Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

WHEN a writer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung referred to the British Foreign Secretary as `the Jew Rifkind' she was not meaning to be kind to him; whether she was trying to be offensive to Jews is a different matter.

Here is what she wrote: `Als habe ihn seine Rede nicht ganz uberzeugt, schloss der Jude Rifkind - ironisch apologetisch - mit dem deutsch hervorgebrachten Lutherwort: "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders."'

The memory of the Nazi genocidal actions against the Jews is so loathsome that it is hard to judge the nuances of language here with the same calmness, or indeed carefreeness, that one might employ on less charged questions.

In English it seems that out of a sort of mealy-mouthed politeness the word Jew is hardly used at all by some people. They say, `He is Jewish,' just as they say, `He is homosexual,' rather than, `He is a Jew,' or, `He is a homosexual.'

A fortiori, the attributive (adjectival) usage of Jew immediately jumps out as offensive: `the Jew Rifkind', instead of `Rifkind, who is Jewish'. …

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