Submitted by Dyske on September 21, 2003

A Jew and Jews

While we are at this racial slur thing: I was told that “He is a Jew” sounds offensive, but “He is Jewish” does not, because the former sounds like a Nazi trying to identify Jews from the rest, which is odd because he would not be speaking English in the first place. To make the matter more confusing, I was told that “They are Jews” is not offensive. Singular is offensive but plural isn’t? You would probably say, “He is American” instead of “He is an American”, but either way it does not sound offensive.

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I dont think calling someone a "jew" is patently offensive, although it does sound a bit abrasive. Just say jewish if you're concerned.

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The word "jew" contains a number of elements that are offensive.

"Jew" can be used as an insult to connote being miserly (think, for example, of Shylock) or even to mean a cheat.

Thus to call someone "a jew" is to insult them. No other form of the work jew carries these additional meanings (jewish, jews) so it is appropriate and inoffensive to use them.

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"Jew" is not, in itself, a slur, and I disagree with Slur_guy on this point. The problem simply resides in the fact that being jewish has been considered shameful by so many for so long. No matter what term you use for it, someone will have already used that term in a derogatory sense.

Also it occurs to me that the jews do not have any euphemistic terms, like "hebrew-american". Actually i applaud them for this, but it means there aren't a lot of politically correct words to use (ie words with no negative historical references).

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This one has always been interesting to me. Before the TV show South Park openly critisized Kyle (one of the 4 main characters) for being Jewish, I was completely unaware that the word could be used as a derogatory noun. Even before it became used in this way people often used the word "jew" as an offensive transitive verb, as in "to jew down the price" which, I believe, originated with the idea that Jewish people are often frugal.

The word is not inherently defematory, but when used with a certain tone of voice or in the right context it can considered offensive. I find this usage of the word inane and ignorant.

I do agree with Joachim though; a likely possibility is that being Jewish has been considered shameful for hundreds of years (although recently it has become more acceptable.)

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To call someone A ______ defines them soley as the characteristic that you are describing. To call somea Jew in this case takes the adjective and makes it a nomnative. used as an adjective with the -ish, the assumption is that there's an unspoken noun, (man/woman, person, human) not just "a Jew". The adjectival form of Jew is Jewish. Same as China/Chinese. Huge difference between Chinaman and Chinese man, right? The plural, Jews, also connotes different negative associations but less so simply because English generally allows pluralized nouns to be used differently.

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Interesting comment by Kris. For whatever reason, I've always felt that "Jew" had a harder edge on it than "Jewish." But there's no difference in tone between "Jew" and "Jews."

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It's real simple.

Just say Jewbat in every context.

That way, you can be offensive all the time!

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The objectification thing sounds plausible, but it can't be entirely right. Most nationality descriptions are adjectival or derivative, as are most religious ones: she is an Egyptian, a Buddhist, etc. But some other common ones aren't: she is a Scot, a Swede, a Serb. With religions we have a few like Muslim, Mormon, Quaker, Hindu, but being dissyllabic they feel similar to the adjectival ones. Jew is the only monosyllable among those, it's true, but I think it must be the historically unflattering overtones that make it stand out more against Scot and Swede.

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I don't think that being called "a Jew" is offensive if you are referring to my religious affiliation. I am a Jew. My mother is a Jew. My father is a Jew. My friend is a Christian and my other friend is a Muslim.

The problem arises when someone uses the word "Jew" to denote, as slur-guy stated, something miserly. For instance, "He talked the salesman down $300; he's a Jew!" or "That Jew overcharged me!"

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To say 'I am a Jew' is grammatically correct and the choice of the individual speaking. To say 'you are a Jew' is grammatically correct but bordering on insensitive in the light of historical events.
In Australia non-Jewish people say 'Jewish' or 'jewish' to avoid the use of 'Jew'/'jew' and its Nazi assocations.
Language is part of the community and so the needs of the community need to be taken into account.

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OK, I happen to be a Jew and an atheist. That makes me a Jewish atheist. I'm trying this out for sound....

Seems we have the same problem with the word "Hindu." One can be a Hindu and an atheist, but to be a Hindu atheist seems silly, possibly because these days we take the word for the religion and call our friends in India "Indians." Which, in America, has its own set of problems.

In my family, we've never made such an artificial distinction between racial status as a Jew and Jewishness. If my grandmother's Bingo buddy Laverne Weinberger happens to be Jewish but eats a ham and cheese sandwich for dinner when she gets home from her son's Saturday wedding to a Buddhist, we just say she's "not religious."

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I'm not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish. Not the whole hog, you know.

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I think in my family we'd make up something like "Jewish-y" for the concept Jonathan playfully describes. At least I know that's what I would say, and my grandmother would immediately understand. :)

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