Penny Marshall Defined: Here’s Merriam-Webster’s Tribute to the ‘Laverne & Shirley’ Star

The dictionary was at no loss for words in honoring the actress-director

Laverne and Shirley Penny Marshall Cindy Williams

Hollywood had a lot of words upon learning of the passing of Penny Marshall, the “Laverne & Shirley” star who died late Monday at age 75. But Merriam-Webster dictionary had just two: “schlemiel” and “schlimazel.”

The words are chanted by both Marshall’s character, Laverne, and Cindy Williams as Shirley in the opening credits and theme song to their hit sitcom, and if you ever wondered what the expressions mean, Merriam-Webster paid tribute to Marshall’s life in a very helpful tweet.

“Schlemiel” means “an unlucky bungler,” while “schlimazel” refers to a “consistently unlucky person.” Sounds like two characters we know.

“Laverne & Shirley,” a spinoff of “Happy Days,” ran for eight seasons between 1976 and 1983 and was a Milwaukee-set sitcom about two single women and their misadventures during the late ’50s and ’60s. Co-created by her brother, the late Garry Marshall, her work on the show netted Marshall three Golden Globe nominations. It would then launch Marshall’s directing career behind such films as “Big” and “A League of Their Own.”

The opening theme follows both Laverne and Shirley skipping along the street to the song “Making Our Dreams Come True” sung by Cyndi Grecco. “Give us any chance, we’ll take it/give us any rule, we’ll break it.”

Read more tributes to the life and work of Marshall from those who worked with her and were inspired by her here.