The use of the word ‘Jewess’ is a psychological ‘tell’

‘Harmful eccentric’ Piers Corbyn’s language is consistent with a clear and revealing pattern, writes David Aaronovich


Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaks to the media as he leaves an anti-vaccine demonstration that had been held outside the offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in central London on November 24, 2020. - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that thanks to a potential vaccine "the escape route is in sight" from the coronavirus crisis -- while warning that in the immediate future "Christmas cannot be normal". (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

February 11, 2021 17:33

Jeremy Corbyn’s older brother Piers is what might be called a harmful eccentric. Although it’s clear to most people that the salmon slipped off his blini a while ago, there will be enough who think that maybe there’s something in his assertions about Great Conspiracies being foisted upon ordinary folk by them upstairs. Climate change? A hoax. Vaccination? A scam. Coronavirus? An invention. 9/11? Cui bono, says Piers.

And don’t we just know cui is usually supposed to bono from this stuff? The R bank, the M intelligence agency, the I country, the Z people. It’s my conspiracy of three degrees of separation. Within two retweets, you’ll find someone blaming Jew know who.

Of course Piers is himself not antisemitic. He can’t be. For one thing, if Jeremy’s parents were at Cable Street and that made them into the most radical people Shropshire has ever known, Piers’ parents were too. My dad was also at Cable Street, as it happens. He had to be — he lived there. But I’m sure that he would think it was great that they came along.

Secondly, he can’t be antisemitic — as he told everyone when he discovered himself in big trouble for circulating anti-vax leaflets comparing mass vaccination with Auschwitz (I mean, what else could he possibly compare it with?) — because, as he told the JC, “I was married for 22 years to a Jewess and obviously her mother’s forebears fled the Baltic states just before the war because of Hitler or the Nazis in general”.

Piers Corbyn is seven years older than me, so we’re not exactly separated by the aeons. But I don’t think I have ever heard the term “Jewess” used in actual conversation. And when I read the word, I felt my antisemdar clearly registering an incoming object. Yet the question was, why?

In the English language, where words are not much altered by gender, we have, after all, a wide range of venerable signifiers of male or female status. Queens, kings. Knights, dames. Counts, countesses. And so on with conductresses, actresses, heiresses, seductresses, headmistresses, adulteresses, all with male equivalents. Though I would be hard pushed to tell you what a male seamstress is called. And in the sexual sense, a male “mistress” is not a “master”.

Even so, these are increasingly archaic forms. We are moving to generic “actors” and “head-teachers”, just as we now have fire-fighters and police officers. As far as I know, for any occupation that is professional, or relatively recent in origin, there are no such distinctions. We have no female version of doctor or male version of nurse. There are no microbiologistesses and I don’t think anyone will invent them.

But when it comes to peoples, English has almost never lent itself to single words connoting the gender. There are no Gerwomen, no Australiennes, no Frenchettes. In fact hard as I tried to find an equivalent, the only one I could think of was “negress”. There have never been Aryanesses or caucasianesses, Catholesses or Christianesses – just Jewesses and negresses.

Why did those two words exist and why, now, does no one use them, except Piers Corbyn? The American-based says this: “First used in the Middle Ages, the term Jewess has been an inoffensive, neutral term for most of its history. With the advent of the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s, it began to be considered condescending and has since declined in use.” Another dictionary site says of negress: “Older Use: Usually Offensive, a term used to refer to a black woman or girl.”

Piers Corbyn was very much around in the 60s. How did he miss that change? One possibility is that he was a fan as a boy of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, in which the “beautiful Jewess” Rebecca saves the eponymous hero’s life, they fall in love and he marries… the fair-haired, demureAnglo Saxon girl (note, not the Anglo Saxoness).

“Jewess” as a word used by gentiles was dropped, I think, not for the reason, which smacks of having been written by someone born well after the 60s and taught about it at high school. I believe it disappeared because after the racialised century of 1850-1950, it actually connoted something else, even if sub-consciously — the sex object rendered exotic and dangerous by virtue of race. For the white man, the Jewess, like the negress, is desired but undesirable. In marrying a Jewess, not a Jewish woman, or even a Jew, I think Piers Corbyn celebrated his transgressive self. Congratulated himself upon it. Look, he says, how broad-minded I am! But the user of the word never realises that, actually, it is what behavioural psychologists call a “tell”.

And not in a nice way.

February 11, 2021 17:33

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