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A summary of past arguments about etymology. See Talk:antisemitism for more of the same. Summarised by Martin who has got stuff wrong twice today, and is very depressed at the failure of Godwin's law, so don't trust this stuff for accuracy.

See Talk:Antisemitism/Etymology complete for the unsummarised version.

Electoral Collage

The term antisemitism was coined in 1879 by the German political agitator Wilhelm Marr, the author of a book called "The Victory of Judaism Over Germanism," to distinguish between old-fashioned Jew-hatred and a more modern, political and ethnic opposition to the Jews. The term caught on immediately. With the swelling tide of anti-Jewish feeling in Germany, Marr founded the Bund der Antisemiten or "Antisemitic League." In 1881 an "Antisemitic Petition" bearing 225,000 signatures was presented to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and by 1882 there was an official "Anti-Semitic Party" in Germany that won several seats in the Reichstag.

The below comments and arguments are largely irrelevant given this reality. The term antisemitism has always been Jew-specific, and never was used for any of the other semitic peoples. Yes, technically, the term should apply to all semitic people, but it doesn't. So yes, other semitic people can indeed be "antisemitic," because it's invention and primary usage ever since has always been as a euphemism for "Jew-Hatred."Justin G. 16:42, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

I tried for a categorisation like below, but rapidly realised I couldn't accurately guage people's positions, with some exceptions. Also, some people didn't sign their posts, so they forfeited their vote.

  1. anti-Semitism only means Jew-hatred. All other usages are illegitimate and/or anti-Semitic.
  2. anti-Semitism sometimes is used to mean opposition to all "Semitic" races, though this is very much a minority usage.
  3. Why the heck are you wasting your lives debating this rubbish?
  4. ...

One question is how old the minority usage is. Some believe that if it's only been around a few years then we can probably ignore it, but it requires a bit more respect if it's been around for over, say, 50 years.

This terminology is also advocated by some in the racist anti-Semitic "Christian Identity" movement, by Neo-Nazis, and by Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic "Nation of Islam". What does this tell you? RK
It tells me that it's a minority usage that's mainly used by racists for political reasons. What does it tell you? Martin 13:06, 24 Aug 2003 (UTC)


Various examples have been given of the minority usage in practice.

  • Gary Geddes book Flying Blind (1998).
  • the letters section of "The Independent" (July 26th) (London) , the "Culture" section of the "Sunday Times" (June 30th) (London) , page 15 of The Guardian (June 19th) (London), page 8 of the "Morning Star" (June 1st).
  • Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)
  • Joseph Telushkin "Why the Jews?: The Reasons for AntisemitismTalk:Anti-Semitism/archive", Moshe David's "World Jewry and the State of Israel" or the article "Antisemitism is Anti-Jewish" by Lorne Shipman and Dr. Karen Mock.
  • The Sun (London), July 5, 2002 , Letters section, letter from Ambassador Ali Muhsen Hamid
  • BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, November 1, 1997, (admitedly the use was in a quote from Qadhafi)
  • Daily Post (Liverpool), September 25, 2001, page 6.
  • The Times (London), September 2, 1992, interview with Bobby Fischer.
  • The Times Higher Education Supplement, June 2, 1995 , page 22.
  • M2 PRESSWIRE , March 24, 1997, "UN Human Rights Commission concludes general debate on racism and racial discrimination"

Most are modern, with the Webster entry being the oldest (1913). Some feel this is significant. I've not been able to confirm the Webster claim, though.


Arguments for accepting the existance of a minority usage generally revolve around pointing at the minority usage and saying "LOOK! IT'S RIGHT THERE!".

Mistaken usage

Not valid because the writers are incompetent:

Political usage

Not valid because it's a deliberate political ploy:

Jewish people and most Christians never use the term "anti-semite" to mean anything other than hatred of Jews. The Germans who invented and popularized this word also never used this word to mean anything different. However, anti-semitic people themselves deliberately mis-use this word, to try and confuse the issue. That deliberate misuse is what the entry is trying to clarify. The attempt at change confuses the issue further. RK

Rare usage

Not valid because it's too rare:

Just because one lone author mistakenly uses this word does not constitute rewriting an encyclopaedia entry. If that were any measure of anything, we'd have to say that no words have any set meaning, because just about every word is used by a tiny number of people in a sense that it was never meant to be used. RK

What a load of crap. Another eample of Jews trying to hijack the English language. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:57, 30 May 2010 (UTC)

Practical arguments

Another argument against the minority usage is practical. If all usage for "anti-Semitism" is changed to the current minority usage, during the transition there will be confusion as to what it means. After the transition, it will simply be dropped from the language, since anything that "anti-Jewish-ism" and "anti-Arab-ism" have in common can be covered by another concept; that Jews and Arabs are both Semitic has no relevance outside of fields like linguistics and anthropology. Also, both during and after the transition, there will be confusion to the meaning of the word "anti-Semitism" in pre-transition texts.

For all of this confusion, what benefit do we get? Take the argument that "he" shouldn't be the gender-neutral pronoungeneric third person pronoun]], because it affects the way we think and view the world; making such a change would cause a lot of confusion and trouble, but might be worth it if using "he" does have the claimed affects. What affects does the current usage of "anti-Semitism" have, that changing it would bring about benefits? -- Khym Chanur

I think that's a good argument that the minority usage is potentially confusing and a bad idea. However, I'm not sure that it's a good argument that when the word is used in this (bad, confusing) way, that this use should not be considered as valid. Perhaps it is, since it effects the chances of that usage ever becoming used outside a tiny minority. Martin 21:21, 6 Nov 2003 (UTC)

A practical solution from a new contributor, 2006 April 7

Wikipedia states that the term anti-Semitic is a misnomer, a euphemism, a source of endless, harrowing, unnecessary debate, and not a neutral term. The solution is for Wikipedia to stand back and take a neutral position: make the main entry "anti-Judaism" (which has none of those problems) and cross-reference it to "anti-Semitism". Korky Day 20:26, 7 April 2006 (UTC)


Isn't anyone going to comment on Anti-Judaism as a neutral term? (See above section.) Korky Day 08:26, 14 April 2006 (UTC)

Other Debates

Other etymology debates:

  • Is it possible to be Jewish and anti-Semitic?
  • Is anti-Semitism solely an ethnic prejudice?

I don't care about this, so I'm not going to bother summarising it. Martin

Well.... for one thing, the "minority" definition actually makes more sense to people who know what semitic means. Also, looking at the current state of the world, the Jews don't look like they're the only semitic people to face ongoing persecution for their cultural identities. Even in America, which is a fortress of the civil rights movement, there is widespread persecution of Arab semites for nothing more than their ethnic origin. See [1] for a report. Silver Maple

Yes, it does make more sense, but people who know what "Semitic" means are probably a minority, and besides, since when has making sense or logic had anything to do with the English language? And yes, there are non-Jewish Semitic peoples being persecuted, and adopting the minority definition would bring attention to their plight, but that's not enough reason to change a word's definition. If you changed "racism" to include religious persecution, that would bring attention to those who are victims of religious persecution, and help them, but that's not a valid reason for mucking with the word "racism". -- Khym Chanur