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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Name Calling

For John, BLUFSometimes names, even offensive names, are important in creating esprit de corps, like Leper Colony.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

From The London Review of Books, by Mr Leo Benedictus, 11 January 2019.

Here is the lede plus five:

You won’t hear the word ‘yid’ sung at most Tottenham Hotspur matches.  You’ll hear it sung at all of them.  If you know which tunes to listen for, you’ll hear it whenever Spurs are on TV.  The club has been Jewish-owned since 1982, and its Jewish associations go back to the 1920s.  Most Spurs fans aren’t Jewish, but the story goes that when rivals began to target the Jewish minority with ‘yid’ songs in the 1960s, the rest ‘reclaimed’ the word on their behalf.  Since then, every Spurs fan, and player, has been ‘a yid’.  (I support Spurs and I’m not Jewish, although my father is.)

Last week, the World Jewish Congress condemned football fans for using ‘yid’, ‘either as a self-designated nickname or as a slogan against rivals’, because it carries ‘a distinctly pejorative and anti-Semitic message’.  It doesn’t always carry it, obviously. The WJC statement itself uses the word seven times.

The best case against Spurs’ fans use of the word was put forward in 2011 by the comedian and writer David Baddiel, a Jewish Chelsea fan, who with his brother Ivor heard and tolerated the chanting of ‘yid’ against Spurs for many years.  It was ‘banter you put up with’, he thought.  Then one day a man behind him started shouting ‘F--k the Yids! F--k the Jews!’, which would give anybody pause for thought.

The brothers made a film about the Y-word.  ‘I don’t want to sanitise football,’ Baddiel said.  ‘Football has to involve aggression.’  He didn’t demand mass arrests in the stands.  He asked only that fans, including Spurs fans, think carefully about the consequences of their chanting.  In his view, ironic ‘yid’ chants make abusive ones more likely.

In autumn 2013, the Metropolitan Police changed its policy on ‘yid’, and began warning Spurs fans not to sing it.  They did anyway, and chanted ‘We’ll sing what we want!’ as well.  Three were arrested.  But the following March, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute because ‘although the same words used in other contexts could in theory satisfy the criteria for “threatening, abusive or insulting”, it is unlikely that a court would find that they were in the context of the three particular cases in question.’

Shortly afterwards, the club released the findings of a survey, which showed that a large majority of its Jewish (73 per cent) and non-Jewish (74 per cent) fans thought that ‘yid’ songs should be allowed.  Just 6 per cent and 4 per cent said the songs made them feel uncomfortable.  In short, the songs are legal and offend hardly anybody.  The same cannot be said for Chelsea’s, which continue, bringing us back to where Baddiel came in.

Normally I would be in favor of banishing the word, by social pressure, rather than invoking the law, but in this case I would be happy to let it slide, given that the term is being embraced.  Context is important.  And language evolves.

Hat tip to the InstaPundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

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