H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
rabbis, lawyers, doctors, and so onand the great majority of newspapers are disposed to truckle to their every whim. Along about the year 1900 they began to protest against the use of the word Jew to differentiate Jewish law-breakers from the baptized, and, soon thereafter, to be on the safe side, the newspapers began to employ Hebrew whenever it was necessary to designate an institution or individual of the Chosen. Thus, one often encounters such absurdities as Hebrew congregation, Hebrew rabbi and Hebrew holidays. A few years ago a number of more cultured American Jews, alarmed by the imbecility into which the campaign was falling, issued a Note on the Word Jew for the guidance of newspapers. From this document I extract the following:
The words Jew and Jewish can never be objectionable when applied to the whole body of Israel, or to whole classes within that body, as for instance, Jewish young men.
There can be no objection to the use of the words Jew and Jewish when contrast is being made with other religions: Jews observe Passover and Christians Easter.
The application of the word Jew or Jewish to any individual is to be avoided unless from the context it is necessary to call attention to his religion; in other words, unless the facts have some relation to his being a Jew or to his Jewishness. Thus, if a Jew is convicted of a crime he should not be called a Jewish criminal; and on the other hand, if a Jew makes a great scientific discovery he should not be called an eminent Jewish scientist.
The word Jew is a noun, and should never be used as an adjective or verb. To speak of Jew girls or Jew stores is both objectionable and vulgar. Jewish is the adjective. The use of Jew as a verb, in to Jew down, is a slang survival of the medieval term of opprobrium, and should be avoided altogether.
The word Hebrew should not be used instead of Jew. As a noun it connotes rather the Jewish people of the distant past, as the ancient Hebrews. As an adjective it has an historical rather than a religious connotation; one cannot say the Hebrew religion, but the Jewish religion.
Unfortunately this temperate and intelligent pronunciamento seems to have had but little effect. Potash and Perlmutter still insist that the papers they support refer to them as Hebrews, and the thing is docilely done. In the vaudeville journal, Variety, which is owned and edited by a Jew, Hebrew is invariably used. I have often observed references to Hebrew comedians, Hebrew tragedians, the Hebrew drama, the Hebrew holidays and even the Hebrew church. For an American newspaper to refer to Jewry would be