I had never encountered blatant antisemitism until, one night in my college dormitory, a friend made a wisecrack about “Jewing someone down.” I had no idea what it meant, but I was confident that it wasn’t good. I’m not even sure my friends understood the origin of their slang.
Unfortunately, that’s what some antisemitic terms have become – mainstream slang that intends no harm but inflicts it just the same. I figured out later that Jewing down is a vulgar synonym for haggling – vulgar because it bolsters the stereotype that Jews are stingy money grubbers.
It’s important to know the loaded meaning and impact of seemingly innocuous words. Terms like greed and control can pack a nasty punch when used in a certain context. But a lot of people have no idea why some terms can be troubling. I counted myself on that list until only recently.
When the American Jewish Committee (AJC) podcast adopted me as a new co-host two years ago, it also adopted a new name. What to call a podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens? As my colleagues and I brainstormed possibilities, someone sarcastically suggested “The Globalist.” Eyerolls and laughter ensued, and the conversation moved on. Finally, I ‘fessed up. “What’s wrong with The Globalist? Sounds like a great name to me.” I was quickly set straight, yet another affirmation that despite 15 years as a religion reporter, my learning curve was still steep.
But at least I am learning. Just imagine where that conversation could have veered if no one in the room had known that the idea of a Jewish globalist was embedded in the core ideology of Nazism. What if no one had known that the word was linked to the antisemitic conspiracy that Jews are loyal to a master plan to control the world’s banks, governments, and media? Today, globalist is a code word to imply Jews are cosmopolitan elites conspiring to undermine “Western” society. I certainly meant no malice. I simply didn’t know.
Thankfully, the term globalist is included in the updated interactive version of AJC’s Translate Hate Glossary released this week. Of the nearly four dozen antisemitic terms, six were either born or given new life amid the pandemic, divisive U.S. election, and reckoning over race in America.
Holocough connotes a plan to kill Jews by infecting them with coronavirus. Deadly exchange refers to the far-fetched notion that Israel is to blame for police brutality against Blacks. QAnon also earned an entry – a far-right network that embraces a bevy of antisemitic conspiracy theories including some that harken back to medieval blood libels – a term also spelled out in the glossary.
Translate Hate also offers a quiz to test your knowledge, so you know how to brush up.
But there is no question that a plan to kill Jews dubbed Holocough is antisemitic. What’s scarier to me are the more banal words used in a certain context that seep into our culture and vernacular. In a previous column about the K-word, I called attention to vernacuslur — a special category of American parlance that includes racist, profane and painful terms like kike (also defined in the glossary). But colloquial phrases or loaded words like Jew down or globalist pose an insidious threat of normalizing antisemitism.
At first blush, a globalist is just a person who believes foreign policy should be approached in a global context. Surely calling someone a globalist isn’t as bad as calling them a kike, right? It helps to have people watching out for you, which is what my colleagues did for me that day.
This glossary, a go-to resource for those who, like me, had not been exposed to some of these terms, watches out for you – whether you’re a Jew caught in an uncomfortable situation or someone who simply does not realize the potentially perilous power of your words.
I’m happy to report that I passed my quiz with flying colors. How did you do?
A version of this piece originally aired April 29 on People of the Pod, a podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens by American Jewish Committee. In the same episode, the author interviewed Washington Institute Director of Research Patrick Clawson about the threat posed by Iran. Listen here.
Manya Brachear Pashman is co-host of People of the Pod, an American Jewish Committee podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens. She covered religion for the Chicago Tribune between 2003 and 2018.