Language of Difference

Language of Difference – without derogation

Posted by dianamuir on July 18, 2012
Language of Difference / Comments Off on Language of Difference – without derogation

It is possible to use language in a way that establishes firm borders between in-group and other without implying inferiority, or assuming superiority.   Philologos,  language columnist for old Socialist newspaper The Forward, has an interesting column on the topic.

“Yiddish has a whole set of binary terms for Jews and gentiles that, while they certainly reflect a Jewish sense of superiority, do not necessarily reflect animus…

“Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe did not call a church a beys-tifle unless they wished to be derogatory (the neutral terms kirkh and kloyster were far more common), and beys-tfile was not a frequent term for a synagogue, once in a church or synagogue, the words used for Jewish and Christian worship were not the same. When a Jew prayed, he “davened” (the word is of obscure origins, though many years ago, in these pages, I tried to trace it back to Hebrew); for Christians, the verb was molyen zikh, from Polish modlić się. The holiday the Jew prayed on was a yontif (from Hebrew yom tov, “good day”); the Christian celebrated a khoge (from Aramaic ḥ aga, “holiday”). A sermon in the church was a preydik (from German predigen, to preach); a sermon in the synagogue was a droshe (from Hebrew d’rashá). The lectern the Christian preacher stood at was a shtender; a shtender in a synagogue was a stand for a book, while a preacher’s lectern, also used by the prayer leader and the Torah reader, was the amud(from Hebrew again).

“The emphasis was on difference, not derogation.

“A saintly Jew was a tzaddik, from the Hebrew word for “righteous man”; a saintly Christian was a heyliker, from German heilig, “holy.” A scholarly Jew was a lamden, from Hebrew lamad, “learn, study”; a scholarly Christian, a gelernter. And once again: heyliker and gelernterwere respectful terms.

“Interfaith Insults”,  Published July 15, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012