Major Antedating of "Anti-Semitic"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Jan 18 05:31:49 UTC 2012

This is a nice find. Carlyle had some very unpleasant things to say about the Jews (though Fred Kaplan says in his biography that he was no more capable of avoiding being "contaminated by some crude stereotypes" than contemporaries like Dickens, Tennyson, and Browning). But this passage seems to show pretty conclusively that his "anti-Semitic" didn't mean what the term later would, so I don't think one can claim that this usage is a true antedate of the modern use of the term, particularly since it's purely compositional.


> From: Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Date: January 17, 2012 3:13:19 AM PST
> Subject: Re: Major Antedating of "Anti-Semitic"
> Above on the same page (available at Hathi Trust*) a correspondent to Carlyle quotes Carlyle's earlier-published phrase "Hebrew old clothes," a phrase that may help clarify Carlyle's usage.
> In an 1852 review** of Carlyle's 1851 text, both phrases are quoted and parenthetically glossed by the (theologically-involved Free Church Magazine) reviewer:
> ...'Hebrew Old-clothes' (by which elegant phrase of Mr. Carlyle's, his correspondent means the Scriptures)....
> ....or miserable Semitic , Anti-semitic street riots (the writer means such 'miserable' disputes as, whether the Bible be worthy of our faith, or but an old wives' fable)....
> *
> **
> Carlyle could reasonably be called anti-Semitic.
> Maybe this discussion could help with the collocation previously discussed on this list, Browning's "Semitic guess."
> Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list