Shpiel is Yiddish, and literally means 'play'. While the meaning and associations of the word have changed significantly, the it can still be commonly heard with its original meaning in the context of Purim, the Feast of Lots. Amongst the myriad of customs and observances associated with this Jewish holiday, the Purim shpiel is a tradition which extends back into Talmudic times. Initially a morality play re-enacting the humiliation, defeat, and hanging of Haman and his ten sons over 2,500 years ago, the Purim shpiel has evolved into a kind of performance art. Funny plays are performed which may or may not tell the story of Purim, but usually satirize community affairs, current events, or well-known figures. Children most frequently perform Purim shpiels in their school.

The modern use of the word shpiel, however, has strayed far from its roots. It now refers to any presentation, performance, or seemingly rehearsed verbal expression. It has dismissive or humorous overtones, implying cliche, repetition, predictability, comic presentation, cheap antics and salesmanship, or flashy over-production. Some examples:

"I think they'll hire me. They listened to my little shpiel, and it seemed to go over well."
"The vacuum cleaner salesman came by today and gave me this whole shpiel about dust-mites. What a goniff."
"I went to City Hall about getting a license for the delicatessen and bagel shop, but they gave me this long shpiel and then said to come back Monday."
"You want a pony for your birthday? What chutzpah! How long have you been rehearsing this shpiel?"

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