‘Jew.’ Why does the word for a person of my religion sound like a slur?

Source: The Washington Post

By Susan Sommercamp

My first boss right out of college was terrific — ambitious, warm and open to friendly lunches outside the office.

Then one day in December, the topic turned to her plans for Christmas.

She asked where I would be celebrating the holiday, and I said, “Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m a Jew.” She gaped.

I wasn’t expecting her response: “Why would you say something so derogatory about yourself?”


She whispered, “You called yourself a Jew. That’s an awful word to use. It’s like saying n—–.”

“No, it’s not. I’m just saying that I’m Jewish.”

“They’re not the same. ‘Jewish’ is fine. ‘Jew’ is not. Really, I’m surprised you just said it out loud at work.”

I tried to explain that to say one is a Jew is not offensive in the slightest, but she was adamant.

At the time, I thought her misinterpretation of the word was a one-time aberration. But unfortunately, in the 24 years since, I’ve heard the word “Jew” — the simple noun that describes a person of my faith — used as a term of disparagement again and again.

It’s hurtful for such a negative slant to be attached to a word with so much positive meaning for me.

Each time I hear “Jew” used with contempt, it stings as though I’m hearing it for the first time. “Jew” is almost as personal to me as is my own name. It’s part of my identity. Use “Jew” as a defamatory word, and I feel like I’m under attack.

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