
    I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
    He wanted to take my job for pay.

  13. Roger Lustig said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

    Why is there an U-Bahn station in Hamburg called Schlump? Because it's at one end of a street called Beim Schlump, of course.

    The name seems to refer to swampy, muddy land; according to, so does the Grindel, the next neighborhood over. (Hamburg's old Jewish quarter, for what it's worth.)

    Many other origins have been posited for the name. Let me get back to you…

  14. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 7:26 pm

    From Peter B. Golden:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the discussion of schlump.

    According to one tale that I heard from a Goldin who stemmed from Zhlobin (yes, there is such a town, not far from where my grandmother was born), all the Goldins of the Zhlobin-Rogachov-Parichi region of Belarus’ are said to stem from an early 19th century Goldin who sired some 19 children.

    Yes, the popular etymology of zhlob (жлоб) connects it with the town of Zhlobin, but that is incorrect. It is a Russian slang word, жлоб (ultimately of Polish origin żłób “crib, rack, manger, trough, trough for feeding animals" (cf. its Russian cognate zhyolob (жёлоб) “gutter, trough”) and semantically deriving from that “blockhead.” In slang, in particular “thieves cant," it means “police officer (also zhlobina жлобина), stingy person, a dunce, rural idiot, someone not connected to the thieves’ world, a person with a low intellect, a person without taste, a hooligan” etc. Variants of the word are zhlobenia (жлобеня) denoting "someone with a low intellectual level,” zhlobnik жлобник “envious person,” zhlob’io жлобьё, a collective noun for the whole lot of them etc. Numerous adjectives derive from this and the wonderful noun zhlobstvo жлобство pointing to a life style of “militant mediocrity.” This has nothing to do with schlump, itself a gem of a word, but I couldn’t resist some comments on zhlob, which has entered US English via Yiddish (from Russian), but has a wealth of nuances that the Americanized version does not connote.

  15. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

    What do you say when someone asks, "What slump is it?" See here.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

    @Dan Lufkin

    I've never seen that meaning of "slump" in regular dictionaries, though I can readily see how it is extrapolated from some of the main definitions of the word. However, some dictionaries have it under "slump test". And here is the Wikipedia article on that subject:

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 21, 2015 @ 11:55 pm

    I hope those Dartmouth students aren't having too bad a time stolching around in the schlump.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 2:41 am

    The mud-specific AHD sense 4, which seems close enough to the 19th century "New England" meaning, is a new one on me. I'd be interested in any evidence of contemporary AmEng usage, in New England or elsewhere. Or has it become an archaism everywhere now that it's apparently obsolete on the Dartmouth campus? I do recall learning when I was in high school in the early '80's (at least according to my native informant, who was a cousin-once-removed then enrolled there) that Dartmouth prided itself on having a local jargon different from generic American college jargon (one instance I recall is not referring to economics as "Econ," but rather as "Ecy," pron. "ecky").

    Where I now live just north of New York City "Mud Week" is a common idiom used for the week in the second half of February (following the presidents' day holiday) when the kids are off school, which generally makes sense given the latitude/climate difference between Hanover and here. But this year the actual snow->mud transition did not arrive until mid-March.

  19. F Bennett said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 4:15 am

    Any relationship with "slummock" an untidy or messy person?

  20. Vilinthril said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 6:43 am

    As a native German speaker, I want to stress that “schlampig” and “Schlamperei” are colloquial, but in no way offensive, while “Schlampe” is at least as offensive as English “slut”, if not worse.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 6:46 am

    @J.W. Brewer

    Glad you mentioned that about the local Dartmouth college jargon.

    We had special vocabulary for hundreds of things:


    guvy — government (practically all courses had Dartmouth specific names)

    upchuck — vomit

    barf — vomit

    blow lunch — vomit

    blow lunch tie — garish tie

    drop back five and punt — just give up on the paper you're writing

    fish — entice someone to go to a movie or do something else instead of writing a paper or preparing for an exam

    road trip — taking a run to Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Colby, etc.

    food riot — when bedlam broke out in the dining hall (I was always angry and exceedingly embarrassed when that happened)

    townies — local people


    That's just a quick sampling off the top of my head.

    "Animal House" was modeled after Dartmouth fraternity life, where all sorts of unusual things happened, including the development of unique language changes.

    Six other key factors of Dartmouth existence that had linguistic repercussions:

    1. very isolated in the north woods; there were no major roads leading there until decades after I left

    2. no girls (none until decades after I left)

    3. outdoor culture (skiing, camping, hiking, canoeing [think John Ledyard {1751-1789}, etc.])

    4. sports culture (lots of special terms associated with all the sports)

    5. long history (beginning as a missionary school for Indians, a tradition of which we were very proud)

    6. fusion of speech mannerisms from all over the country with the Hanover topolect, which included French Canadian and New England elements, affecting both lexicon and pronunciation (back in East Canton, Ohio, I loved milk shakes, but I was devastated when I got to Dartmouth and couldn't figure out how to order one for quite a while)

    I loved Dartmouth and still do.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 8:38 am

    Victor Mair: "Upchuck", "barf", and "road trip" are all universally known in America, I believe. "Townies" is widely known college slang. "Food riot" is new to me—I'd always heard "food fight". One of my high school teachers said "drop back ten and punt" (more about chess than papers), and I don't think he went to Dartmouth.

    "Guvy" is new to me. I'd understand "blow lunch", but I'm not sure I've heard it. Comparing a garish tie to vomit sounds vaguely familiar.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 9:12 am

    @Jerry Friedman

    I guess we said "food fight" too.

  24. Brendan said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 9:50 am

    The mention of "slattern" in the sense of "untidy woman" reminded me of "slut's wool," the wonderful archaism for what we usually refer to these days as "dust bunnies." The OED hasn't got much on the etymology of "slut," but lists possible cognates in several Germanic languages and has citations for this sense going back to the early 15th c., predating its earliest citations for "slattern."

  25. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    More from Peter B. Golden:

    Russian “thieves cant” (воровской жаргон) is extraordinarily rich and their mafia has its own equivalent of a “made man” (vor v zakone вор в законе, literally "a thief in the law”, i.e., a thief according to the “laws” of Russian mafiadom. There is some debate as to whether Russ. vor is a Turkic loanword, but that is another story.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    March 22, 2015 @ 4:37 pm

    Relevant words cited by a German friend:

    SCHLAMM=silt (a mixture of fine sand and water
    or the silty bottom of a lake)

    SCHLAMPIG=in an obvious disorderly or negligent manner

    SCHLAMPEREI=the condition/situation of SCHLAMPE

    SCHLAMPE=a carelessly/negligently dressed woman – no sexual connotation.

    These are perfectly proper words as cited in the Duden's

  27. Vilinthril said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 3:02 am

    “SCHLAMPE=a carelessly/negligently dressed woman – no sexual connotation.”

    Sorry, but that's simply wrong. Historically, it had no sexual connotation, but nowadays, it certainly has.

  28. richardelguru said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 6:12 am

    That takes me back to my East Anglian school (high-school to you 'Mercans) where that was the nickname of our headmaster.
    For obvious reasons I've never seen it written down.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 6:18 am

    Thanks, Vilinthril.

    That's interesting. My old German friend left Germany about fifty years ago when she was already a young adult.

  30. Rui Antunes said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 6:47 am

    Years ago my wife and I were travelling in one of the U-Bahn (subway) lines in Hamburg and a kid in the same carriage turned to his friends and said: "Schlump is the capital of the Schlumpf country" as we stopped in Schlump stop. Schlumpf being in English Smurf (



  31. Vilinthril said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 7:21 am

    > That's interesting. My old German friend left Germany about fifty years ago when she was already a young adult.

    Hm, that could be a possible explanation, though I have to confess I know little about the precise diachrone development of the word's connotations; I'll ask @sprachlog, someone there should know.

  32. Vilinthril said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 8:44 am

    So, as I expected, of course Stefanowitsch did know:

    First clearly sexual use he could find within a few minutes is in 1919, sexual connotation is widespread by the 1930s and 1940s.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 9:38 am

    Thanks for the followup, Vilinthril.

    It looks as though my old German friend led a sheltered life.

  34. Vilinthril said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 9:49 am

    You're welcome!

  35. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    Couldn't вор be IE *wiHrós? Lots of cognates all over the place. Werewolf, z.B.

  36. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 11:59 am

    From a member of the Darmouth class of '82:

    Your post cracked open some memories of spring and some terms:

    · Thayer layer (the freshman 20) – what one found under the parka when spring arrived.

    · Hums – the spring a capella songfest on Webster Avenue (thank God my parents didn’t come up to hear any of those songs).

    · Mud Bowl – what it says – Fun to see, but if one wasn’t interested in being dragged in, one had to avoid Webster Avenue, instead taking a circuitous route down to the Choates or Occom Pond.

    My spring memory always centered on a distinctive smell. Pet dogs (usually black labs) were very popular among the frat boys and some older students living in apartments off campus, and these usually gentle beasts wandered freely around the campus (save for the dining hall itself). They did their business on the green all winter, but B&G did not pick up the waste; those guys had enough trouble chipping the ice off the sidewalks and making sure the frequent dumps of snow from the roof didn’t kill anyone entering or leaving the buildings on Dartmouth Row. Come spring, the warm, sunny days that melted the winter’s accumulated snow released a powerful odor that permeated the town until a driving rain broke up the waste. I often wondered how parents unfamiliar with the College took that odor when bringing their kids into Hanover for an interview at admissions. Surely it drove a few off to … Penn?

  37. Victor Mair said,

    March 23, 2015 @ 8:15 pm

    From Erling Hoh:

    In Swedish, "slumpen" can also mean the last bite/mouthful of

    an ice cream, lollipop, or soft drink. Boys and girls ask their

    friends: Kan jag få slumpen? (Can I have the last bite/mouthful?)

  38. Jim Ancona said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

    I arrived at Dartmouth in 1974 and never heard "schlump season," so it seems to have disappeared sometime in the decade after Victor's departure. I never saw duck boards, but I heard old alumni refer to them nostalgically. (I suspect that mud season is the kind of thing that it's easier to be nostalgic about at many years' remove. At least I haven't yet managed it.)

    Most of the Dartmouth slang Victor mentions is familiar. By my time, "punt" (without the "drop back…" prefix) meant to goof-off when you should be studying. The preeminent word for vomit was "boot", which could be used as either a noun or verb. An especially impressive performance was a "power boot."

    Chris Miller, Dartmouth '63, one of the Animal House writers, wrote a non-fiction book about his time at Dartmouth called The Real Animal House:
    It is raunchy and at times disgusting, but it does give a sense of the place in that era, perhaps with some exaggeration. Or maybe it really was that bad in the sixties.

  39. Yuval said,

    March 31, 2015 @ 9:22 am

    Shlumper slob was borrowed by Hebrew from Yiddish as is, ubiquitous enough to produce an anti-hero comic figure, Super Shlumper.

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