Oxford Word of the Month – November: Schmick up

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verb: to smarten (something) up; to renovate (something); to improve (something)

Six years ago in a Word of the Month we reported on our research into the word
schmick, an adjective meaning ‘stylish, excellent’. At the time we noted it had
become very common in Australian English in the previous five years, and could
be applied to all sorts of things, including people, vehicles, and restaurants. Its
origin was a puzzle to us. We determined that it was probably Australian and likely to be modelled on the structure of various Yiddish words borrowed into English, such as schlock ‘cheap goods; trash’, and schmuck ‘a foolish person’.

This month we are updating you on schmick developments. Time has confirmed
our initial assumption about its Australian origin and provided more evidence. We have pushed back the date of the first written evidence to the 1970s, and found that the earliest form of the word is smick, in this classified advertisement: ‘Panel vans, super paint, super cond., super smick, mag wheels.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1972) We now think it may be a blend of the words sm(art) and
(sl)ick, with the initial sound later modified to schm-, following the model of
Yiddish borrowings. This is now the most common form of the word found in the

New terms have developed from schmick. Schmick up is a verb describing the
process of making something schmick, and the first evidence appears in the
mid-1990s. Again, it can apply to many different things (although restaurants,
houses, cars, and people feature strongly):

Schmicked-up politicians, frocked-up wives and the top dogs of the
business world let loose on their annual night of immunity from the
Australian media.
(Sydney Daily Telegraph, 19 June 2003)

The shire council took the place over in the Seventies and shmicked it up with toilets and barbecues and garbage bins, and called it Bochow Park.(G. Greer, White Beech 2014)

There is some recent evidence of a noun developing from the verb. A schmick-up
is the act of smartening something up:

The groomsmen and the groom are coming in for the morning and they have the run of Barberista. … They can get a nice schmick-up before the big day. (Illawarra Mercury, 16 November 2011)

Interestingly, in the evidence for the new verb and noun we found examples of the
form smick up, recalling the early smick form of the adjective, in the same
Tasmanian newspaper article:

If you are a seller, take my tip and spend a couple of days at least smicking
your place up.

One of Tony’s smick-ups was to render, or at least stucco, the block walls in
the big room he loosely describes as his studio. (Hobart Mercury, 14
October 2008)

However the evidence shows that this variant form is very rare, and that schmick up is the form in common usage.

Schmick up (verb), schmick-up (noun), and schmick are all included in the
forthcoming second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (2016).

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