The “G” Word

When I speak about the impact of language and its sensitivities, and I frequently do, participants are surprised when I ask them to make the following pledge:

“I do solemnly swear never to use the g word again - singular or plural [goy, goyim] - or any of its derivatives [goyishe] and to banish from my vocabulary shagetz and shiksa as well. Furthermore, I promise to stop and correct anyone who does so in my presence.”

While it is true that goy and goyim had their start as neutral terms and remain neutral in some liturgy - and I have no qualms about their inclusion in these contexts - no one can argue that shagetz and shiksa were ever value-neutral terms. Even the term shabbes goy may have been used with some affection in some places but in most cases it was not. As a result, these terms of derision deserve to be excised from our vocabulary, especially now with so many members of our extended families who are of other religious backgrounds and practices.

I was once again reminded of this challenge when UPN television announced that it will spend an entire episode of “All of Us,” a decidedly African American comedy, focuses on “the N word.”

It asks the same questions we should be asking about the G word. When is it ok to use it? Is it ever ok to use it? Is it different if an African American uses the word? [Translate: is it different if a non-Jewish member of the family uses the G word to refer to him/herself?] The writers of “All of Us” even suggest that there is a big difference between the N word when it ends with “a” rather than “er” and used by an African American. I wondered whether there was analogy for that one with the G word. You get the point. With so much of popular American culture grappling with the implications of interfaith marriage, perhaps it is time to take up this issue as well.

We at JOI believe that it is indeed a critical issue. Words can be powerful weapons or friends depending on how we use them. So please use them wisely.


  1. I love the G-word. I am a gentile, noachide, and Judaicly aware. I find it a term of endearment.

    I cherish Pesach, when I get to purchase chametz. When I candle needs to be snuffed due to poor planning, or safety concerns, I would rather that a Jew not have to do it- so I do. When something simply MUST be done on Shabbos, you can count on me!

    It is time for the people of the nations (we goyim) to stand up for Yisrael- to stop claiming that we are the “replacement”, to stop claiming that HaShem turned his back.

    May HaShem continue to bless JOI- you guys are awesome!


    Comment by Marty — April 25, 2006 @ 9:47 am

  2. Sometimes a simple word expresses our deepest emotions so: thank you.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 25, 2006 @ 10:42 am

  3. Kerry - you and I finally agree on something.

    The pledge is hokey, but the thought important.

    I have adopted the silent stare approach - and it also works.

    Any thoughts on mixed-marriage …the Brandeis term for interfaith, intermarriage.

    Comment by Ron — April 28, 2006 @ 8:45 am

  4. It would be easy to replace the word ‘goy’ since there is a another word (gentile) already in existence. But what to do about words like ‘goyishekopf’? The ‘nicer’ phrase ‘gentile head’ would hardly be more appropriate.

    Also replacing the word ’shiksa’ with the phrase ‘gentile woman’ is also problematic. For example the well known phrase among wealthy reform Jews ‘the more shiksa looking the wife, the more Jewish looking the husband’ has a different sounding effect than ‘tjhe more gentile woman looking the wife the more Jewish looking the husband’.

    Comment by Dave — April 28, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

  5. I am not suggesting that we use the word Gentile as a replacement because that too is fraught with unintended meaning and value-laden baggage. It is time to develop an entirely new vocabulary.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 28, 2006 @ 5:38 pm

  6. Ron
    We probably agree on many things. As for the Brandeis terms: families that practice Judaism, irrespective of the religion of origin of one of the adult partners are not interfaith, they are Jewish. That takes care of 25-35% of the families we are seeking new language for. If the folks practice a particular religion, then they should be identified through the lens of that religion. How about we start here?

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 28, 2006 @ 6:05 pm

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