forty-five = Jew?

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Oct 9 15:45:43 UTC 2013

A random thought -- among the British rhyming slang codes for "Jew" is
"quarter to two," which I suppose could be further concealed as
"1:45." But that seems a bit unlikely to generate "45" as an in-group
code, I think, since rhyming-slang epithets are intended to be
exonymic, not endonymic.


On Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM, Geoffrey Steven Nathan wrote:
> My first guess was that it was related to Hebrew counting. As many of you k=
> now, every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and 45 would be mem heh ('m=
> ', 'h'). But if that refers somehow to antisemitism I don't know how.=20
> The status of 18 as a lucky number in (at least) Ashkenazic Judaism is base=
> d on the fact that 18 is Het yud (=C4=A7 j), which spells 'life'. And there=
>  are other examples, but I can't make sense of this one. Maybe someone with=
>  more imagination can get somewhere.=20
>> From: "Stephen Goranson" <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
>> Sent: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 6:39:19 AM
>> Subject: forty-five =3D Jew?
>> From the N Y Times:
>> In his book =E2=80=9CAnglomania,=E2=80=9D Ian Buruma writes about his gra=
> ndparents,
>> German Jewish immigrants who became British, felt British, loved
>> Britain =E2=80=94 and yet. He writes: =E2=80=9CInstead of using the word =
> =E2=80=98Jew=E2=80=99 in
>> public we would say =E2=80=98forty-five.=E2=80=99 The origin of this odd =
> phrase is
>> unknown. When Bernard was refused a senior position in a famous
>> hospital in 1938, he wrote to Win: =E2=80=98It is the old, old story =E2=
> =80=94
>> (45).=E2=80=9D=E2=80=99
>> I hadn't heard this before. In the book, the sentence before the
>> quote above: "Like all families ours had its private expressions and
>> code words." So maybe it was quite limited.

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