Keep shtum


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Keep shtum'?

Other phrases with

Say nothing – especially in circumstances where saying the wrong thing may get you into trouble.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Keep shtum'?

The word shtum was intoduced into Yiddish from the German word stumm meaning silent. The phrase keep shtum (variously spelled ‘keep schtum’, ‘keep ‘keep shtoom’, ‘keep stumm’ etc.) came into the English language quite recently.

The earliest citation of it in print in English is in Frank Norman’s, book Bang to Rights: an account of prison life, 1958, although colloquial uses of it may be much earlier:

“I think it’s much better to keep shtoom.”
“You can always shtoomup if any screws are earholeing.”

“The screws [prison officers] word is gospel, so as well as getting done for the snout you get done for making false accusations against a prison officer, so there you are the best thing to do is to keep shtoom otherwise you’ll wind up bang in trouble.”

Trend of keep shtum in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.