Probably one of the most common slang words used in Romania today, smecherie (shmeck-air-ee-eh) is simply put, the art of being a smecher (shmeck-air).
Yet if you plug the word into a dictionary, what you get is “sly boots” or a “cunning person”. Close but not exactly right.
The noun smecherie comes from the German word “Schmecker”, which just means someone who is employed as a taster, like at a beer factory. In fact, the original Romanian definition of a “smecher” is simply a person with “distinguished taste”.
Over time this got twisted from the original meaning of a person who has great sensibility in taste to meaning someone:
Care știe să iasă din încurcături, pe care nu-l poți păcăli; abil; isteț, dezghețat; șiret, șarlatan.
Which translates roughly to: “they who know how to get out of trouble, they who cannot be tricked, smart, wise, astute, cunning or a charlatan”. Basically anyone who can run a “con game” is someone who is indeed a smecher.
There is a famous song whose chorus goes, “Bun venit in Romania/nu mai tine smecherie” or “Welcome to Romania, don’t hold onto your smecher ways anymore”, meaning (basically) don’t try to con a con, aka the rest of your equally cunning fellow citizens (as opposed to the unwitting dupes abroad).
The reason why this word is so tricky is that, depending on who is saying it, it’s either a compliment or an insult. Being a “smecher” in Gypsy and some Romanian communities is something of a compliment, meaning you’re smart enough to fleece suckers to improve your own life, a worthy goal (to some).
If you’re the victim of some smecherie however, raising your fist and shaking it in anger at the smecher who tricked you is of course quite a natural inclination.
Probably the closest (USAmerican) version of “smecher” is being a “sly dog”, a title that can go either way, i.e. be a compliment in some cases or an insult in others. Similar to the BritEnglish version of “sly boots”.
While the general noun “smecherie” (of or related to being a smecher) is rarely “conjugated” in the various noun forms, the root noun has normal declinations:
Probably the most famous American “smecher” was P.T. Barnum.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!