He is Jewish / He is a Jew

samanthalee

Senior Member
Mandarin, English - [Singapore]
I have been told that there's different connotations in "He is a Jew" and "He is Jewish". It was suggested that saying "He is a Jew" is rude or derogatory, and that we should only say "He is Jewish".

Is that true?

By the way, "Jew/Jewish" was randomly picked as an example. You can replace it with British, American, Spanish, Chinese, whatever.:)
 
  • It shocks me profoundly to see it suggested that the statement "he is a Jew" is insulting.

    Some people think that it is insulting to call Jews "Jews". Sometimes they think this because they think there is something "bad" or "wrong" or "inferior" about being a Jew. This idea, of course, is bigoted rubbish. Since being a Jew is in no way bad, or wrong, or inferior, it is not insulting to refer to a Jew as such.

    I think most Jews would be offended, and indeed disgusted, at the claim that naming them as what they are is an insult.
     

    frenchstudentz

    Member
    Canada
    Hmm...
    So does that mean we can't say "I'm proud to be an American"? We can only say "I'm proud to be an American"?:confused:


    No, it does not... Its just that the people makes the language seem harsher sometimes... Jew of course wasn't insulting until people made it seem like it was.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Yes, it's just became a habbit habit now that you don't call people Jews unless you are trying to insult them.

    I'm not sure where you're coming by this information, but many proud Jewish people call themselves "Jews". And why not? You might want to do a little research before opining on something like this, frenchstudentz.
     

    snorklebum

    Senior Member
    Mexico English
    hes a Jew means that you are insulting the person of his culture.

    This is NOT true. Ignore it. Ask any Jew and see what they say.

    Jew is a noun. Jewish is an adjective. So Jewish can be used for a lot more things, including inanimate things: Jewish food, Jewish accent, Jewish tradition.

    But Jew or Jews is a toally proper term. Like I say, don't take our word for it. Ask. Or look at some Jewish websites.
     
    He is a Jew is equivalent to He is Jewish.

    I can't imagine any Jew considering this an insult. I know several who refer to themselves exactly like that I am a Jew.

    I am a Pole = I am Polish.
    He is a Scot = He is Scottish.
    We are all Danes = We are Danish.
     

    casebook

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    When I was a boy, and that is a long time ago now, the word Jew was used offensively to mean a usurer or miser. This was probably influence by Fagin in Oliver Twist. I suppose that some people may still have this meaning in mind but it should have died out long ago.
     
    The word "Jew" could have similar meaning in Polish, though I think it's now obsolete. And even with such a meaning in Polish it didn't mean Jewish people stopped calling themselves Jews.

    However, I am unaware of such a regular, consistent meaning in English and this is what the question was about.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The words "He is a Jew," have two distinct meanings in many cultures.
    We may choose to pretend this is not true, but why?
    At face value, OED definition (1), it is a simple statement about his religious beliefs - a person of Hebrew descent; one whose religion is Judaism; an Israelite.

    Alternatively, OED definition (2), it is based on prejudice and caricature - offensive: as a name of opprobrium: spec. applied to a grasping or extortionate person (whether Jewish or not) who drives hard bargains.

    He is Jewish carries only the first definition.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I frequently hear people say, "This Jewish person..." in place of "Jew". It has always sounded odd to me.

    We call Catholics, "Catholics" and not "Catholic people".

    We call Muslims, "Muslims" and not "Muslim people".

    But more often than not you hear someone saying "The Jewish people..."

    There is the use of "jew" that is offensive (to me) and as a verb is used to mean to haggle over a price. "He jewed me down from $900.00 to $750.00."

    I would say, "He is a Jew from Israel" and not "He is a Jewish person from Israel".
     

    Wobby

    Senior Member
    English [England]
    I think the thing is, is that "Jew" is slightly different, in that occasionally it has been used in a pejorative manner. Possibly "Jew" was used in this way more so than others because it was a shorter word with the hard 'J' sound - and perhaps this is why the slightly softer 'Jewish' was never used in this context, and never had the same sort of connotation.

    It seems to me similar to the use of 'Paki' :warn::warn::warn: and 'Pakistani', with the first form being pejorative, and the second form not. The only difference would be that "Pakistani" is used twice to be the adjective as well as the noun.

    It is perhaps another word that has a formal official meaning, that over time has developed a second pejorative use - kind of like the word 'gay'. I think you should be perfectly able to say "He is a Jew" without sounding offensive, and the person that told you was probably erring on the side of caution - it is after all the tone of the voice and the context which is important. That said, you will never get in trouble for saying "He is Jewish".
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    The words "He is a Jew," have two distinct meanings in many cultures.
    We may choose to pretend this is not true, but why?
    At face value, OED definition (1), it is a simple statement about his religious beliefs - a person of Hebrew descent; one whose religion is Judaism; an Israelite.

    Alternatively, OED definition (2), it is based on prejudice and caricature - offensive: as a name of opprobrium: spec. applied to a grasping or extortionate person (whether Jewish or not) who drives hard bargains.

    He is Jewish carries only the first definition.
    Yes, when you call someone a Jew because he is a miser, or for whatever reason other than his heritage, that is quite opprobrious, but I do not think that is what is meant by this discussion. I think the thread starter was referring to calling someone "a Jew," who is in fact a Jew by heritage and/or religion, as being insulting. I have also heard the idea that saying "he is a Jew" rather than "he is Jewish" is more abrupt, but like the majority of responses here have related, I don't see why. A lot may depend on the tone of voice as well.
     

    shivasprogeny

    Member
    English - Ohio, USA
    The Jews I have spoken to do not mind being called "a Jew" as long as it is not said in a rude way.

    I think this came about since the noun and adjective are different for the Jewish religion whereas Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. are all both parts of speech.

    I don't think anyone would consider "He is an American" rude unless the speaker specifically sounds derogatory.
     

    אדם

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Depends on how it's said. It's usually not offensive, but I'd rather someone say that I am Jewish, than I am a Jew.
     

    Tidel

    Senior Member
    US & Canada, English
    I have been told that there's different connotations in "He is a Jew" and "He is Jewish". It was suggested that saying "He is a Jew" is rude or derogatory, and that we should only say "He is Jewish"

    Is that true?

    By the way, "Jew/Jewish" was randomly picked as an example. You can replace it with British, American, Spanish, Chinese, whatever.:)

    Hi,
    Actually, I have heard "he is a Jew" used in the sense that the person is trying to get the lowest price... or jewing the price down... when a person is bargaining, (maybe aggressively). It can be very offensive if it is used in this way.

    In the same way, depending on the context, pointing out someone's nationality could be offensive... but it depends on the context.
    Tidel
     

    אדם

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    If someone said, "Who's the Jew?" I would personally find that very offensive, just as an example.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    If someone said, "Who's the Jew?" I would personally find that very offensive, just as an example.


    It is offensive in its context only.

    It is like saying, "Who's the thief"? It is accusatory, as if being a Jew is some sort of crime.
     

    אדם

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Exactlly. However, I do think that when your talking about someone it's must more polite to use Jewish rather than Jew.
     

    snorklebum

    Senior Member
    Mexico English
    So would it be offensive to say, "Who's the buddhist?" Or "who's the Canadian?"

    Of course not. "Jew" is not an offensive term. Get over it.

    It's only as offensive as adding OFFENSIVE elements to the sentence would make it. This is a non-issue. One is not more polite than the other, or more offensive than the other.

    One more time: if you're in doubt ask some Jews or take a look on websites devoted to Jewish organizations and culture.
     

    Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    According to the usage note of Jew in AHDE, which does not seem to be happy at all with the findings, Jew as a noun could be held objectionable for some.
    It is widely recognized that the attributive use of the noun Jew, in phrases such as Jew lawyer or Jew ethics, is both vulgar and highly offensive. In such contexts Jewish is the only acceptable possibility. Some people, however, have become so wary of this construction that they have extended the stigma to any use of Jew as a noun, a practice that carries risks of its own. In a sentence such as There are now several Jews on the council, which is unobjectionable, the substitution of a circumlocution like Jewish people or persons of Jewish background may in itself cause offense for seeming to imply that Jew has a negative connotation when used as a noun.
    Other nouns can have pejorative connotations if used attributively. For instance, Spaniard lawyer or Dane ethics sounds outright derogatory.
     

    Lolamartinez100

    New Member
    English-American
    Yes, its just became a habbit now that you don't call people Jews unless you are trying to insult them.

    I can not believe that you would say that calling someone a Jew is an insult. When are you living, the late 1800s?!
    I am a jew, and I know many other jews. Not one of them would be insulted if you called them a Jew. To me, saying he is a Jew, and he is Jewish are the same thing. I find it extremely insulting that you think calling someone a Jew is an insult. I am a Jew, and I am proud to be a Jew. Have you even met any Jews before?!

    If someone said, "Who's the Jew?" I would personally find that very offensive, just as an example.

    I understand why you would find it offensive, but I think it would be just as offensive to say "whos the american?"
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I understand why you would find it offensive, but I think it would be just as offensive to say "whos the american?"

    Agreed. The problem is the association or the stereotype, rather than the word. You could say, 'Who's the Scot?' to mean 'Who's the skinflint?' or 'Who's the American?' to mean 'Who's the loudmouth?' and so on. Do we respond to the associations by avoiding the noun forms?

    PS: Welcome to the Forum, Lola. :)
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    So would it be offensive to say, "Who's the buddhist?" Or "who's the Canadian?"

    Of course not. "Jew" is not an offensive term. Get over it.

    It's only as offensive as adding OFFENSIVE elements to the sentence would make it. This is a non-issue. One is not more polite than the other, or more offensive than the other.

    One more time: if you're in doubt ask some Jews or take a look on websites devoted to Jewish organizations and culture.

    Well, here's one source. The following is from Dictionary of Jewish Usage: a Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms by Sol Steinmetz. After discussing how the word Jew and its cognates in other languages "have been used pejoratively through much of history," he writes:

    After the Holocaust, the word Jew and its cognates began to lose some of their pejorative connotations, but only superficially. In English, for example, many non-Jews are still uncomfortable using the word and prefer to say "He's Jewish" rather than "He's a Jew." Even some Jews are inclined to say "We're Jewish" instead of "We're Jews" in social situations.

    I don't think this is solely a question of the word Jew, however. In a social situation, other terms of ethnicity or religion pose some problems. I think it would be quite odd to say of someone, in a casual conversation, "He's a black" or "He's a white" rather than "He's black" and "He's white." (I'm presuming that the mention of the ethnicity is recognized by the listeners as relevant to the discussion at hand.)

    "He's a Catholic" is not offensive in isolation. However, consider that in the film The Blues Brothers an American Nazi, speaking of one of the brothers, says:

    His name is Elwood Blues. He's got a record a mile long. And, he's a Catholic.

    The screenwriters had a choice between "And, he's Catholic" and "And, he's a Catholic." I contend that the choice of wording made the Nazi character sound more sinister, based simply on the inclusion of the article.
     
    In English, for example, many non-Jews are still uncomfortable using the word and prefer to say "He's Jewish" rather than "He's a Jew." Even some Jews are inclined to say "We're Jewish" instead of "We're Jews" in social situations.
    I think this sums up the situation perfectly. In my neck of the woods, where there are many Jewish people (note my usage!:)), non-Jews are hesitant about saying "Jew" except in certain specific circumstances. There is, of course, nothing inherently offensive in the word, but association with historical anti-Semitism has made us sensitive to its use. It does not come naturally to most Americans to say, for example, "there are many Jews in New York," whereas we would not hesitate to say "there are many Catholics in New York." Instead, the inclination would be to say either "there are many Jewish people in New York" or "New York has a large Jewish population." Such circumlocutions are neither carefully thought out nor awkward on the tongue but rather come naturally because it is the most common way of speaking.

    It is my observation that, in referring to a specific person, almost no non-Jews would say "he's a Jew"; and, if they did, it would sound at best awkward and at worst raise suspicions of anti-Semitism. This seems illogical until one considers the historical perspective.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The Jews I have spoken to do not mind being called "a Jew" as long as it is not said in a rude way.
    ...
    ...
    Of course not. "Jew" is not an offensive term. Get over it.
    ...
    I can not believe that you would say that calling someone a Jew is an insult. When are you living, the late 1800s?!
    ...
    Saying it isn't so will not make it go away. The evidence above makes it very clear that the term may be used in an offensive manner. There is nothing to suggest that is is always offensive.

    shivasprogeny has raised an important point, however. Perhaps the term is less likely to be used offensively with reference to a Jew. In other words, to refer to a Jew as a Jew is a simple statement of fact, invoking definition (1) in my earlier post to make a simple statement about his religious beliefs; to refer to a non-Jew as a Jew is quite different, invoking definition (2) as a name of opprobrium, based on prejudice and caricature.
     

    Nunty

    Senior Member
    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Oh dear. I think I agree with everyone.

    As a Jew, I find it offensive when a non-Jew is talkiing to me and avoids saying "Jews" or "a Jew", saying instead "Jewish people" or "a Jewish person" (or even more laborious circumlocutions). I find it offensive because they are clearly avoiding using a word they feel is offensive.

    I completely agree with Panjandrum's statement:
    In other words, to refer to a Jew as a Jew is a simple statement of fact, invoking definition (1) in my earlier post to make a simple statement about his religious beliefs; to refer to a non-Jew as a Jew is quite different, invoking definition (2) as a name of opprobrium, based on prejudice and caricature.

    Except that I would qualify it as "a simple statement about his religious beliefs or his ethnicity/heritage".
     

    Lolamartinez100

    New Member
    English-American
    Agreed. The problem is the association or the stereotype, rather than the word. You could say, 'Who's the Scot?' to mean 'Who's the skinflint?' or 'Who's the American?' to mean 'Who's the loudmouth?' and so on. Do we respond to the associations by avoiding the noun forms?

    PS: Welcome to the Forum, Lola. :)


    i see what you mean, i just think that in this day and age, it is sad that there are associations with certain noun forms. i know many jews, and where we live, there is no association with the noun Jew and bad things and such. i dont think that we should avoid the noun forms unless it is clearly being used in a negative and deragatory way.

    ps: thank you!! :)
     

    abenr

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    This is NOT true. Ignore it. Ask any Jew and see what they say.

    Jew is a noun. Jewish is an adjective. So Jewish can be used for a lot more things, including inanimate things: Jewish food, Jewish accent, Jewish tradition.

    But Jew or Jews is a toally proper term. Like I say, don't take our word for it. Ask. Or look at some Jewish websites.

    I hadn't thought of it earlier, but reading this I realize that Jew used as an adjective may indeed be insulting. I don't at all like the sound of Jew food or Jew tradition.
     
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