If you’ve watched the show Letterkenny, you’ve probably heard some of the characters on that show refer to the Mennonites as “schmelly” or “schmellies.”
But why? What gives? And does that term actually carry any significance as it pertains to Mennonites themselves?
We’ll answer those questions (plus a few more) in the blog below.
Why Do Some People Say “Schmelly” to Refer to Mennonites?
So why do some people use the words “schmelly” or “schmellies” to refer to Mennonites? The #1 answer is that they heard it on the show Letterkenny.
Letterkenny most likely got the idea from confusing Mennonites and Amish. The portrayal of Mennonites on the show is much more similar to the Amish than it is to modern Mennonites.
Amish are well-known for many things, including their reluctance to bathe on any sort of regular schedule. In addition, the Amish way of life is predicated on manual labor, which means the Amish are often sweaty from a hard day’s work.
When you add those two ideas together, it means the Amish typically smell like body odor on any given day, especially during the hot and humid summers of the American Northeast.
(Plus, remember that most of them live on a farm, work among livestock, and produce their own manure, all of which has its own unique smells.)
To say it crassly, this means the Amish “smell.”
That means that the creators of Letterkenny just had to mix up a few details about the Amish and Mennonites to start using the term “schmelly” as a made-up slur for Mennonites on the show.
Do People Call Mennonites “Schmellies” in Real Life?
It’s kind of like when South Park popularized the idea of redheaded people being called “gingers” and then made jokes about them having no souls. The harassment and jokes around being a redhead practically exploded overnight in popularity, but they didn’t exist in popular culture prior to South Park.
The same is true for Letterkenny. There might be some people who use the word “schmelly” to refer to Mennonites today, but they most likely heard it on Letterkenny first.
Could the term gain traction in the future? Certainly.
In fact, because of the cultural confusion between Amish and Mennonites in popular culture, it’s entirely possible that people could start calling the Amish or Old Order Mennonites “schmellies.”
This is because most people who include cultural tropes in television shows aren’t always educated properly about what those cultures entail.
So while this is an issue of minor cultural misrepresentation, it’s still important to note that the show Letterkenny could lead to a growing use of made-up slurs against Mennonites.
There’s not a reason for this. In the history of Mennonites, there have been few (if any) recorded instances of Mennonites actively harming or even acting aggressively toward other groups.
In fact, as an Anabaptist denomination, Mennonites are staunchly against the idea of violence in every capacity (though it’s up to the individual eprson to follow that creed).
So there’s no real reason to use a slur for Mennonites. But then again, the kind of people who use slurs aren’t looking for a reason — they just want to hurt others to feel a false sense of superiority based on the circumstances of their own birth because they have nothing else going for them in life.
Is It Okay to Call a Mennonite “Schmelly?”
The word “schmelly” itself is more or less made up. It’s certainly a slur, but it’s a slur that carries almost no weight to it aside from implying that someone smells bad.
Racial, ethnic, and religious slurs get their offensiveness from histories of oppression and wrongdoing. When someone uses these slurs, they’re not just saying a word — they’re taking the side of every injustice that has ever been perpetrated against the person (and their corresponding personal attribute) they’re slurring.
“Schmelly” is just a nonsense term that a TV show made up for some laughs.
It might be offensive at some point, but Mennonites tend to be so innocuous that there’s not much you can say to insult them based on their faith or ethnic backgrounds.
People did do this at one time — Mennonites were persecuted and killed for their beliefs for a long time in Europe — but being Mennonite is more of a novelty in popular culture than an identifier of some form of historical culture.
There are also some countries today that continue to persecute Mennonites (like China), but they don’t necessarily have a slur that accompanies the persecution.
And either way, the persecution is the bigger issue in this scenario.
So is “schmelly” a dangerous slur that ranks among other horrible things that you could call someone? Certainly not. There are far worse words with far more disturbing histories.
But we’re not qualified to talk about those in any deeper context than acknowledging that they’re severely problematic — and that’s an understatement.
So as far as our qualifications allow us to say, it’s not kind to call someone anything derogatory in any context, and that includes the word “schmelly.”
Regardless of the authenticity of the “schmelly” slur, don’t use it.
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