When it comes to old terms from around the world, we have to be mindful of how we’re using them today. Sometimes a word’s meaning can get lost over time, and it’s important to remind ourselves to handle it with care.
Terms like futz and putz, for example. These old Yiddish terms for someone who’s considered an idiot or great at wasting time should really only be used in a lighthearted sense. But let’s dive into their origins, so you understand better.
Putz vs. Futz
Putz and futz are Yiddish slang terms and have been around for quite some time. So long, in fact, that their true meanings have been lost on people. They both have fairly similar meanings, but each is used a little differently. Basically, they both refer to someone who’s dumb or an idiot. But let’s explore their origins and true meanings a bit deeper.
What Does Putz Mean?
The Yiddish word putz is a slightly derogatory term that’s been adopted into English slang. It’s mostly used to describe a person who’s seen as foolish or terribly incompetent or even someone who is lazy and doesn’t take their responsibilities seriously.
For example, if you have a co-worker who just can’t seem to get his act together, you might say, “That guy is such a putz; he can’t even get his work done on time.”
Origin of the Word Putz
The origin is uncertain, from what I can tell. But it is thought to have come from the German word “putzen,” which means “to clean” or “to decorate.” I think the word was originally used to describe someone who was overly concerned with their appearance or with keeping things clean.
Another way to think of it is someone who fusses over things, like how my mother constantly fussed and fiddled with her hair. Somehow, over time, the meaning of the word changed to describe someone who is lazy or incompetent.
Putz as an Intransitive Verb
Informally, putz can be used as an intransitive verb. It’s the act of spending time but also wasting time. Here are some examples for context.
- I spent the whole day putzing around the house.
- I thought he was studying, but he was just putzing around in his room all night.
What Does Futz Mean?
Also of Yiddish origin, futz is commonly used when talking about someone who is wasting time or not being productive. Similar to putz, it’s also used as a way to describe someone who is lazy or not taking their responsibilities as seriously as they should be. Farting around is a more modern take on it.
For example, if my son was distracted by his phone during homework time, I might tell him, “Stop futzing around and do your homework.”
Some claim it should only be used in verb form, but other sources state that it can be used as a noun, especially in informal contexts like text messages and emails.
Origin of the Word Futz
Futz is likely derived from the Yiddish verb “arumfartzen,” which means “to fart around” or “to waste time.”
Futz vs. Putz: Handle With Care
Both putz and futz are actually considered mildly offensive by some people in Jewish communities and, like most derogatory slang, should be used with care. They’re almost always used to describe people in a negative way, so it’s important to be aware of the tone you’re using.
Futzing Around or Putzing Around?
From what I can tell, you can use either verb form interchangeably. Both basically mean to be wasting time or fiddling around doing nothing.
Examples of Futz and Putz in Sentences
- Don’t just futz around all day; get some work done.
- I can’t believe he’s such a putz; he forgot to submit the report again.
- She’s always futzing with her hair instead of paying attention in class.
- He’s such a putz; he can’t even change a tire.
- Stop futzing on your phone and help me with this project.
- That guy is such a putz; he can’t even fix the printer.
- Quit futzing around and get to the point.
- I can’t stand working with that putz; he’s always making mistakes.
“When he is home, he spends his time “putzing around in my studio,” he said.” [Chicago Tribune]
That’s Enough Putzing Around
Putz and futz are both slang terms of Yiddish origin, used to describe someone as foolish, incompetent, lazy, or not taking their responsibilities seriously. Yes, they’re similar in sound, spelling, and meaning, but they’re also considered offensive when used in a serious manner. So, be mindful of how you’re using either of these old Yiddish terms.