5

The word "goy", used in an English context, can mean:

  1. "Gentile" - colloquially and innocuously

  2. "Gentile" - as a disparaging slur

(It can also mean "Nation" generically and innocuously in a Hebrew context.)

Given that the disparaging usage is, in fact, found ("matzui") in the wild and is, in fact, offensive, should we censor use of this term in an English context to mean "gentile" on Mi Yodeya, even when it's meant innocuously? I fear that some readers may get the wrong idea about our community, be offended, or feel unwelcome if they see a term in our content that's often used as a slur in the wild, and I think that "gentile" can be substituted with no loss of meaning in virtually all cases.

If you think censorship is appropriate, which of the following should it apply to?

  • Question titles

  • Question and Answer bodies

  • Comments

  • Chat messages

  • 1
    Do you have any examples currently on the site where the word seems to be used negatively? – Double AA May 23 '12 at 17:17
  • 2
    @DoubleAA, I have not, to my recollection, seen the disparaging usage on Mi Yodeya. If I saw that, I'd just go ahead and censor it. I'm asking here about usage that's intended innocuously but may be interpreted otherwise. – Isaac Moses May 23 '12 at 17:23
  • @DoubleAA, I see where my sentence-ordering may have given the wrong impression on that, and I fixed it. – Isaac Moses May 23 '12 at 17:41
  • 1
    "Censor" is a strong word, but I considered editing the recent self-referential use of the term and taking it as a teaching moment. (Then I got interrupted, and then I saw this post.) – Monica Cellio May 23 '12 at 20:30
  • @MonicaCellio, I'm using the word "censor" on purpose, to make it clear that I don't take lightly enforcing a restriction on word choice, even when I think it may be necessary. – Isaac Moses May 23 '12 at 20:32
  • how would that work in context where it actually just means nation? – user1520 May 23 '12 at 21:27
  • 1
    @asifahnik, how often does someone write goy to mean nation? And why can't he write nation instead? – msh210 May 23 '12 at 22:06
  • 1
    @asifahnik, that context would be Hebrew, which is easily distinguishable from English. – Isaac Moses May 23 '12 at 22:21
  • 3
    As a fellow to whom the term applies, I would say I'm not really offended by it, but would prefer to be called a gentile given the choice. And there will always be that guy who will be offended in the extreme. In some contexts, there could be confusion as Mormons have taken the term to apply to non-Mormons. But on this site, that should never be an issue. Is this the right moment to confess I feel uncomfortable (irrationally, I think) using the word Jew? I find myself writing Jewish person or some such. – Jon Ericson May 24 '12 at 0:54
  • 4
    @JonEricson, I assume that in "there could be confusion as Mormons have taken the term to apply to non-Mormons" you're referring to gentile? Yeah, I agree, that's an unlikely confusion on this site (except possibly in a question specifically about Mormons or Mormonism). (Re Jew, somewhat off-topic of this question, but: You're certainly not the first person I've heard that from, but I'm in no way offended by the term and I suspect the same is true for the vast majority of Jews.) – msh210 May 24 '12 at 19:19
  • 3
    @msh210: Yes, I'm a gentile from the perspective of both Jews and Mormons. Bizarrely, in some contexts, Mormons consider Jews to be gentiles. – Jon Ericson May 24 '12 at 19:38
  • 1
    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8199 – msh210 Jun 22 '12 at 20:38
  • @JonEricson Jew can also be used as a disparaging slur. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 19:34
7

I agree that, for the reason you mention in the question, users should avoid goy (and goyim and goys) except in transliterated passages. This is true in titles, questions, answers, and comments. (I'm not as concerned about chat messages, which are very ephemeral and mostly for site devotees.) Unless there will be a loss in meaning (e.g., as Jon Ericson mentions in a comment on the question, gentile is ambiguous when discussing Mormonism on a Jewish site) or readability (which can include e.g. cadence), I think it should be changed to gentile or non-Jew. If there will be such a loss, then, since no insult is intended and the word has a common non-pejorative meaning within the Jewish community, I think it can be left as is.

6

I think non-Jew is more specific in meaning than either Goy or Gentile, and therefore it should be used. As you can see from the other answers, Goy can also mean nation, and Gentile can also mean non-Mormon, as well as several different things depending on which way you understand the derivation of the word from Latin, Old French, and Middle English.

4

personally, I'm often offended by the word "Gentile." Note from the AHD discussion of the word how its reference to non-Jews really develops from its meaning as "noble" and later, to "all from a certain group" thus, it is applied to all who are not Jews as the Jews would not be noble or courteous.


Word History: French not only gave us hundreds of words, it sometimes gave us the same word more than once. A prime example is Old French gentil, “high-born, noble.” In the early 1200s, this was borrowed into Middle English and spelled as gentile, which later developed to mean “having the character of a nobleman, courteous,” and, by the 1500s, “soft, mild.” After some changes in spelling, the result was Modern English gentle. French gentil was borrowed again into English at the end of the 16th century, also in the spelling gentile and meaning “well-bred, belonging to or appropriate to the gentry.” In the ensuing century it came also to mean “courteous, elegant,” and continues to do so today as the word genteel. Since the spelling gentile did not accurately represent the word's French pronunciation, in the 17th century some people wrote it jantee or janty. This word took on a life of its own: while it originally meant “well-bred,” by the 1670s it meant “easy or unconcerned in manner,” and thence “spritely, lively, brisk.” Thus was born jaunty. The French gentil that spawned these words comes from Latin gentīlis, which meant simply “belonging to (the same) gēns or family.” It is from the original Latin meaning that we get the modern word gentile, borrowed in the 14th century (again through French) meaning, essentially, “belonging to the same family as all non-Jews.”


http://www.yourdictionary.com/jaunty


OK, maybe I'm playing devil's advocate, but a word carries with it the baggage that the recipient imports also.

  • 2
    Cool! I didn't know that. – Double AA Jun 11 '12 at 7:33
3

I'm a goy, and I can assure you that the vast majority of goyim have no idea what it means1, or that there is a possible pejorative aspect to the word. My mother is happy to call herself a former Shabbos Goy.

If you're worried about people taking it as a pejorative term, I don't think that will be an issue - most goyim don't know what the word means.

If you're concerned about people using it in a pejorative sense, that is a different matter. There are plenty of other terms that can be used in a pejorative manner, and it isn't the word itself that is a problem, it's the mindset behind it. You could use the word "Christian" in a pejorative sense (and I have seen instances of this already).

By way of comparison, the word "Jew" can be used in a neutral, categorical sense (e.g., "the most familiar religious groups in the world are the Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus"), a positive, sense (e.g., "the Jews are the chosen people"), or a negative sense (e,g., everything that the Nazis said about Jews).

On a similar note, the word "gentile" was originally pejorative, meaning "pagan, heathen", but it can now be used in a neutral, pejorative, or positive sense. The intent and context determines how the word should be taken.

Prohibiting the use of a specific word isn't going to prevent bigoted remarks. The only way to do that is to prohibit displays of bigotry.

I've been using the word "non-Jews" to describe everyone who isn't Jewish, but I don't see any reason not to say "Goy". Words only become a problem when the intent behind them is hostile.


1 I just asked everyone in the Mos Eisley chat room if they knew what "Goy" means. None of the 6 people there had any idea what it meant.

  • I appreciate that you don't go looking to take offense like some people do, but... some people do. And even if most non-Jews aren't familiar with the word "goy," I think plenty of them are familiar with it. It really depends on where you live. In New York, I suspect a very large percentage of the non-Jewish population is familiar with the word. – Daniel Aug 21 '15 at 13:22
  • According to our jargon policy, if the word "goy" is obscure to many English-readers who might be interested in the subject matter in question (especially true of Q&A about gentiles), then it should be replaced with an English term simply for clarity's sake. – Isaac Moses Aug 21 '15 at 14:29
-3

It's actually from the bible originally in Genesis 12:2 (I believe it's the first use).

It says "V'Ehshcha L'Goy Gadol, V'Avarechacha V'Agadlah Shemecha V'Hayah Beracha" literally translaterd "And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name big(or great), and it will be a blessing." I believe that's the first recorded use of the word. Goy means nation. We use the term today to mean other nations.

We use the word "Am" generally which also means nation to describe the Israelites or what you now call Jews, as in "Am Yisroel" or Nation of Israel.

Goy is really a hebrew term not a Yiddish term. Yiddish came much later, thousands of years later, when the Europeans wouldn't allow Jews to speak Hebrew so they made up a language that is mostly German, some Russian, and some Hebrew.

There are several derogatory terms for non-Jews in Yiddish, but I'm not going to state them here because that's not nice. Goy is not a derogatory term, it's just a term.

I guess if you screamed out "that f'n goy cut me off" while driving it could be, but you could insert almost any term in it's place and it would be offensive in that context.

So you want to ban a word that god used to describe Abraham's lineage in one of his greatest blessings in a religious discussion forum?

Hmm...seems a little PC, actually I'm not sure if that's even PC, it's more, maybe, ignorance of the term?

And Wad Cheber I was in the chat room, you said, "does anybody know except JMFB?", lol.

Banning words especially one like this is pretty ridiculous. My answer is no, do not ban the term.

  • Please take a look at the WP article cited in the question. The word carries different meanings in Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. The question here relates specifically to its usage in English as a term meaning "non-Jew." (No one is interested in censoring the verse you quote from Genesis.) As noted in the WP article, in English, the term is sometimes used pejoratively and may be mistaken by some readers to be pejorative any time. – Isaac Moses Aug 13 '15 at 5:49
  • @IsaacMoses exactly, so like I said in my answer, which shouldn't have been downvoted. If I say, "that f'n goy cut me off" that's offensive. I could also say, which I wouldn't cause I'm not a self hating Jew, "that f'n Jew cut me off" also bad. But I could say "that Jew invited me to his passover seder, can't wait to see what it's like" not bad. Don't censor a word, you know if it's usage is bad or not. If it's simply describing somebody who isn't Jewish in a neutral way it's not derogatory. "Goyim are not required to keep shabbos" is not a derogatory statement. – JMFB Aug 13 '15 at 6:43
  • Your point about the importance of the context is a good one, and was made in Wad's answer. The stuff about its meaning in Biblical Hebrew is irrelevant, since we're discussing usage and connotation, not etymology. The assertion that it's not a Yiddish term is just plain false, regardless of the fact that it was a Hebrew term first. The imputation of ignorance to discussing contemporary usage absent etymology is false and uncalled-for in a civil conversation. The assertion that it's "not a derogatory term," in its implication of "never," is false – Isaac Moses Aug 13 '15 at 13:47
  • 3
    Are you aware that the etymology of a word being neutral doesn't mean that it has remained so? This answer is useless. – Double AA Aug 13 '15 at 17:47

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