The K-word (discussion of ethnic slur)
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I agree that googling the word would have brought up all kinds of offensive trash.
I can't help with homonyms in other languages, but here is the OED entry for "kike." Apparently it is a uniquely American slang word for reasons explained below:
kike Said to be an alteration of -ki (or -ky), a common ending of the personal names of Eastern European Jews who emigrated to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th c.
A vulgarly offensive name for a Jew. Also attrib. or as adj.
Earliest published instance is 1904.
Quique is also a nickname for Enrique.
#2: That's interesting - it puts "kike" in a class with "mick" and "dago" as proper name-derived slurs.
The etymology of kike is hotly contested, although it is commonly agreed that the word dates back to the late 19th century. Many plausible theories have been advanced:
a) To borrow from Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, "The word kike was born on Ellis Island, when Jewish immigrants who were illiterate (or could not use Roman-English letters), when asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary 'X,' refused -- and instead made a circle. The Yiddish word for 'circle' is kikel (pronounced KY - kel), and for 'little circle,' kikeleh. Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an 'O' instead of an 'X' a kikel or kikeleh or kikee or, finally and succinctly, kike."
Rosten explains that for the Jewish immigrants, an 'X' was an evil sign, representing both the horrors of crucifixion and the sign of their (Christian) oppressors. Jewish - American merchants continued to sign with an 'O' instead of an 'X' for several decades, spreading the nickname kike wherever they went as a natural result. At that time kike was more of an affectionate term, or used by Jews to describe other Jews, and only developed into a racial slur later on.
b) Due to the commonality of the Jewish forename "Isaac," some have advanced the theory that kike descends from the abbreviation "Ike." This theory lacks the evidence supporting the kikel derivation, but is not preposterous, given that it is well known that the slur Hymie is descended from the Jewish forename "Hyman" (originally "Chaim"). Furthermore, Ikey Mo is a British nickname for Jews that clearly descends from Isaac.
c) Others argue that kike derives from a rhyme off of the last syllable of many Ashkenazi Jews' last name, -sky or -ski. "Ki-ki" would have given way over time to kike, it is supposed. This theory is a bit counter-intuitive, however, since the syllables -sky or -ski are universally pronounced to rhyme with "key," as opposed to "fly." Hence one would assume, were this theory correct, that kike would be pronounced KEEK, which it most certainly is not.
d) Still others believe that kike derives from the German kieken, which means "to peep." P. Tamony, quoted in Cassell's Dictionary, claims that Jewish clothing manufacturers "peeped" at fancy European haute couture, and then made cheap knock-offs.
Although any of these explanations could be truthful, only Rosten's (theory "a") has the weight of strong oral history in its favor. All parties agree that the term was originally used by German Jews who had emigrated to the United States earlier in the 19th century to describe their later-arriving Ashkenazi counterparts. In its origins, kike was used by Jews to describe other Jews who they felt were vulgar, and from there it became appropriated as part of the American vocabulary of slang. Kike is still used to this day by Jews to describe other Jews who they feel are low in character. www.jtf.org/why.use.term.kike.htm
I think it only makes sense if there were German Jews among the immigration inspectors.
That's the other reason there was no objection in the UK: the number of people who read BBC Wildlife magazine but don't watch the programmes must be minuscule, and so most people hear the name ("Kee-kay") long before they see it written down.
all my life i've heard people talking about "chewing a person down."
at the tender age of 26 or so, I was dating a Jewish blonde bombshell and used that and she turned to me and said, with great horror, "what did you say?"
i said to her: "I said I chewed the guy down to almost $100.
You said "Jewed him down," she said.
"No!" I exclaimed. "Why would I do that?"
then she explained that I should listen more closely and that most gerntiles said "Jew him down",not chew him down.
Afterward, when someone used the expression I found she was right. You know, once a person uses nigger, wop, kike, et al, around me, they slide down several notches on my respect tree.
I've examined my speech in the past year to evaluate my use of pejoratives toward anyone who's "different" - including blonde-haired people. I'm having to admonish one of my children when she wants to tell blonde jokes. I don't allow them to be told.
So long as the dictionary includes an indication of the word being derrogatory, it is a plus and not a minus for we need to realize how much prejudice was and still exists to face it.
Andy Ray, great story!