Spurs criticise Oxford English Dictionary for expanding definition of ‘yid’
‘Yid’ definition expanded to include ‘supporter of or player for’ Tottenham
T-shirts for sale saying ‘Yid Army’ outside White Hart Lane. Photograph: AMA/Getty
Tottenham have criticised the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) after it expanded its definition of the word “yid” to include a “supporter of or player for” the football club.
The word, typically used as an offensive epithet for Jewish people, has been adopted by some Spurs fans as a nickname. Use of the term among Jewish and non-Jewish supporters alike has been the subject of controversy in recent years but has been defended as an attempt to reclaim the term from its racist usage by opposing fans.
The OED, has included the word in its latest list of new and updated entries, along with the related term “yiddo”. It said that as well as their racist meanings the words could refer to “a supporter of or player for Tottenham Hotspur football club (traditionally associated with the Jewish community in north and east London).”
It said the words’ use was “originally and frequently derogatory and offensive, though also often as a self-designation.”
In response, Spurs told the Guardian: “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.”
The OED said it was bound to “reflect rather than dictate” how language is used, and noted that it had labelled the term as offensive and derogatory.
Some critics said the decision to add the definition could give legitimacy to use of a term that they viewed as unequivocally racist.
David Baddiel, the writer and comedian who has campaigned in the past against the chanting of the word yid and other antisemitic chants across a variety of football clubs, said the association that the OED had noted was mainly mythical.
“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’,” he said.
“What it will weirdly give succour to is: when The Y-Word campaign first started, a Spurs fan said to me, a Jewish person who feels uncomfortable with that word: ‘Fuck off, it’s our word now.’ Can you imagine something similar with any other race hate word? Jews are not even allowed to own their own hate.”
Tottenham fans and other Jewish people offered differing views. Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, tweeted: “Not controversial among many of the Jewish Spurs supporters, such as myself, who are proud to be Yiddos.”
Last year the north London club carried out a consultation with fans on their use of the Y-word and received more than 23,000 responses. It found that 33 per cent of respondents used the Y-word “regularly” in a footballing context, while 18 per cent who did not use the term in a footballing context considered it offensive, rising to 35 per cent among Jewish respondents.
Almost half of all respondents said they would prefer to see supporters chant the Y-word less or stop using it altogether. The club, which has been organising focus groups to explore the issue further, said at the time that sentiment around the term appeared to be changing among the fanbase. “There is a recognition of the offence the Y-word can cause and that a footballing context alone does not justify its continued use,” it said.
Another Jewish Spurs fan, speaking anonymously, told the Guardian he was surprised at the number of Jewish fans coming out against use of the word. “When do I feel uncomfortable being Jewish at Spurs? When Chelsea and West Ham fans make gas chamber noises. Not when fans of the club that embraced Jewish immigrants chant a word rooted in that history,” he said.
The new OED entry on the word refers to mentions made in news reports dating back to 1972 and 1982 of antisemitic chants during clashes between rival football supporters.
The OED said it had chosen to cover this sense of the term now because it was revising and updating words from this part of the alphabet.
“As a historical dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary records the usage and development of words in the English language,” a spokesperson said. “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.”