"jew" as adjective and compound nouns vs. adj. + n.?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue May 14 18:42:14 UTC 2013

On May 14, 2013, at 12:33 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> Is "Jew butcher" a compound

> -- "a butcher of Jews"?? -


There's no reason to assume that the meaning of a compound will be transparent.  "Olive oil" is oil of olives, "baby oil" isn't oil of babies, or compare "alligator shoes" vs "horseshoes".  A "monkey man" is a man who is (also) a monkey, but a "child psychologist" isn't a psychologist who is also a child.  Judith Levi, Pam Downing, and others have provided non-exhaustive classifications of compounds by meaning, with such categories as (from Downing):

           Whole-part    (duck foot)                            Place              (Eastern Oregon meal)
           Half-half        (giraffe-cow)                        Source           (vulture shit)
           Part-whole     (pendulum-clock)                 Product          (honey glands)
           Composition  (stone furniture)                   User               (flea wheelbarrow)
           Comparison   (pumpkin bus)                      Purpose         (hedge hatchet)
           Time              (summer dust)                      Occupation    (coffee man)

No reason "Jew lawyer" wouldn't be an example of the monkey-man or, better, nurse-midwife, kind rather than a hedge-clipper kind.  Notice that the "hedge-clipper" or "duck slaughterer" relation seems distinct from all of Downing's categories; as noted, the list is non-exhaustive.  Is "nurse" an adjective in "nurse-midwife"?  Or "child" in the unlikely but possible interpretation of "child psychiatrist"?  This is why I think the grammatical criteria for adjectival vs. nominal status are more reliable than meaning-based ones.  And I'm a semanticist.

Incidentally, I think that's why it's natural to take "Jew lawyer" to be racist and/or offensive; it plays off the function of nouns as categorizers/pigeon-holers and thus ideally suited for slurs and epithets, as we've discussed in past threads:

I'm not a Jew, I'm Jewish.
He's not a deserter, he deserted.
She lost, but that doesn't make her a loser.
Don't call them diabetics, they're persons with diabetes.
etc. etc.  (discussed by Bolinger in _Language--The Loaded Weapon_ and others since, including in our archives)


> - or an adj. +
> noun -- "a Jewish butcher"?  (Compare "Jew-drowning" under C2, which
> I do see as a compound -- it can't be "Jewish drowning".)  Similarly
> for "Jew pedlar", and probably others.  The OED seems either to
> concede or be uncertain -- "C1. General attrib. *or as adj.* That is
> a Jew; *Jewish*."  (Emphasis added.)
> Is there a case for separation of the C1.a compounds, for all of
> which it seems that "Jew" acts like an adjective and could be
> replaced by "Jewish", from the C1.b. compounds, where that is not the
> case?  E.g., a "Jew bill" (in C1.b) is not "a Jewish bill", but
> rather "a bill 'Of or relating to Jews.' "
> But if Larry is right, how then would one make the OED more
> user-friendly?  If sophisticated dictionary users like myself and
> George don't think to look for adjectival uses of nouns under (the
> late-appearing) "Compounds", -- and especially when a "Quick search"
> doesn't turn up any entries with "adj." characterizing them, just
> "n." and "v." -- what about the ordinary yahoo?
> Joel
> At 5/14/2013 11:52 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> I would defend the label.  These are indeed, I would argue, nominal
>> compounds rather than adjective + noun phrases.  "Jew" in such cases
>> doesn't pass the diagnostics for adjective-hood:
>> That lawyer seems {Jewish/*Jew}.
>> Despite Brendan's proselytizing, Moises remained {Jewish/*Jew}.
>> It's very kosher/Jewish/*Jew
>> etc.
>> LH
>> On May 14, 2013, at 11:36 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>> > George, look way down under "Jew, n." for "Compounds" -- C1 is
>> > "General attrib. or as adj."  I've missed this disguised and low (on
>> > the page) artifice of the OED before, for this and other nouns.  I
>> > think the heading in such cases should be "n. and adj.".
>> >
>> > Joel
>> >
>> > At 5/14/2013 10:37 AM, George Thompson wrote:
>> >> Seems strange, but such is the case, if the on-line OED doesn't
>> mislead me.
>> >>
>> >>            JEW BEEF. -- The subscribers offer their services to merchants
>> >> who are in the habit of trading to the West Indies, that in order to
>> >> complete a well assorted cargo for those markets, it will prove to be an
>> >> acquisition to apply to them for the above article; they are in 5 or 10
>> >> gallon kegs.  ***  Levy & Lyons, 26, White-hall street. N. B.  Regular
>> >> certificates will be given.
>> >>            Mercantile Advertiser, November 1, 1804, p. 2, col. 2
>> >>
>> >> HDAS and Jonathon Green's dictionary have "jew" as a disparaging
>> adjective,
>> >> which isn't the case here.  Their examples are generally in the form of "a
>> >> Jew xyz" which translates into "a Jew who is an xyz" -- a Jew lawyer,
>> >> perhaps.  Here, it meant "kosher", and the ad was placed by a Jewish firm.
>> >>
>> >> GAT
>> >>
>> >> --
>> >> George A. Thompson
>> >> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
>> >> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then
>> >>
>> >> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> >> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>> >
>> > ------------------------------------------------------------
>> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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