"jew(ish)" (was: RE: Self-Use of Ethnic Insults (was: Re: Ebonic Christmas ))
|From:||And Rosta <a.rosta@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, January 16, 2000, 22:05|
> Don't worry about it :-) The more you, me, and everyone else uses the
> word "jew" instead of "jewish person" (it's so much shorter, anyway!) the
> more normal it'll sound.
> For some reason it just sounds somewhat shocking, as if it was not-quite-
> polite or something.
This has been extensively discussed on the Linguist List and on the OutiL
(Out in Lx) List, also vis a vis "He is gay" vs. "He is a gay" & other
such words (tho not "lesbian"). IIRC, the discussion on Outil was due
to someone from the excellent American Heritage Dictionary doing one of
their usage preference surveys.
The basic explanation is as John said, tho I doubt it is the whole story
(because of differences with gay/lesbian, chinese/german, etc.):
> In religious contexts, and in the plural, it does not.
> I find it hard to articulate exactly what may be wrong with describing
> someone as "a Jew", perhaps because it categorizes rather than
> describing *and* refers to a stigmatized category. The combination
> is troublesome.
> To take an extreme example, there is a great difference between
> "John steals/has stolen" and "John is a thief". The latter connotes
> membership in a specific and (rightly) stigmatized group.
I wd add that I have not infrequently heard jews say "a jew", both in
the predicative "he is a jew" form and the nonpredicative "a jew walks
into a pub" form. In the predicative form it alternates with "jewish"
& therefore seems to connote more of an essential, core, dominant, inherent
property. In the nonpred form it alternates with "a jewish person",
which, being an unforced circumlocution, sounds to my ears like a
pussyfooting euphemism and therefore insulting.
> I regret that 'Jew' was often used offensively to mean 'a miser', 'an
> unscrupulous userer'. That use was certainly still current when I was
In my schooldays too. But the antisemitism was in the etymology rather
than the attitudes. _Irish_ 'devoid of logicality and common sense' is
more connected with a synchronic stereotype, but against this must be set
the hibernophilia, or indeed hibernomania, currently engulfing this country
(and this a country whose boarding houses, when my parents arrived in it,
routinely displayed signs saying "No Blacks or Irish").
> The lame, spastic, epileptic cripple,
> (+ other words I would have no "able" person use about me! ;-)
Does "other" include or exclude the words on the previous line?
In this country, "spastic" and its derivative "spazz", meant "an idiot,
especially one who is physically incompetent (e.g. when playing football)".
This led the charity The Spastics Society to change its name to Scope.
When my wife was teaching a few years ago, among the schoolchildren
"scope" had become an insult roughly synonymous with "spastic/spazz".
Euphemism is the linguistic counterpart of Nazi appeasement; you give
ground to the bad guys, and in the end you're going to have to yield
your new ground to the bad guys too. Compare the way African-American
has become not a classification by geographical origin on a par with
other hyphenated-americans but a classification by 'race'.
ObConlang: "jew(ish)" in Livagian is /yuda/, probably from Greek. There is
no noun/adjective/verb contrast in Livagian, so there's no counterpart of
the jew/jewish contrast. Livagia has a small Ashkenazi community whose
members arrived c. 1933-1950; their descendants are fully assimilated
nondistinctively into Livagian culture.