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March 05, 2009


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Totally off topic, but of interest to you perhaps, Noel!


This dichotomy is true for a lot of English words: the proper noun sounds insulting when used as a proper adjective. For instance, to say "He is a Jew" is not insulting, but to say "That is a Jew ceremony" instead of "Jewish ceremony," then suddenly it kind of is. Even though there is no history of anti-Spaniard feeling in the US (apart from the war, that is), if you were to call something a "Spaniard ceremony" instead of a "Spanish ceremony", it would sound vaguely dismissive, almost like an epithet. And this only applies when the proper noun and proper adjective are different. For instance, apply the same exercise above with "American" and neither one is offensive. Is there a technical term for this phenomenon? Does it exist in other languages? Or am I imagining it?

pc -

"Jew" as a noun is not yet insulting, but it's trending that way. At least when used with respect to specific persons. I would definitely think twice before saying "Charlie is a Jew," assuming that his religion was relevant in the context, and instead would say "Charlie is Jewish." On the other hand, saying "Most people in Israel are Jews" sounds less objectionable.

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