a gay

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Dec 30 01:38:02 UTC 2010

At 3:53 PM -0500 12/29/10, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>At 12/29/2010 12:59 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>I too have encountered people who felt that "Jew" was offensive, though they
>>couldn't say why.
>I can suggest why -- too many times calling an individual person a
>Jew has been associated with abuse, denigration, racial prejudice and
>violence.  One cannot easily, I think, curse someone using the
>adjective "Jewish; it requires some invention and a lengthier
>expression.  And I suspect referring to a group as "Jews" has less
>often been said in a racially abusive way than referring to someone
>as "a Jew".  Of course, I have no statistics, just an impression.
>>One suggested that it was because "Jewish person" was
>>"correct."  (How's that for rationalizing?)
>I would not say this, but rather "He's Jewish" or "He's a Jew."  (I
>have no problem with the latter in polite contexts; I do have a
>problem with "You Jew.")
It's not just vocative contexts.  I find it hard to believe that
someone could claim (although I'm sure many have) that calling
someone a Jew lawyer or a Jew politician was not intended as a slur;
this doesn't arise with words like "gay" and "black" where the noun
and adjective forms are phonologically conflated. And as Geoff points
out, there's also the specificity contrast--"some Jews on the panel
voted for/against the proposal" sounds pretty pejorative; "(some)
Jews on the panel would add diversity" not so much.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list