This article appeared in The Galitzianer, (Spring, 2000) ·

Explanation of Terms

by Alexander Sharon

The following terms describing various definitions of Jewish religion, Jewish “nationality” and generally Jews, were used in Poland and some adjacent Slavic countries throughout history:

  • Zydowska [zhee dov skah] (from Zyd [zheed]- word derived from Jude)
  • Judaistyczna [yuh da eest eechnah] (from Judaism)
  • Izraelicka [izrah elit skah] (from Israel) Hebrajska [he bra yskah] (from Hebrew) Semicka [ seh mee tskah] (from Semite)
  • Starozakonna [stah roh zah konnah] (from the “Old Testament believers”) Old Testamentaski (sic!) — a sometimes ‘polite’ form has been used to describe “friendly” or patriotic Jews and was a popular term in the 19th century during the Polish National Uprisings against the Russian Empire, in which Jews participated in 1831 and 1863.

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Another “polite” form that has been used in the past is:

  • Polak wyznania Mojzeszowego [Polish person of the Mosaic faith]

And another “polite” or rather patronizing form, which I particularly dislike is:

  • Zydek [zhee dek] (a little or small Jew)—this is supposed to mean “a Yiddle.”
  • The word Zyd [zheed] (a Jew) has been always “acceptable” in all parts of Poland, western parts of Ukraine and western Belarus, but this word had (and has) an extremely insulting meaning in Russia and eastern parts of Belarus and Ukraine. In those parts of Eastern Europe, the polite word Yevrey [yeh vrey] (from Hebrew and Ivri) is commonly used. Zyd there means literally “a kike.” It should be also noted that the word Zyd (Jew) in Polish has been “transformed” into several native Polish words which are associated with unpleasant meanings, for example, brzydki [bzhee dkeeh] – ugly, unsightly, hideous and wybrzydzac [vee bzhee dzach] – to fuss.
  • Yevrey actually describes in Russian the “nationality” (Yevreyskaya) rather than the religion.
  • Old Russian describes Jew as: Iyudey (Judaic) and religion as Iyudeyskaya.
  • Yiddish in Russia was known as the Jewish language, and Hebrew was used as staroyevreyskiy, drievnieyevreyskiy or “old Jewish.” Lately, the word ivrit is used for Hebrew language descriptions in Russian publications.

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