Oxford English Dictionary adds 'Y-word' variant to describe Tottenham fans

Thursday 13th February 2020 11:45 GMT

Usage of the term to describe Jewish people can be considered offensive, but some Spurs fans have historically adopted the word in terrace chants.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has also updated the 'Y-word' to include "a supporter of or player for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club".

A Tottenham spokesman said: "As a club we have never accommodated the use of the 'Y-word' on any club channels or in club stores and have always been clear that our fans (both Jewish and gentile) have never used the term with any intent to cause offence.

"We find the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word misleading given it fails to distinguish context and welcome their clarification."

A spokeswoman for the OED said: "As a historical dictionary, the OED records the usage and development of words in the English language.

"We reflect, rather than dictate, how language is used which means we include words which may be considered sensitive and derogatory. These are always labelled as such.

"The entry for 'Yiddo' is labelled as offensive and derogatory and our reference to Tottenham Hotspur is a reflection of the evidence for the word.

"As we state at the closely related word 'Yid', Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is traditionally associated with the Jewish community in north and east London, and the term is sometimes used as a self-designation by some Tottenham fans.

"We will ensure the context for this connection is very clear in both definitions."

Some Tottenham supporters argue they have "reclaimed" the use of the word from rival fans, who they feel commonly used the term to insult supporters of the north London club, which has traditionally had a Jewish following.

Comedian and writer David Baddiel, who made a 2010 film with his brother Ivor called 'The Y-word' for the Kick It Out campaign, has dismissed the link between the two communities as "mainly mythical" and said Spurs fans "have no right of reclamation".

Baddiel told Sky News: "The vast majority of fans of the club, including those who self-designate as Y-words, are not Jewish and therefore have no right of 'reclamation'.

"What it will weirdly give succour to is the sense that Tottenham fans, rather than Jews, 'own' this race-hate word for Jews, a word that blackshirts painted on shops in the East End of London."

Baddiel added: "I would ask the OED why, considering that they clearly think their definitions are exhaustive, they haven't included the fact that the word is used not just as a benign 'self-designation' by Tottenham fans but also very often in a derogatory and racist way by non-Tottenham fans."

Writer and filmmaker Ivor also rejected the idea that Spurs fans had any right to 'reclaim' the word and believes use of the term has simply led to others using it for derogatory purposes.

"The vast majority of Spurs fans are not Jewish so they are reclaiming a word which is not technically theirs to reclaim," he told Sky Sports News. "The point of reclaiming a word, and with black people and the n-word, the point of doing it is to take the power away from the word and make people realise how terrible it is and stop them saying it which has by and large worked in the black community.

"If that is Tottenham fans' aim it clearly hasn't worked because it hasn't made other fans stop saying it. In fact, what it has done is make other fans say it even louder back at them and do other horrendous chants as well. I'm not saying that's Tottenham fans' fault but that is clearly what has happened so their reasons for reclaiming the word have not worked."

He added: "If I was a Spurs fan, and there are many who don't like the term and don't refer to themselves by that term, and players as well - I don't know any players who refer to it - I would be incredibly annoyed.

"The way you could read it, it doesn't say 'some supporters or players', in the dictionary it defines it as a 'supporter or player for Tottenham'. Certainly, if I was one of the many who didn't like the term and didn't refer to myself as it I would be very annoyed.

"Secondly, usually, and I know the OED don't just include words that are completely new and they say words that are new to them. Usually it is new words like 'mansplaining' which are new words to everyone but this is a term that, as far as I am aware, Spurs fans have been using since the '50s, '60s, certainly from the '70s. The OED have only got wind of it now, it seems very ridiculous.

"The third thing to say is that if you are going to include these names that football fans call themselves, I presume in the next update you will have things like 'gooner' or 'tractor boys'. Are they going to be consistent and include all the other names?"

Ivor is not sure if the OED's decision legitimises the use of the word but is worried that it could normalise it.

He said: "I don't know about legitimising it. It basically normalises it - why now? It is inconsistent, is 'gooner' in there, to refer to an Arsenal fan? Why are they just having a nickname or a badge of honour or whatever you want to call it, for a Tottenham fan? Arsenal fans proudly call themselves 'gooner' and other fans have other names. There is a lack of consistency which is worrying.

"I don't think it legitimises it but it normalises it a bit which is worrying."

In recent years, efforts have been made to try to convince Tottenham fans to cease using the term, amid claims it is continuing to fuel antisemitism within football.

In 2013, the Football Association even warned fans that using the word could result in criminal charges.

Jewish groups have branded the word "antisemitic", whatever the context it is used in.

Mr Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, told Sky News: "This is a term of abuse with malicious antisemitic overtones. If the OED wishes to include such an expression it must make it abundantly clear that this is a despicable term of abuse."

In December, Tottenham released the results of a poll on "the Y-word" that received more than 23,000 responses.

It revealed that 33 per cent of respondents use the Y-word "regularly" in a footballing context, while only 12 per cent would use it outside of this context.

Some 94 per cent acknowledged the word can be considered a racist term against a Jewish person and nearly a half of respondents wanted supporters to abandon or use it less in chants.

In a commentary on the word's historic links, the club said "the Y-word was historically adopted by Spurs fans as a defence mechanism in order to 'own' the term and thereby deflect antisemitic abuse at that time in the 1970s".

But it added that the poll responses indicated that few believed use of the word was effective in deflecting such abuse.

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