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Elizabeth Phelps

Hi, Andrew! Excellent points -- especially Fred's apparent time warp!

One of my favorite sites for word origins (which I have to use a lot) is Phrase Finder (phrases.org.uk). I had a great time Friday learning all about these new-to-me words. I figured I'd pass along the information!

According to that site, "spondulicks" is "a lighthearted term which was obsolescent by the 1960s (having originated in the USA in the 1850s), but which like other synonyms for money was revived in the 1980s (compare 'rhino,' 'pelf,' etc.). It originated as a learned witticism, borrowing the Greek term, 'spondylikos; pertaining to the 'spondylos,' a seashell used as currency." From the "Dictionary of Contemporary Slang" by Tony Thorne (Pantheon Books, New York, 1990).

As for "schtum," "This probably derives from the German word stumm meaning silent. The phrase keep schtum (variously spelled 'keep stumm', 'keep 'keep shtoom', 'keep schtum' etc.) is British and fairly recent. It has the sound of a Yiddish phrase but it is more likely that it originated in the UK criminal community. The earliest citation of it is in Frank Norman's, book Bang to rights: an account of prison life, 1958."

Thanks so much for reading! :)


Spondulicks and Schtum sound more like East End Jewish slang to me - there was a whole vocabulary that grew out of the rag trade, and then attached itself to showbusiness and the theatre. I haven't heard these words in real life since the 1970s, but then again I've always felt Fred Basset was stuck rather pleasantly in a time warp where it is perpetually 1973.

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