Monday, July 06, 2009

I Prefer Adjectives

I have recently discovered why I so badly hate the term "Jewess". Not because of any cultural load that it may or may not have adopted over the course of years of antisemitism, sexism or both. It's because it's a noun.

Here me out. There is something about adopting any sort of noun that I find gets deeply on my nerves. I know, on some basic level, that is almost entirely a meaningless semantic distinction to which no real difference can be attributed. Yet there it is. I have discovered that, while I will freely state that I am Jewish, under circumstances when such a statement is relevant, I cannot imagine myself ever using the phrase "I am a Jew" (let alone a Jewess).

And it's not just the tricky things like Jewishness, or femaleness (yes, I vastly prefer to say that I am female than to say that I am a woman. There it is.) It's also the more bland things, like saying I am an American, or saying that I am (going to be) a lawyer. Any noun, excluding perhaps 'person', just seems strangely limiting.

To adopt a noun seems to fully embrace a label, or perhaps even to fully embrace it as a category that can completely define you. It seems to place an equal sign between you and that adjective* and I am not comfortable with making any such equivalency.

*Perhaps if the English language allowed for more complex shades of meaning in 'is', I have less of a problem with the noun. If we could incorporate such mathematical shades of meaning such as "is a set containing, but not limited to, the following element" or "is greater than or equal to" or possibly even algorithmic conventions such as "has the lower limit of" or better "has as one possible lower limit". But I digress.

1 comment:

e-kvetcher said...

I think men don't have any problem saying "I'm a man". Maybe it is the testosterone.

Here's Muddy Waters spelling it out for you.

I always thought "Jewess" sounded antiquated. Like from some dialog 400 years ago. Don't know why