Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The word Goy

Now here's a word I heard a lot as I was growing up. To me, the word itself has an ugly sound--as if spit out or coughed out. As you can see, Phil's entry from his Dictionary of Ethnic Bias says that the word "doesn't necessarily carry any negative connotations today," but I'm not sure I agree. Probably the emphasis is on necessarily, and maybe there's someone somewhere who uses that term in a neutral way, but to me, it's always going to be one of those "us versus them" things, with a superiority implied for "our" side. See what you think.

/a (adj. goyishe, or goyish; pl. goyim, goys); gentile. Goy is a Yiddish word for a gentile, from the Hebrew word goy (people, nation). It was used historically to mean those who were uncivilized or not of the true faith (also in one Hebrew sense, for a Jew ignorant of the Jewish religion). Although it may be used disparagingly, as in "a real goy," it does not necessarily carry any negative connotations today. Still, as a result of a long history of gentile persecution of Jews, some bias may be near the surface, as reflected in an old eastern European piece of ghetto folk wisdom, "Scratch a goy, you'll find an antisemite."

Goyisher-kop, "gentile-head," refers unflatteringly to gentile characteristics, or to a Jew who is said to think like a gentile.

Gentile, originally from a Latin word meaning “of the same class” or “nation,” is now commonly used for any person outside the Jewish community, often a Christian. Biblical references to "the nations," however, can mean Jews as well as non-Jews. Gentile does not normally carry any bias. A shortened form, tiles, saw some use on college campuses in the second half of this century. Among Mormons, gentile means anyone not a Mormon (hence, Jews are gentiles to Mormons).


Anonymous said...

hmm...what about Orthodox SY Jews in Brooklyn referring to the Edict of 1935 as one thing that keeps their community members clean of " gentile characteristiscs"?

SpaceFalcon2001 said...

The word Jew could be just as easily evaluated. The word Jew sounds "ugly" to the English speaker, and many people use it disparagingly i.e. Don't let him Jew you.

Just like Jew itself has no negative connotation except when used that way, Goy is a neutral word. People will use it however they feel like.

Susan Messer said...

Hmmm, spacefalcon. That is an interesting comment. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I never thought about it that way--Goy as a neutral term. True, it's all in the usage, and I don't think I ever heard it used in a neutral way. And funny you should compare it with Jew. In the first chapter of my novel, I say something along those lines--e.g., Ruth, one of the main character says that adding the "ish" to Jew softens the sound, makes it less ugly. I have heard it sound ugly. Once, at a party, I heard a man say it so it sounded ugly--something about the way he said the "J" through his jaw. And he was just talking about the people, not using it as a verb the way you suggest.