The little blue creatures created by Peyo started with the name “Schtroumpfs.” When they came to America, they used “Smurfs” for the English-speaking audience.
They became an institution on Saturday mornings in the 1980s, and are still fondly remembered to this day. After three movies, a new series now airs on Nickelodeon.
The word “Smurf” is a familiar one to so many. But, you know how it is with languages. They evolve. Terms get co-opted.
Let’s look at six additional meanings and uses for the word, many of which fall into the category of “People just can’t let pure kid-friendly stuff stay that way”, after one more bit of background:
Where does the word “Smurf” come from?
Imagine having dinner with Andre Franquin and Peyo.
I’d only do it at a restaurant that put paper down on the table and left crayons behind. Then, I’d take that paper home at the end of the night. Imagine the doodles!
The story goes that those two were having dinner together one weekend. Peyo asked Franquin to pass the salt, but blanked on the word “salt.” He instead asked Franquin to pass the “schtroumpf,” a silly made-up word in French.
It became something of a running gag between the two.
The word was later translated into Dutch as “Smurf.” When it came time to translate the series into English, that’s the word that stuck.
The story is also recounted in the production blog of “Smurfs: The Lost Village.” It’s worth clicking through for the cute Smurf salt shaker cartoon.
By the way, the French word that Peyo was looking for to define salt is “sel.” Since this is Belgium we’re talking about, I’ll also mention that the Dutch word is “zout.” Neither are anywhere near “schtroumpf.”
Now, let’s take a look at where the word “smurf” has been redefined in six specific worlds.
1. Do The Smurf: The Hip Hop Dance Move of the 80s, 90s, and Today
Yes, there is a hip hop dance move called “The Smurf.” It’s simple enough to learn that even I could fake my way through it after watching a YouTube Smurf Dance instruction video, and maybe a second one for good measure. That first video describes more of the modern version of the move. The second video also include the “classic”, “old school” dance move.
Fear not, I’m not going to include a video of me attempting it here.
It’s a simple move where you bounce at the knees and move your arms around one at a time. You’ve probably seen it. It’s a very vague definition for a dance move. A lot of things fit under its umbrella.
The Smurf is a renaming or a variation of a dance move called “The Frug” from the 1960s. That dance was featured prominently in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” titled “The Senior Play.” It’s from the seventh season of the series, and you can watch it for yourself on Amazon Video if you’re a Prime member.
In the episode, the dance is part of a “scandalous” show the high school kids put together that the principal immediately cancels for being too provocative. I would show you a picture from the episode, but any attempt I could make to pause the show ends up very blurry.
“The Smurf” variation got its name in the 1980s, naturally. It was quite a popular move to bust out when the DJ spun “Smurf for What It’s Worth”.
The Frug came back in 1999 from a band called Rilo Kiley with their song titled “Frug” which namechecked The Smurf dance move. It got picked up for the soundtrack of a movie, “Desert Blue.” It has since been referenced by The Beastie Boys, Eminem, Nas, and more.
Next time you find yourself in da club, bust a move with The Smurf. (“Hello, fellow children, I’m hip to using your lingo…”)
2. Money Laundering Smurf
A Smurf, in financial terms, is a person who breaks a big transaction into a series of smaller ones so they don’t have to be reported. Yes, it is illegal. As Investopedia points out, banks have to report cash transactions greater than $10,000. A Smurf might make a series of $9999 transactions to avoid that reporting threshold.
Banks and the feds, by the way, are not dumb. Their reporting mandate also includes a clause for any transaction a bank finds suspicious. So if you try to be a smurf with a series of smaller transactions, the bank can still flag you at their own discretion.
If you’re heading to college and planning to major in finance, the more staid terminology for this is “structuring.”
3. Cyber Security Smurf
This is similar to the way money launderers break a large transaction into a series of smaller transactions. Smurfing there is a DDOS — a distributed denial of service attack. The idea is to use a ton of small transactions to overwhelm a server using some IP spoofing.
If you can put together a network of devices and then have them all hit a server at the same time, you can overpower and overwhelm that server. In the process of failing, the server might give up a valuable bit of information the hacker can use on their next attack
Funny enough, there is a variation of this Smurf Attack that’s known as the Fraggle Attack. Of course.
If you’re a super network geek, you’ll know what this means: The Smurf Attack goes the ICMP route, while the Fraggle Attack uses UDP.
Modern routers have built up defenses against these kinds of attacks, so they’re not as frequent anymore. Sure, there are still DDOS attacks, but not using these methods.
It sounds like Smurf Attacks are pretty rare at this point. But I’m giving all Fraggles the side-eye from here on out.
“Worry’s for another day,” indeed.
4. Illegal Drugs – Meth Head Smurfs
Same idea, different “industry.” Smurfing here refers to buying up lots of drugs with low amounts of pseudoephedrine (for colds and allergies) so that they can be combined later to create meth amphetamines.
Over the counter medications are allowed to have small doses of the drug. Laws prevent individuals from buying up too much at a time for just this reason. But if you distribute the job across a wide enough array of individuals and locations, it’s not easy to see the pattern and stop the buying.
The individuals sent out to buy the drugs are referred to as “smurfs.”
There’s also something referred to as “smurf dope,” which is meth amphetamines or heroin laced with fentanyl, giving it a blue-ish color.
Also, I’ve never seen “Breaking Bad,” buy why do I have a feeling this isn’t a new term for fans of that show? Oh, wait, here’s The Washington Post to cover that angle.
Lovely. I’m starting to feel dirty now in writing this article. Let’s find something less depressing. I know! How about home wiring for your next big screen TV hanging on the wall?
5. Smurf Tubes for Home Wiring
Wiring up a house is tricky, particularly long after the place has been built. Swapping out wires as new standards come in or adding new wires through walls as new technology shows up can be tricky.
Enter “smurf tubes.” These are blue PVC tubes that act as conduits. You put them in your walls and snake wires through the paths they’ve cleared out for you already. No worries about having to drill through studs later or try to snake wires through empty spaces between the studs. The smurf tube will show you the way.
It’s named that because, unsurprisingly, the tubes are generally colored blue.
You know what I love the most about smurf tubes? I did a search on HomeDepot.com for “Smurf Tube” and it autocompleted my search and gave me the results you see above.
6. Video Game Playing Smurf
Video game characters had their fair share of animated series in the 1980s. Dragon’s Lair, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*Bert, Frogger, Pole Position, and more.
Here’s the reverse case, where an animated series from the 1980s loans a word to the world of modern video games.
This is the gaming “smurf.” It’s what happens when a strong and experienced player creates a new weak character to play as.
It’s not always done with malice. Some players just want to play through the game from the bottom up again. Some are disguising their identities or even keeping this lower account for educational purposes, like a YouTube tutorial channel.
And I’m sure some are using it to score easy in-game points that they likely give to their stronger character’s self somehow.
MakeUseOf has a great article exploring all the angles of the Smurf player, if you’re inclined to read further on this topic.
There’s Probably More
I’m sure of it. I’m afraid to find out all the other ways people have destroyed the good name of “Smurf” to describe their illegal schemes.
Smurf ’em, I say!