Posted by: hatzihatzi | December 15, 2011

I’m so sick of words.

I was frenemies with this girl in high school who I won’t name. Basically, she thought she and her family were better than everyone. Her mother was a local politician. Can you still call someone a politician if they lost the election? Ok, so her mother was a failed local politician. Only she didn’t want to be called that. In our government class in 10th grade, we were learning about..duh, government…at all levels. And our teacher turned to frenemy and said “_________’s mother is an example of a local politician.” Frenemy and her mother got incredibly offended.

“My mother’s not a politician. She’s a community activist.” She told me haughtily.

“What’s the difference?”

Politician can have a negative connotation.”

A friend of mine blurted out, “so can Jew.

Her mother came in to talk to the class about her work in government that is, no, no, not the work of a politician.

Which brings me to kikes.

Apparently, the word kike comes from the Yiddish word for circle, kikel. Apparently, when people came to Ellis Island, they were asked to sign entry forms with an x if they could not write their names. Jews didn’t want to sign with an x because they thought that looked like a cross, which was, obviously, associated with Christianity.[1] So they signed with a circle. Inspectors started calling these people kikels and eventually kikes.

For me, the story behind this word makes me think of the sensitivity of the turn of the century immigration inspectors. Even if they were inwardly rolling their eyes at the backwards Eastern Europeans who didn’t know their names from a crucified corpse, they adapted a practice to account for someone’s cultural differences. Or maybe it was just someone whose shift was about to end who said “ok, you can’t write your name in Latin letters and you don’t want to draw an x, just make a fucking circle so I can go home, Kike!”

In light of the sensitive origins of the word, I’ve tried to take back the word by calling my Jewish friends kikes. Not surprisingly, they’re not really on board with my cultural sensitivity mission.

[1] I have to take a moment here to pimp James Carroll’s excellent documentary Constantine’s Sword. It is about anti-semitism and talks about the cross as a violent symbol. You can stream it on Netflix. I recommend you do so!



  1. I think we have that doc in our instant queue. It’s totally up the husband’s alley.

    • Let me know what you guys think of it. I really liked it, but E was pretty bored by it. He felt it focused too much on James Carroll’s life (growing up Catholic and becoming a priest).

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