Founding editor of Oxford Dictionary thought word 'antisemite' was a passing fad

Term was omitted from original edition because he believed it would quickly disappear from use


The founding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary thought the term “anti-semite” was a mere fad and did not include it in the original edition of the lexicon, which was published in instalments between 1884 and 1928.

A letter by the editor, James Murray, explaining why he omitted the term was recently discovered in the archives of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. He was writing in response to an enquiry by the scholar and anti-Zionist Claude Montefiore, a scion of the renowned British Jewish family.

“Anti-semite and its family were then probably very new in English use, and not thought likely to be more than passing nonce-words and hence they did not receive treatment in a separate article,” he explained in the letter, which he wrote on 5 July 1900.

Murray went on to explain that the man on the street would likely have used the term “anti-Jewish”.

However, the term “semitism” did appear in the first edition of the dictionary, along with mention of the fact that, “In recent use,” it had already come to be associated with “Jewish ideas or Jewish influence in policy and society”.

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