The Y word and words in general

Here’s a film written by David Baddiel and his brother Ivor.

It seems to make a lot of sense, but when you read the YouTube comments it actually raises a lot of other issues beyond that of straightforward racism:

‘Since when was it racist anyway, im not sure if loads of people actualyy know why. I have a teacher at school who calls me his little yid and hes jewish, im just guessing their trying to stop spurs fans saying it or ley everyone else say it aswell but when other fans say it they mean it in offensive ways thats why only tottenham fans should say it. YID ARMY!!’

‘In fact it is not a racist term at all because it dosen’t refer to physical characteristics but instead the ethnicity of a group of people. To most people it means tottenham fans, why try and change the meaning to something insulting. Is this not why tottenham fans adopted it in the first place to stop people using it as an insulting term. I just can’t understand the campaign it makes no sense!’

‘what an absolute crock of shite! im a spurs fan with jewish heritage and i LOVE the fact we use the word! as do the rest of my family! us adopting the word has done more to squash any discrimination than this video will ever do! all this has acheived as can be seen in the neandathol comments below is to stir up a hornets nest of hatred! its absolute bollocks!! YID & PROUD and if anything we will all sing it even more in protest of this utter Bollocks! YIDS, YIDS, YIDS!!’

So there you go. It strikes me that this is akin to gays claiming the word ‘queer’ for themselves, or black people claiming the word ‘nigger/nigga’ (am I allowed to say ‘black’ in this context? Am I supposed to say ‘people of African origin? But then we’re all of African origin. Hmmm…).

The argument for this suggests that certain words only have power because they are taboo and hidden away, used only by those who seek to denigrate the people of the minority in question. Here’s Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce to explain.

But then the situation gets even more complicated that that. Of course, ‘Paki’ is an offensive word, but ‘Indy’ for Indian certainly isn’t. The English call the French ‘frogs’ and the French call the English ‘Rosbif’. Are either side offended by this?

It seems to come down to whether or not a stronger majority uses the term in a derogatory way about a group that is in some way weaker than they are. British people using ‘Paki’, white Americans using ‘Nigger’ and almost anyone using ‘Yid’ causes offence because it seems like the unfair blow of a bully. Whereas someone from Luxembourg calling someone an ‘English Pig’ would probably been seen as laughable, despite being just as questionable as any of the other epithets I’ve mentioned.

I’m also not sure about ‘Asian’. In America they use the word to describe people from China or Japan (or thereabouts), whereas British people use it to describe those from the Indian subcontinent. So what do Brits call people from China and Japan?  I’ve been told ‘Oriental’ is offensive, but I’m not sure why. ‘The Orient’ is just a geographical term that has nothing to do with the people of that place.

Anyway, what this all seems to make clear to me is that human beings are brilliant at making life, and particularly language, really fucking complicated.