Sunday, July 29, 2007

And Now You Know

My daughter and I spent Shabbos -- Shabbos Nachamu-- at my parents. It was my daughter's Hebrew birthday (ten years ago, I was a bit busy for the last half hour of Shabbos Nachamu!) and I didn't want my parents to be alone. My husband and sons managed fine on their own.

Being Shabbos Nachamu, we truly relaxed, read, talked, played games, looked at photo albums and just lazed around.

As we were sitting around, my mother read aloud an excerpt from a book I'd given her -- Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler. The excerpt had to do with the origins of the word "kike." This is a derogatory word used to mean "Jew"-- although I knew that, I never stopped to think about its origins.

I just GOOGLED several sites to see if what she'd read aloud was, in fact, true. Yes... And now you too will know where the term KIKE comes from. [Don't say that my blog never taught you anything.]


There are many explanations:

* One explanation is that the word kike originates from the word "keikl", in Yiddish, which means "circle". At Ellis Island, one of the main immigration check in points, immigrants were intially grouped by religion and language in order to make it easier for them to communicate with each other and also to be identified more quickly by waiting relatives there to meet them. Christians were marked off with an 'X' which was likely really supposed to be a cross; Jews were marked with a circle which was really likely supposed to be the Star of David. It is easy to see how the staff could become sloppy at drawing these symbols as 'x' and 'o'. The word "keikl" was used by the Jews making fun of the poorly drawn star; they referred to each other as being 'circles'.

Unfortunately, from this innocent usage, the term aquired a derogatory meaning.

Robert L. Chapman's "American Slang" has a slight variation on the above. Rather than saying the circle was a mark made by the staff to symbolize the Star-of-David, the book says: "Jews who could not sign their names would make a circle." This suggests that it was Jews themselves who started using the circle- presumably to avoid the X which was reminiscent of a cross.

* According to "Our Crowd", by Stephen Birmingham, the term kike was actually coined as a putdown by assimilated American German Jews for their Eastrern-European bretheren: "Because many Russian [Jewish] names ended in 'ki', they were called 'kikes'- a German Jewish contribution to the American vernacular. (Germans are also said to have invented the term "Bohunk", referring to Jews from Bohemia.)". Following this explanation, the name kike was deliberately coined to put-down Jews- but only a certain subset of Jews. The name then proceeded to be co-opted by Gentiles and used against all Jews in general.

* Robert L. Chapman's "American Slang" also notes that the word could be a reference to "Ike", a nickname for Isaac.