“Smurf” now has four definitions — and a word error started it all

The summer’s blockbuster films keep coming every weekend, assailing us with men of iron, ogres, toy cowboys and Cheshire cats. But some cinephiles are already looking ahead to next summer, especially with the recent release of the very short trailer for “The Smurfs.”

Those famous blue cartoon characters (and their memorable theme song) sparked a thought: What the smurf is a smurf? Is there a Dictionary Smurf who can help us with a definition and origin?

Belgian illustrator Peyo, born Pierre Culliford, started drawing the characters in the late 1950s as part of a comic called “The Flute with Six Holes.” In the magical tale, the main characters Johan and Pirloit meet the Smurfs — blue-hued, no taller than three apples, and wearing Phrygian caps (the pointy white hats that are also called liberty caps).

Peyo had come up with the word for his characters accidentally. While dining with a friend, he briefly forgot the French word for “salt.” Instead, he asked for the “schtroumpf.” His friend replied, “Here’s the schtroumpf — when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back.” They began conversing in Schtroumpf.

Their conversation not only became the inspiration for the name of Peyo’s characters, it took on its own life as the Schtroumpf’s language — a make-believe tongue that had an endless number of meanings for the word “schtroumpf.”

Johan and Pirloit were eventually cast aside, and the Schtroumpfs were turned into their own comic. Years later, the wildly successful American TV show took the name “Smurfs,” which was the Dutch rendering of “schtroumpf.”

The word “smurf” now has three meanings in English unrelated to half-naked forest gnomes narrowly escaping the grasp of an evil sorcerer. (The sorcerer in question is, of course, the evil Gargamel, whose name was lifted from a 16th-century work by François Rabelais.)

In the world of finance, a smurf is someone who launders money. In the realm of Usenet news groups, a smurf is someone with a irreverent, silly, and cute style. And a “smurf brain” is a simple-minded person.

Informally, smurf can also refer to a 1980s dance craze, an online gamer who creates a new identity, breakdancing in French, or a type of hacking attack.

All of these words take their cue from Peyo’s imagination. So the next time you forget a word for something, smurf something up for smurf’s sake.


  1. Tiffany mark -  August 11, 2015 - 3:47 pm

    What does “SMURF” mean??

  2. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 12, 2014 - 3:36 am

    Funny and informative article. Who knew there were so many meanings for the word “smurf”?

    Fun fact for Dictionary.com and my fellow commenters: The English translation of the current Swiss president’s last name is “Smurf.” :)

  3. Cris -  May 19, 2013 - 2:33 am

    Doesn’t schlumpfen mean socks or stockings in German?

    • Melanie Clark -  July 26, 2014 - 11:36 am

      Nope, it means smurf.

  4. Awesome -  April 6, 2013 - 12:03 pm

    I THOUGHT that smurf means some thing bad but i still think of that.
    If that doesn’t means that can someone tell me about that….
    Please??? Nedd help!!!

  5. laur -  December 29, 2012 - 7:33 pm

    @danny I agree with youuuu!!

  6. billybob jr -  November 14, 2012 - 1:41 pm

    sethhhhh flint u uuuu areeeee crazy

  7. smurf millar -  June 20, 2012 - 9:27 am

    smurfs are cute and blue and so smoll and they say everything smurf and that is so cute.

  8. courtney -  December 25, 2011 - 3:28 am

    The kids i babysit…love the Smurfs….And i love them too. They are smurfin cool!

  9. Unconsious -  December 12, 2011 - 9:34 pm

    Where is the smurf origin? Can you please tell all the smurf biography?

  10. A Game of Roles -  December 6, 2011 - 4:18 pm

    [...] eating lunch one day with a friend when he forgot the word salt and instead asked for the “schtroumpf“, and said when he was done “schtroumpfing” he would return the [...]

  11. M Schlumpf -  December 5, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    my great grandparents came to america from Switzerland, and they said that Schlumpf is german for little blue people. and it refers to the fabled elf like creatures that live in the mountains where they came from.

  12. Areeb -  October 25, 2011 - 3:43 pm

    what a smurfy day….. by the way.. it’s a nice word… smurf can be used in place of words that “must not be said”… but people say them ….

    so lest give a smurf to all those smurfy people…… and its good :)

  13. Judy -  September 25, 2010 - 2:13 pm

    In German a plural would not necessarily end in an “s”. If memory serves, more than one Smurf would be Schlumpfen. That’s with a long U sound.

  14. riki -  September 25, 2010 - 9:21 am

    Hey yeah
    Schlumpfs in German

  15. Doma -  September 25, 2010 - 8:01 am

    In Arabic: the Smurfs are known as “Sanafer” which became in our dialect “Libyan slang” used to refer to cute people…

  16. Anni70 -  September 25, 2010 - 6:50 am

    In Italian the Smurfs are known by the name “I Puffi”. When they first appeared in the Italian Tipiti magazine, they were named “Strunfi”( “Il Flauto a Sei Strunfi”– Tipiti n.21/27 Dardo,1963). Later, when publication of the Smurfs was done by the “Corriere dei Piccoli”( another italian magazine for children and toddlers), the name was changed to “I Puffi”– sound like e pooffee– and has reached as far as to the former Italian colonies and were and liked even there.

  17. Cindi Knox -  September 25, 2010 - 4:12 am

    What about smurfit?

  18. Mentok the Mindtaker -  September 24, 2010 - 10:21 pm

    In Italian, they’re called “I Puffi” (rhymes with “goofy”).

  19. Leeza -  September 24, 2010 - 5:10 pm

    In Spanish, The Smurfs are known as Los Pitufos. There’s a wiki entry on them, if you’re curious. Anyone else familiar with The Smurfs in a foreign language?

  20. Berenice Weber -  September 24, 2010 - 4:46 pm

    just to keep the smurfversation going… did anybody know why the Smurfs are called “Pitufos” in Spanish? we have Papa Pitufo, Pitufo filósofo (the smart one with glasses) and Smurfette is called Pitufina…

  21. Abel -  September 24, 2010 - 3:45 pm

    Back in the day in high school, worked for McDonald’s We called the Sausage McMuffin (no egg) a Smurf since it was abbreviated SMF on the POS system.

  22. Brian -  September 24, 2010 - 1:55 pm

    @ Kat

    The french word for SALT is SEL. Which actually makes the article less funny. It confounds the mind that he somehow pulled out SCHTROUMPF instead of SEL. (Even if he meant to say SALT SHAKER, that is SALIERE).

  23. RedDogNorth -  September 24, 2010 - 12:59 pm

    In Seattle at The Breakfasr Club when a short stack of blueberry pancakes is ordered you will hear “throw a smurf on the grill” rather than short-blue

  24. Lauren -  September 24, 2010 - 10:51 am

    Yes, but no idea is ever original. Everything has been done before. And,I’m not surprised. Plus, Toy Story 3 kicked ass.:]

  25. AvidReader -  September 8, 2010 - 5:41 pm

    I took my younger sister to watch TOYSTORY 3 and then the preview came on for “SMURFED”.
    I thought in my head “How can they do this? Don’t any movie directors have any original ideas? Leave the cartoons alone.”
    A man sitting two rows in front of me yelled out,”God, please, no!”
    The entire theater seemed to agree with him because there was a slight applause and everyone laughed.
    Just had to put it out there…

  26. Miss Bee -  September 2, 2010 - 9:13 pm

    actually, you forgot the fourth significant meaning: smurf also refers to anyone with blue skin
    even those people in that movie avatar. even though they were taller than humans

  27. Papa Smurf -  August 30, 2010 - 11:21 pm

    LOL “smurf” no longer looks like a word anymore because everyone keeps saying it.

  28. nothingsacred -  August 30, 2010 - 7:54 pm


    Jeezuss, is NOTHING SACRED anymore?? Well that seals it…between movies based on unfunny, ancient newspaper comics (Marmaduke) to the Yogi The Bear movie coming out, and now a movie based on a crappily-made 80s cartoon, it’s official: EVERY ORIGINAL IDEA HAS BEEN DONE. Movie makers have been scraping the bottom of the barrel for the past 20 years, making sequels of sequels, sequels to prequels, and remaking every good movie that was perfect on its own and didn’t NEED to be remade; and this is the climax, the penultimate point of an absolute lack of creativity. Hollywood is a wrinkled, dry old TIT, that got MILKED TO DEATH YEARS AGO and no longer has anything to offer tas entertainment any longer.

  29. smurfable -  August 30, 2010 - 7:47 pm

    Can someone please tell me how having said “schtroumpf” instead of “sel” turned into “smurf?!” That makes NO sense at all…..

  30. ThatOneGuy -  August 30, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    Funny tid-bit of knowledge: in France the Smurfs are known as les Schtroumpfs to this day.

  31. SMURF | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 26, 2010 - 12:15 am

    [...] “SMURF” — it must be because of our “smurf brain” and we’ve never learned to surf. — Actually this Hot Word appeared on or about June twenty-fifth. — We hadn’t ventured into the Hot Word World — preoccupied with other lives — And still believe Lieberman is the Sith. — We’ve never laundered money but boil everything we wash. — We may be irreverent and silly though no one would call us cute or squash. — We related to the Blue Squishy guys while searching for our role — or maybe that’s depression? — Since we be never had no money we be call it a recession.– We’re thankful to this Peyo guy from Belgian with the artist’s soul. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  32. Bob -  August 16, 2010 - 8:47 am

    I always thought that Smurfs were metaphors for communism. After all, they are all named based on their profession. They are led by “Papa” smurf, who wears a red hat and has an old-fashioned muscovite beard. The smurf that everyone hates the most is “brainy” smurf, who of course represents the intellectuals who the communists have always despised. And Gargamel is the terrible capitalist who wants to literally transform the smurfs into commodities by making “smurf soup.” It seems like a perfect metaphor to me.

  33. Aspirator -  August 16, 2010 - 6:56 am

    Professor on July 1, 2010 at 6:19 pm
    Is there a term to describe the humourous use of an innocuous and meaningless word like ’smurf’ to replace other words at random?

    Hey Prof, I would think that euphemism would come close but there are several words and terms that fit that bill.

  34. smurfette_unicorn -  August 16, 2010 - 3:19 am

    So interesting! The Smurfs are so cute, they look like they’re made for cuddling.

  35. Brainie Smurf -  July 8, 2010 - 9:28 pm

    i just love love love the smurfs they are so smurfin cute!!

  36. Cheerio -  July 6, 2010 - 4:22 am

    Hey wILLIam….. Wouldn’t be anything new!!! hahaha!!! Cheerio!

  37. wILLIam -  July 1, 2010 - 7:35 pm

    dont giggle too much ‘cheerio’.. you’ll get the smurfs!

  38. Professor -  July 1, 2010 - 6:19 pm

    Is there a term to describe the humourous use of an innocuous and meaningless word like ‘smurf’ to replace other words at random?

  39. Cheerio -  June 28, 2010 - 11:44 pm

    hahahaha!!! I reckon you guys are all crazy!!!
    Magine having a big argument about Smurfs!!
    Good Blog… I have the giggles… thanks for brightening my afternoon!!!

  40. wattasmurf... -  June 27, 2010 - 5:04 pm

    Hay interesting article! I never knew there was such a story behind em!

  41. bubba bob -  June 27, 2010 - 10:38 am

    Dear Annie: Lighten up girl! Us folks is just havin’ us some fun!
    -sounds like you need to get smurfed!

  42. bashir -  June 27, 2010 - 7:45 am

    I’m satisfied this dictionary because it has many advantages and it can able to learn this language and to speak corrcetl

  43. Jsizzle -  June 26, 2010 - 6:38 am

    I don’t give a smurf.
    What the smurf is all this smurf talk anyway.
    BTW…I thought Smurfette was smurfin hot.
    I’d smurf her.

  44. ISDAMan -  June 26, 2010 - 1:14 am

    Don’t forget “smurfing”. S smurf is one that practices such as it is the mass collecting, as in foraging, of sudafed (Pseudoephedrine) from multiple pharmacies.

  45. Jeremy -  June 25, 2010 - 11:45 pm

    A definition was forgotten – in the world of computer network security, a smurf is a type of Denial of Service attack where the target is bombarded with incorrectly-constructed ping packets, forcing the target to deal with a never-ending stream of errors.

  46. danny -  June 25, 2010 - 11:25 pm

    i always thought smurf was a play on the word serf, and that the whole cartoon was loosely paralleled with tsarist russia and the emancipation effort?…

  47. Paolo Abballe -  June 25, 2010 - 11:16 pm

    I usually use the term “smurf” just as a joke when I go surfing!
    I would say “I am going smurfing”, or “I am going to catch some smurfs”. You know, just to give things in life a bit of spiceness!

  48. Annie -  June 25, 2010 - 10:49 pm

    If you don’t like the smurfs then don’t waste your time and my time posting stupid comments…go smurf yourself! Leave this cute and interesting cartoon and it’s creator alone! Leave the posting for those of us who actually have souls and brains and who like the smurfs! Why can’t you people enjoy the little bit of history and humor behind this article…perhaps you are too stupid! Have you ever hung out with a friend and forgotten someone’s name or the name of something and made up a silly word or even said “whatchamacallit”???? That is how many words are created and it’s how many nick names are created! I am a normal and thoughtful person and I think they two guys were at a restaurant having a good and decent time and came up with this adorable cartoon. Perhaps if you were not an idiot you would have friends that you could hang out with and have a smurfing good time!

  49. Gina -  June 25, 2010 - 10:13 pm

    Kat, the French word for “salt” is “sel”, like the word “cell” pronounced with an accent.

    How he managed to come up with “schtroumpf” instead of “sel”, I haven’t a clue. *eyeroll*

  50. blogger -  June 25, 2010 - 8:02 pm

    What makes “smurf” more Dutch than “schtroumpf”?

  51. Kat -  June 25, 2010 - 7:58 pm

    1. “While dining with a friend, he briefly forget . . . .” Sounds like he briefly burst into French. “Forgot” is the correct verb tense.

    2. What exactly is the French word for salt? (This would be funnier if we knew the French word.)

  52. Anthony -  June 25, 2010 - 7:42 pm

    Some people the word “smurf” as a reference to short people.

  53. anallover -  June 25, 2010 - 7:19 pm

    oh please! someone smurf me in my smurfhole!

  54. anallover -  June 25, 2010 - 7:18 pm

    what the smurf!? who the smurf cares where the smurfing word “smurf” came from!? alright? so go smurf yourself you smurf loving smurf!

  55. TReddin -  June 25, 2010 - 4:36 pm

    Growing up, someone told me Smurf was the German name of a small demon. I did not see that as one of the definitions. I guess someone made that up??

  56. Jonah -  June 25, 2010 - 2:32 pm

    Smurf is also slang for a small amount of marijuana.

  57. Alexa -  June 25, 2010 - 2:00 pm

    DOn;t forget the cat Gargamel had, Azrael. D.com says that name is

    the angel who separates the soul from the body at the moment of death. Pretty heavy for blue people.


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