Bintel Blog

The Jewish-American Lexicon

By Elissa Strauss

American Jews speak their own language. This is the thesis that Professor Sarah Bunin Benor is working under as she gathers up phrases and words for her project “Jewish English: Distinctive Lexicon.”

I spoke with Benor recently and she explained that while it is not like Yiddish or Ladino, American Jews have a specific vocabulary and unique linguistic ticks that make it distinctive. She compared it to Judeo-Greek.

The lexicon, which complements the recent Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity that she recently conducted with sociologist Steven M. Cohen, features phrases that come from biblical Hebrew, Israeli Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic, biblical literature, and liturgy. It also includes English phrases such as “nice Jewish boy” and “matzah pizza.”

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, Srah Bunin Benor, Language, English

Embracing the ‘Jewess’

By Daniel Treiman

Writing in Nextbook, Daniel Krieger traces the genealogy of the term “Jewess” — from neutral descriptor of Jews with two x chromosomes to slur to trendy point of pride:

In 1980, Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus, an octogenarian scholar of Jewish history, decided to title his new book about Jewish women in America “The American Jewess.” His publisher, Ktav, told him that was out of the question because the term “Jewess” was, well, offensive. Marcus, more concerned with historical truth than political correctness, didn’t really care. He compromised on the title, calling his study The American Jewish Woman: 1654–1980, but refused to remove the term from his text. “Many Jews today deem it a ‘dirty word’ and avoid it,” he writes in the preface. “I believe it is a neutral descriptive noun and I use it constantly. If for some it has become a term of contempt, it is because Judeophobic Gentiles have made it so. I refuse to bow to their prejudice.”

If Marcus had made it to the twenty-first century, he would’ve appreciated the latest chapter in the long and winding history of the word. In recent years, as demeaning “-ess” feminine nouns like “stewardess” and “actress” have continued to fade from use, their sister-term “Jewess” has been making a comeback.

The history lesson that follows is fascinating. Still, the most recent metamorphosis of the word “Jewess” is hardly surprising, given that the more overtly pejorative “JAP” has also been defanged and reclaimed, as the Forward’s estimable Arts & Culture editor Alana Newhouse noted three years ago in The Boston Globe.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Language




Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.