Jewish Problem

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Jan 17 15:02:59 UTC 2012

On Jan 17, 2012, at 2:37 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> The term "Jewish Problem", with its entire baggage, is missing from the
> OED. There are three quotations that mention it--one under "in-and-out"
> and under "problem", from H. G. Wells; the other two appear under Jewish 1.
> ... I am rather disappointed that these two found their way into this
> particular entry rather than creating a separate "Jewish problem" entry
> on their own. In these cases, "Jewish" is not "characteristic of the
> Jews", but is rather characteristics of people who have a "problem"
> /with/ the Jews. This meaning of the "Jewish problem" cannot be
> extrapolated from the constituent words. In fact, the only way one can
> describe the "Jewish problem" as being "characteristic of the Jews" is
> if Jews are taken as the root cause of the problem (compare, for
> example, to the "rat problem"). In fact, the term has generated a
> snowclonelet that addresses the "problem" with some specific ethnic,
> racial, or other group and is usually used either by those who perceive
> such a "problem" or, mockingly, by their opponents and critics. Similar
> phrasing might have been available before WWII, but it certainly
> snowballed after.
> In this context, the Wells citation under problem 3.c. is actually
> interesting.
> ... The "Jewish problem" or the "Indian problem" is not the same as the
> "drug problem" or the "weight problem".

similarly, "black problem" (or "(American) Negro problem"), notably in quotes saying that America doesn't have a black problem, it has a white problem -- i associate this with Richard Wright (and a version of it appears in the 1968 Kerner Commission report).

related examples:

Slavery was but one aspect of a race and color problem that is still far from solution here, or anywhere. (Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (1965), ch. 33)

At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American white man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself. (James Baldwin, "Stranger in a Village", Harper's, Oct. 1953)

(some with the indefinite article, some with the definite).


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