Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Matajudíos

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Matajudíos

Article excerpt

A village has changed its name because it seemed offensive. But I think the villagers were under a misapprehension.

The village is in Spain: Castrillo Matajudíos. Of its population of 57, 29 voted to change the name to Castrillo Mota de Judíos because they did not like the idea of the former name meaning 'Kill Jews'. Another settlement, in Extremadura, is called Valle de Matamoros, but its inhabitants are not planning to change it lest it be taken to urge the killing of Moors.

The silly thing is that the Spanish place-name element mata does not mean 'kill' at all. It is quite common. There is a quiet little place in the Cantabrian region called Mataporquera. You might think it came from mata 'kill' and porquera , 'piggy'. The swinish part is right, bearing a close resemblance to porquería , 'pigswill' or 'rubbish'. But the mata part innocently means 'woodland'. So Mataporquera would in English be Hogwood. Matamoros would be Moorwood, and Matajudíos would be Jewood. In Britain, Jew does not seem to enter into many place-names. There is the street Old Jewry in London, but Market Jew in Penzance derives from a Cornish word for Thursday. …

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