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Steer clear of the word ‘Jew’, dictionary says

Duden – a dictionary that has earned the status of the ‘gold standard’ for the German language – has landed in hot water with its advisory describing the word ‘Jew’ as problematic.

In its printed and online editions, the dictionary says that the designation ‘Jew’ can “occasionally be perceived as discriminatory” due to the association with its use by the Nazis. The dictionary then advises using some replacement words instead, which include “Jewish people, Jewish fellow citizens or people of the Jewish faith.”

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The suggestion did not sit well with Germany’s Jews. The nation’s Central Council of Jews criticized the supposedly “tolerant” initiative by saying that it is itself much more discriminatory than the word it sought to replace.

“For me, the word ‘Jew’ is neither a swear word nor discriminatory,” the Central Council’s head, Josef Schuster, said on Monday, adding that their association is called the Central Council of Jews and not of “Jewish fellow citizens” for a reason.

“A ‘Jew’ is a word that stands for equality just as ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’,” Schuster explained, adding that it is “better than formulations [thought out] of supposedly benevolent tolerance to be used in case of people you ultimately want to distance yourself from.”

The issue also sparked a debate on social media, with most people agreeing that replacements in this case were unnecessary and senseless. The Central Council of Jews’ managing director, Daniel Botmann, called on people last Sunday to simply use the word ‘Jew’ when referring to Jews and avoid alternatives suggested by Duden instead.

Some people on Twitter said the dictionary should have asked the affected people first before labeling something as “discriminatory.” Others said that talking to people would be much better than simply being “driven by the supposed zeitgeist and cancel culture.”

There were also those who criticized Duden over its attempts to “protect people,” who never asked the Duden editorial team for such “protection.” This “strange language construct shows the absurdity of the language police,” one wrote.

The dictionary initially sought to defend its position by saying that its editors had “for many years worked very intensively on labeling words that are … seen as discriminatory and racist.” “In our estimation, alternative words are being sought, especially by politicians, because of the negative connotation of the word ‘Jew’,” a Duden spokeswoman told Bild newspaper on Monday.

The dictionary publishers announced later on Monday it would review its advisory. The head of the Duden editorial team, Kathrin Kunkel-Razum, said she “can understand” the criticism and added that “it has never been our goal anyway” to spark any controversies.

Kunkel-Razum maintained that the advisory existed for years and was “nothing new at all” but said that the editors will revise the information in it to reflect “the complexity of the debate.” The announced changes were welcomed by the Central Council of Jews. “Everything should be [done] to prevent the term [Jew] from being solidly classified as discriminatory,” Schuster told dpa news agency.

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