Anti-Semitism and the treatment of Anti-Semite in Dutch and English dictionaries
From the news: A recently discovered 1900 letter shows why the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary omitted the term “anti-Semite.” He assumed the new word, coined by a German anti-Semite, would not stick.
“Semitism” did appear in the first edition. It was noted that “In recent use,” it had come to be associated with “Jewish ideas or Jewish influence in policy and society.” NB: It doesn’t say; “alleged influence”!
However, the modern two-volume (if you want a hernia, carry them together) fifth edition of the ‘Shorter’ Oxford of 2002 still doesn’t have an entry anti-Semitism. They do have nuclear warfare — I’m just saying.
It feels almost anti-Semitic to not have that word among more than half a million definitions ‘with excellent coverage of current English.’
It does have Semitism which could refer to ‘Characteristics or influence attributed to Semitic people, esp. the Jews. Chiefly in anti-Semitism.’
Again ‘influence’ which seems more from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than from the Jews. Again implying that something in Jews causes it.
I do have dictionaries that weigh less than a ton. To stay in the UK, the following two I especially like.
The Penguin 2003 revised edition has anti-Semitism down as: hostility towards or discrimination against Jewish people.
It almost got it right. ‘Jewish people’ is a terrible expression used by those who fear to be insulting when talking about Jews or as one should specify that one is not talking about nastiness against Jewish dogs. We further see this in ‘Jewish rabbis,’ as if there were Christian rabbis. It implies that there is something unkosher about Jews — let’s call them Jewish people.
(Collins COBUILD 1995 edition says the same and added an example.)
Its second edition is a stark improvement on Penguin’s 1987 first edition that didn’t have the term at all.
The charming little project of making the Oxford Dictionary 1857-1928 must have been inspired by its bigger sister, the Dutch Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal, created by five generations between 1851-1998. (The Dutch have no rules-the-waves chauvinism. Therefore, IMHO, they are allowed to brag.) The large Van Dale dictionary was her small firstborn.
I would like to clarify that, while most English dictionaries seem descriptive to me, the Dutch write their word collections as prescripts. These linguists are the language’s physicians and you better take what the doctor orders.
The most authoritative Dutch dictionary is hands-down the Van Dale.
While its treatment of Jew went even to court (see below), Semiet and Antisemiet stayed out of the limelight. Van Dale’s three-volume 1984 edition shockingly says that antisemitism is an ‘attitude (or movement) against the jews and their influence on society’! Its massive one-volume 1924 edition had that more expanded as: ‘on society as a whole.’ So, just like its Oxford little sister. It’s like saying: ‘Sexism is hatred against or dislike of women for their stupidity, nagging, vanity, and wasting money.’
Presently, the Van Dale online specifies antisemiet as ‘enemy of the Jews.’ Antisemitism is described as an ‘anti-Jewish attitude; = Jew-hatred.’ They seem to have solved their more than century of institutional antisemitism.
Who is a Jew?
Van Dale got itself a court case in 1970 for defining Jew as: ‘(derog.) shylock, swindler, fraud.’ It did not lose the case and many intellectuals defended it but its name was damaged in the eyes of the public.
Its treatment of Jew seems so low that Nazis quote it for approval and fun.
In 1992, a Van Dale’s editor lies that now, as the first Dutch dictionary, it adds the qualification ‘insulting.’ That is merely semantics (a cardinal sin for lexicographers?) because it used to add ‘derogatory’ — what progress?
Though in 2001 it vehemently denied having changed the lemma Jew because of the lawsuit, it did. Yet, the 1984 edition and the edition after that were clearly still not out of the woods. As the first example of the use of the word Jew, it quoted from the New Testament, of all books! It now placed the negative expression down the long entry, mentioned that they ‘were once’ used as insults, and are based on prejudices that people ‘frequently have’ about Jews. The lexicographers were clearly wrestling.
Change was coming very slowly. Presently, 2020, Van Dale online specifies Jews as ‘1. jood, an adherent to judaism’ and ‘2. Jood, a member of a people that originally lived in Palestine, got dispersed all over the world, while now, some of them resettled in present Israel.’ That is much better.
But possibly scared of repercussions, Van Dale may actually have gone too far. There is an old Dutch saying “Two Jews know the price of spectacles,” which means as much as “Like knows like.” This expression was catalogued under Spectacles and not under Jews, so was most likely never brought up. In the 1924 edition, it is explained as “are equal in shrewdness, the one won’t be fooled by the other (mostly applied by the speaker on himself).” The 1984 edition basically has the same. However, its 2006 special Sayings volume doesn’t have the saying at all. It doesn’t have Jews. It’s Judenrein. While the Harrebomée of 1858 (42,500 Dutch expressions) has 26 of such. The big Stoett (1901-1923) mentions it without hostility (# 1272) amidst a bunch of sayings meaning: they are equally smart or: comprehend e/a.
Van Dale now only seems to have a big problem with ‘bargoens.’ It still misidentifies it as ‘a secret language of crooks, vagabonds, and thieves.’ In fact, it’s the Dutch Yiddish and should be defined as such and get a capital.
The official spelling in the Low Countries is decided by the Dutch government. Only recently, the Dutch finally would give up on their racist insistence to write Jews and Gypsies without a capital ‘because their names didn’t refer to a homeland name.’ Now, Jew(ish), when referring to the nation must be capitalized but when to the religion, like Christian and Muslim, it is not. No one then knows what to do with ‘the Jewish calendar.’ Yet, prestigious books are still published that have joden instead of Joden.
Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal
Don’t think that Dutch, a language only spoken by some 20 million people, must be marginal and insignificant on a world scale. It has done more than giving the world words as Apartheid, Coleslaw, Cookie, Dam, Dollar, Frolic, Gas, Geek, Grab, Iceberg, Pickle, Polder, Skate, Sketch, and Still life, and works by Antony van Leeuwenhoek and Anne Frank. The Dutch hold the world record on dictionaries. The 43-volume massive Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal is the most extensive in the world. The V took 16,894 pp in eight volumes! It occupies three meters of shelve space with its 98,510 columns over 49,255 pages, and contains 95,000 main entrances, 400,000 lemmas in total, and 1.7 million quotes from Dutch writings between 1500 and 1976. It now fits on one CD-ROM and can be searched online.
Under the lemma Jood, we find 2009 words (!), including the remark that it is used as insult. But it has less than 10 insulting words with Jew in it! Once popular words as ‘dirty Jew’ [rotjood] aren’t in the collection. It just has ‘dirty’ [rot-], of people: truly unpleasant. No Semiet or Anti-Semiet here.
The Century Dictionary
On the other side of the Pond, the impressive 8000-page Revised and Enlarged Century Dictionary was produced 120 years ago. It was put online now with the claim that it is ‘the largest free online dictionary on the web’ but that honor goes of course to the Dutch Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal (see above). I have a rare four-volume set on very thin India paper.
Well, the 1000-page Supplement has the goods. Brace yourself.
Anti-Semite One who seeks by political or other means to lessen the commercial, political, or social influence [sic] of the Jews. The name is given especially to those who have participated in the agitation of the Jews in Germany, Russia, and Austria, which began about 1878.
Anti-Semitism The agitation conducted by the Anti-Semites or its motives; antagonism to the Jews.
To call pogroms ‘agitation’ is a remarkable euphemism.
Here we may have the source of the anti-Semitic definitions the Oxford and the Van Dale have carried for so long. As if the ‘agitation’ had as goal to ‘lessen the influence of the Jews.’ It’s like defining racists as people who seek to improve the purity and intelligence of Caucasians by removing non-Caucasians from their lives — as if Black would really be inferior.
Funk & Wagnalls
Funk & Wagnalls in their 1971 edition, improved with the following.
anti-Semitism Opposition to, prejudice or discrimination against, or intolerance of Jews, Jewish culture.
Intolerance is a wrong word though because one tolerates a nuisance, not something good. I know that many people think they say something good when proclaiming tolerance for homosexuals but lexicographers should know better.
And I don’t think that anyone hates Hava Nagila for any other reason than that it comes from the Jews. I don’t find ‘Jewish culture’ necessary here.
Webster’s second edition from 1983 was creative but slipped too.
anti-Semitism 1. having or showing prejudice against Jews; disliking or fearing Jews or Jewish things. 2. discrimination against or persecution of Jews.
The funny-sounding ‘the Jews’ was finally out.
But how did they get to ‘fearing Jews or Jewish things’? Anti-Semites may preach fear of Jews but no one fears Jews. And what ‘Jewish things’?
Random House’s second edition from 1996 improved on that with:
anti-Semitism discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews.
No more ‘fear,’ ‘intolerance,’ or ‘opposition.’
It was inevitable that somebody finally should get it right.
Still missing is religion-based Jew-hatred as was popular among Christians for millennia and counting and seems to form much of Muslim Jew-hatred.
But the Sages already teach us, there is no perfection in this world.
Most historians by now use ‘antisemite’ but ‘anti-Semite’ is still common.
Many people, regarding my many old dictionaries (or medical handbooks), have asked if one modern copy won’t suffice. Or just one good online site. For everyday work, yes. But they cannot show the development of our understanding. To trace that, one also needs to give space to older copies.