In the news today and yesterday there has been a bit of a commotion regarding the use of the word ‘Yid’, a term often used for it’s anti-Semitic connotations.
UK football team Spurs has traditionally been nicknamed ‘The Yid Army’, not least by its own fans, who on the whole do not use the word with the intent to cause offense. The word does have a history of being used by anti-semites in the UK and beyond, and it undoubtedly causes offense for both Jewish and non-Jewish people, and it is agreed on that it is unacceptable to use ‘yid’ derogatorily.
David Cameron waded in to the argument, perhaps unnecessarily, and said that the word was only unacceptable when it was used as part of hate speech. He said,
“You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when it’s motivated by hate.” Of course ‘hate’ is open to interpretation, and the offence taken from any word is on a sliding scale; some may be more or less offended than others.
This issue isn’t going to be resolved. The use of the word may be banned from football, but people will never totally agree on the use of such words. The political correctness fallacy tells us that words are whatever we take them to be – with words no longer acceptable now having been acceptable in the past because the connotations were different. The word ‘spastic’ is now almost exclusively used offensively, but a generation ago it was used medically. Words and their meanings change, but words mean different things depending on how they’re said and on the context in which they’re used.
Non-offensive words can seem aggressive or offensive if they’re spoken with a certain amount of force or in an aggressive way, and vice versa offensive words can be used not just to offend, but in humour, parody, and to sanitise the word and remove its offensive connotations.
It will be interesting to see how the debate on Spurs’ fans’ use of the word will develop, especially now the Prime Minister has put his neck on the line.