Time to Get Off the Schneid?

By Michael Kaufman

“Don’t take any wooden nickels,” I told my 21-year-old daughter Gahlia as she left the house after a recent visit. She turned and stared at me as if I’d just started speaking in tongues.

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

I started to explain but her eyes glazed over and she said she had to go. For the record, a number of explanations are given as to the origin of the phrase but “don’t take any wooden nickels” is generally used as an admonition not to get cheated or ripped off. But if Gahlia, who tends to be au courant, never heard of it, maybe it is not so generally used anymore.

A few weeks ago my wife Eva-Lynne and I went out to dinner with my brother Gene, his wife Sue, and their grown son David. At one point I mentioned that I’d “finally gotten off the schneid” and written a couple of essays for prior learning credit from Empire State College.

“What does that mean?” asked Eva-Lynne, “Off your butt?”

“Er, not exactly. You never heard anyone say ‘off the schneid?’”

“Never heard of it.”

Turns out neither had Sue or David. Only my elder brother knew what it meant. “Can you explain it?” Eva-Lynne asked Gene.

“Not exactly,” he said. “I just know what it means.”

True, the expression is most often heard when uttered by baseball announcers and I was the only baseball aficionado at the table. But Gene knew it immediately even though he hasn’t paid any attention to baseball for as long as I’ve known him. To be “on the schneid” means to be on a losing (or scoreless or hitless) streak and to be “off the schneid” is to break a scoreless or hitless or winless streak. According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, “schneid” is actually short for “schneider,” a term originally used in the card game of gin, meaning to prevent an opponent from scoring any points. “Schneider” entered the jargon of gin from German (probably via Yiddish), where it means “tailor.” If you were “schneidered” in gin, you were “cut” (as if by a tailor) from contention in the game.

Some words and expressions widely used today have a different connotation than they did only a few decades ago. The aforementioned Gahlia recently told her mother (albeit in jest), “You suck.” When I was her age the word “suck” had a specific meaning and was most often seen scrawled on the walls of stalls in public rest rooms, along with crude drawings of male private parts. Saying it to one’s mother, even in jest, was unthinkable. (I’m still not crazy about it but Gahlia has a way of saying things that make you laugh in spite of yourself.)

Once, when Eva-Lynne told me about a great deal she saw advertised, I said, “I’m from Missouri.”

She said, “You’re from Missouri? I thought you were from New York.”

But maybe that’s a horse of a different color.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.


5 Responses to “Time to Get Off the Schneid?”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    LOL!!!! My husband just the other day told our daughter not to take any wooden nickels. she looked confused. he’s from brooklyn and it’s not a phrase that was every familiar to me having grown up on the lower east side.

    the whole “suck” thing is something i can’t get used to either along with the use of the word “scumbag”. times have changed.

    thanks for a good read.

  2. Mikhail Horowitz Says:

    Keep this up, Mike, and I’m going to drop a dime on you.

  3. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I’ll take that with a grain of salt, Mik. And I agree with you, Jo, about “scumbag” (not to mention “douchebag.”)

  4. Tad Richards Says:

    The expression that I use from time to time, knowing full well that no one will know what I’m talking about is “Annie Oakley,” as in, “Can you get me a couple of Annie Oakleys?”

  5. Michael Kaufman Says:

    I once had a chance to score a couple of Annie Oakleys for the Big Dance…but college hoops aren’t my cup of tea.

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