Schtum – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you ever encountered someone who refuses to divulge any information? Maybe you prefer to keep things to yourself by remaining aloof. Have you ever wondered what it is called when a suspect clams up when talking to the police? If so, then the phrase schtum is one that you should add to your vocabulary bank. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The word schtum means to remain silent. Specifically, it means not sharing any information, or telling anyone what you know. Schtum is most often used when referring to information that is harmful or sensitive in nature. For example, if your best friend tells you about something that happened to them, you should keep schtum about it no matter what the circumstances.

The word schtum can also mean to stop communication. The simplest explanation of the word is to not tell anyone. It can also be used to explain when a person should keep quiet in order to prevent trouble or to discourage more trouble. Making a point of not sharing any sensitive information is also another meaning of schtum.

Example Usage

“If you ever get picked up by the police for any reason, just keep schtum and ask for a lawyer”.

“Every time that Jason comes around you transform from an outgoing girl into someone who is completely schtum”.

“There is something honorable about staying schtum about whatever you do when you are out with the girls on the weekends”.

“A respectable man will never kiss and tell, he always keeps schtum about his interactions with his romantic partners”.


The word schtum is a Yiddish word that has German roots. The German form of the word, stumm means “silent”. It was transplanted into the Yiddish language in 1950 and typically is used as “keep schtum”, which means to keep quiet. The phrase has made its way into the English language in recent years, though it has not been adopted in a widespread manner. The first recorded printing of the phrase in English is in a book called Bang to Rights. The book was written by Frank Norman in 1958. The book was about life in prison and the importance of maintaining schtum.

Of course, colloquial uses of schtum existed before it was found in English print. It was also found in the UK, mainly in the world of criminals. It has been used in conversation in both Germany and in the Yiddish language.

Phrases Similar to Schtum

  • Keep it under your hat
  • Button your lip
  • Under wraps
  • Be discreet
  • Keep secret
  • Soul of discretion
  • Keep mum

Phrases Opposite to Schtum

  • Spill the beans
  • Tattletale
  • Divulge
  • Blab
  • Confess
  • Give the game away
  • Come clean
  • Squeal

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The proper way to say the phrase is – keep schtum.

Ways People May Incorrectly Say Schtum

Some ways that Schtum is used incorrectly are:

  • Once the police applied a bit of pressure, she kept schtum and told them everything they wanted to know.
  • If you get arrested for spying, it’s better to keep schtum. By telling them everything, they may let you go.
  • In the mafia, no one is taught to keep schtum, instead, they are instructed to spill the beans.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Schtum

Some ways that Schtum is used correctly are:

  • No matter how much they harassed him after the game, he kept schtum and just internalized his anger.
  • Only the lawyer can convince him that it is in his best interest to keep schtum in regard to what was said at the meeting.
  • Most A-list movie stars know it is a good practice to keep schtum about their relationship until things are serious.
  • Any good butler knows that being schtum about your employer’s activities is part of the job description.

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