The Grammarphobia Blog

Shtick figures

Q: “Shtick” or “schtick”? And why? Both words return about the same number of search results in Google, so I guess one is a variant of the other, with each being common enough to be considered correct. But which is “more” correct?

A: The two standard dictionaries we consult the most list those two spellings, “shtick” and “schtick,” plus one more, “shtik.”

All three of the spellings are considered standard English. But which, you ask, is “more” standard?

Well, “shtick” is the first spelling given in both references, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

Each of the dictionaries adds the following words: “also schtick or shtik.”

In dictionaryese, an “also” spelling out of alphabetical order (like “schtick”) and others that follow (like “shtik”) are considered secondary or unequal variants—spellings that occur less often but are still considered standard.

So you could perhaps describe “shtick” as “more” standard than the other spellings, though we wouldn’t and neither would the lexicographers at the two dictionaries.

Why so many spellings? Because the English word is borrowed from Yiddish, which is written in Hebrew letters and has to transliterated into our alphabet.

In Yiddish, a “shtick” is a piece, a part of something, a bit of misconduct, a trick, or an attention-getting gimmick used by an entertainer.

In English, it usually refers to a comic routine, a characteristic activity, an attention-getting trait, or a special talent.

The Yiddish term is derived from the German stück (a piece of something or a play in the theatrical sense), which is descended from similar words in old Germanic languages. In fact, the Old English word for piece is stycce.

Leo Rosten, who spells the word shtik in his 1968 book The Joys of Yiddish, also includes the diminutive shtikl, the “more diminutive” shtikeleh, and the plural shtiklech.

Check out our books about the English language