Religion & Beliefs

“The Jew”

Maybe this will seem like an odd post, but I have to bring this up today. Because I can’t stop thinking about it…   What do you think of “The Jew” as an offensive term (or “a Jew” for that matter)?  … Read More

By / April 26, 2007
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Maybe this will seem like an odd post, but I have to bring this up today. Because I can’t stop thinking about it…  

What do you think of “The Jew” as an offensive term (or “a Jew” for that matter)?  As opposed to “the Jewish man” or “a Jewish kid”.  Does “Jew” bug you, when used as a noun?  When used as an adjective? When it comes from a non-Jewish mouth? 

Hmmmmm. Maybe you don’t even know what I’m talking about. 

Let’s say you’re talking to your grandma, and she says, “The black was eating a veggie sub.”  Or she says, “I saw two gays walking down Lombard Street.”  Would you squirm a little.  Because that’s considered offensive, right? 

But is “Jew” the same kind of word?  And if it is, what about “American?”  What about “Swede?”  “Gentile?”     

I  ask because “a gentile” I know told me he got reprimanded by some family members for referring to someone as  “a Jew” and he wanted me to tell him why it was wrong to say.  I found that I couldn’t explain the issue, but I also found that it did make me squirm a bit.  Although I use the word Jew all the time (though not as an adjective. That DOES seem way wrong to me. 

Why is this word problematic?   

Is it because when used as a noun, this word seeks to convey that Jewish is all we are  Or are we overly sensitive? 

Is it because (as one of the less moronic morons over here suggests) the word is monosyllabic and just sounds offensive? 

Is it because we were forced to wear it as a label in Germany? 

Interestingly, this article points out that in English, “Jew” and “Jewish” are technically interchangeable, and that no other ethnicity is interchangeable in the same way:

If you call someone a "Jewish lawyer" you're being descriptive and grammatically correct. Call someone a "Jew lawyer" and you're being grammatically correct and you're suggesting that a Jewish lawyer can never be anything but a Jew. A "Jewish boy" is some kid named Sol you pat on the head. A "Jew boy" is something Nazis say.

(though I’m not sure that’s entirely true… that no other terms are interchangeable in the same way…) And wikipedia suggests that it was considered a slur and so fell out of use in the 19th and 20th centuries:

The word Jew has been used often enough in a disparaging manner by anti-Semites that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was frequently avoided altogether, and the term Hebrew was substituted instead (e.g. Young Men's Hebrew Association). Even today some people are wary of its use, and prefer to use "Jewish". Indeed, when used as an adjective (e.g. "Jew lawyer") or verb (e.g. "to Jew someone"), the term Jew is purely pejorative. However, when used as a noun, "Jew" is preferred, as other circumlocutions (e.g. "Jewish person") give the impression that the term "Jew" is offensive in all contexts.

But then so why’d we bring it back?  How did that happen? I certainly didn’t grow up thinking it was a bad word.  What’s the story here?