N.Y. Observer: "shyster" is anti-Semitic slur

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Apr 17 16:45:21 UTC 2003

In a message dated 4/17/03 10:35:53 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM writes:

> (Shylock is one of numerous
>  possible variants -  such as Shryrock, Shyrock,
>  Shylok, Shylox, Shilok, Shillock, Schillach, etc. - on
>  family names.  When young, I confused Shylock and
>  Sherlock, thinking them to be the one and same famous
>  detective.)

I went to Gideon Shryock Elementary School and never made the connection to

(Gideon Shryock was a 19th-Century Kentucky architect who designed several
notable public buildings.  One teacher insisted that the Shryock family
pronounced the name as one syllable, with the "y" silent, but everyone else
used two syllables /'shreye ahk/.)

As to why Shakespeare gave his Jewish merchant (note the title of the play,
which perhaps should have been "The Merchants of Venice") such a WASP name,
the answer is that circa 1600 the English were only familiar with Sephardic
Jews who had names like Spinoza or Mendez.  To an Elizabethan audience,
"Shylock" was as plausible a name for a Jew as such rearly heard German
concoctions as "Goldstein" or "Rosenberg."  Note "Rosencrantz" and
"Guildenstern", both of whom were Gentiles.

      - Jim Landau

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