msdistress asked: Okay, so I have another question, since you were so cool about my previous one: Is it okay for a non-Jewish person to call you (or anyone else who is Jewish) just a Jew? As a cultural/racial/heritage descriptor, not as a slur? I know this might vary from a person to person, but again, I’m just looking for a general gist of things. To me calling somebody just a Jew sounds impolite, but I’m not a native English speaker, so… Anyways, thanks again. :)
Right so: thank you for asking this! It is a question I get a lot, in my real life more often than over the internet, and I appreciate the chance to answer it. It’s also, through no fault of yours, my absolute least favorite question to get about Judaism, not because it offends me or hurts my feelings, but because the fact that people ask it breaks my heart a little every time.
So, let’s start with the absolute basics and work up from there: Jew is a noun. It means a person who is Jewish! Jewish is an adjective. It describes a person as being a Jew! You can have one Jew, two Jews, or many Jews; you can have Jewish people, or Jewish culture, or Jewish history. You cannot have a Jewish, or many Jewishes, because Jewish is the adjective—I mention this because I have heard people fuck that up aloud, and it is embarrassing for those people. You also cannot have Jew culture, or Jew history, because Jew is the noun—I mention this because I have heard people fuck that up aloud, and it is both embarrassing for those people and, whether intentionally or not, likely to at least vaguely ping your average Jew’s anti-semitism radar. There is no verb form of Jew or Jewish. If you hear someone trying to make Jew a verb, most typically in the expression “Jewed out” (ie, “She Jewed me out of ten bucks” or “They Jewed me out of my security deposit,”) that person is, whether intentionally or not, being an anti-semitic bag of dicks and you should call them on it.
REALLY WELL-PUT DARLING
I think this is really interesting, because I have the opposite reaction - I can’t stand it when people call me a Jew and I get really, really offended. I think gyzym’s right, that it’s because of the historical weight of the word, but if you call me a Jew, I automatically assume you’re going to insult me - because so far, that’s what almost every person who’s called me a Jew has done. Different strokes for different folks.
See, readers, THIS IS WHY IT IS BEST TO JUST USE “JEWISH PERSON” IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHAT SOMEONE PREFERS. Because there is this weighted history and there is this anti-semitic use of the word Jew, and there are folks who will, because of this, automatically assume you’re going for anti-semitism if that’s your opener. I just always like to make sure people are clear on the fact that the word Jew is, in and of itself, not a bad word—it’s the history behind it that’s bad. It’s the way people have used it, and continue to use it, that’s bad. But the word itself actually means “A person that is Jewish,” and the suggestion that that’s an inherently bad thing is what’s anti-semitic about the pejorative uses, you know? So I always give the spiel about how the word itself isn’t what’s bad before I advise people not to use it if they’re even remotely unsure that they should.
(Also, leupagus, as always thank you for chiming in because these words are good words, and obviously I AM SORRY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ANTI-SEMITIC BAGS OF DICK IN YOUR DIRECTION, both because I am always sorry when people are anti-semitic bags of dick and because YOU DESERVE NOTHING BUT SUNSHINE AND RAINBOWS AND FANCY HAMBURGERS WITH DECORATIVE KNIVES HOLDING THEM TOGETHER :D :D :D)