Language Matters: No, ‘Gypped’ Is Not A Good Alternative To ‘Jewed’

Every now and then, something seems evident to me, and I am reminded that it is not evident to everyone around me. Case in point; two slang terms commonly used to refer to being cheated in a transaction. Whether you’re being ‘gypped’ or ‘Jewed,’ both terms are racist, and they are astonishingly widespread. Really, people, it’s not that hard to just say ‘cheated,’ if that’s what you are going for.

‘Jewed’ is usually pretty easy for people to understand, because take away the ‘-ed’ and you’re left with a Jew. The idea of being ‘Jewed’ plays on some very old and very nasty stereotypes about the Jewish people; that they are greedy, that they will cheat gentiles, that they are close with money. These stereotypes have played out in some extremely ugly ways at various points in history, from the seizure of assets from Sephardic Jews in Spain to the continued suggestion that the world banking industry is controlled by some kind of Jewish cabal. The stereotype that Jewish people are tightfisted endures in a variety of colourful ways and it’s one of the most universally recognised stereotypes about Jewish people.

It’s also one of the least likely to be challenged, which I find extremely alarming. Most people have come to the realisation that Jewish people are not universally large of schnozz, that they do not go around sacrificing Christian babies on the altar, but the connection between Jewish people and money can be seen in political cartoons, in discussions about banking and finance, and, yes, in the idea of being ‘Jewed’ in a transaction. Why this myth persists, I do not know.

This is one of those cases where a slang term is harmful because it addresses a living and very real caricature with very serious consequences. Jewish people continue to be oppressed in many corners of the world and there are regions where beliefs about Jewish people and money play out in the form of insisting that Jewish members of the community are sitting on hidden or secret assets, that they should be tortured and subjected to house searches to find these assets, that their bank accounts should be frozen because obviously they have more money squirreled away somewhere or they’re using it for nefarious purposes. People might say ‘oh, it’s not really a slur,’ except that, hello, people still identify as Jewish, and using a racial identity as a slang term is racist, and, furthermore, using a racial identity as a slang term to uphold a harmful stereotype is just doubly wrong.

I think we’re all pretty on board here that this slang term is not acceptable for use, yes?

‘Gypped’ seems to be a little bit more complicated for people to wrap their heads around, because the connection may not be immediately obvious to those who don’t enjoy taking words apart and playing with etymology. It’s a reference to ‘gypsy,’ a term regarded today as an ethnic slur by many people formerly labeled with it. Among others, Travelers, Romani, Lom, and Dom peoples have all been referred to as ‘gypsies’ at various points in history, and the term carried a very loaded meaning. Gypsies are dirty, they are whores, they will cheat you and steal from you. There are some people who do identify with this term, it is important to note, but people shouldn’t be labeled with it or described as gypsies unless you’ve seen them do so and they’ve indicated it’s ok to use that word to refer to them (much the same with terms like ‘faggot’ and ‘crip,’ which some people reclaim, and others do not).

The problem with ‘gypped’ is both that it includes a racial slur, and that many people are not aware that the term is a slur. So people tend to avoid ‘Jewed’ because it’s obviously not an acceptable term to use, but they may pick up ‘gypped,’ having heard it around and used in the same sense; it’s abstracted from ‘gypsy’ so they may not realise they’re using a term referring to an actual group of people, and that furthermore, the term embedded in the slang is not just an identity, but is actively offensive (think of ‘I got kiked’ instead of ‘I got Jewed’). Curiously, many people are very, very resistant to being told that this word is an ethnic slur and that it should be avoided except in settings where it has been made explicitly clear that it is ok to use; I think you can thank romanticised stereotypes about ‘gypsies’ for this, with people not seeing how it could possibly be a slur since they have visions mediated by pop culture, not reality. And, of course, people tend to like to cling to slurs and slang terms when politely asked by members of those groups to please stop.

People tagged with this label have been oppressed for centuries and they continue to be oppressed. They are driven out, rounded up, killed, denied employment, have limited citizenship, land ownership, and voting rights. To equate a racial slur used to refer to them with ‘cheating,’ implying that they are all money-grubbing, deceitful, nasty people, is…well, it’s a classic example of how oppressors justify their continued oppressive activities. Reinforcing the idea that members of a particular ethnic group all share undesirable characteristics is a really fantastic way to continue denying rights, justice, and humanity to members of that group.

So, yeah, no. If someone cheated you, say they cheated you. Leave the slurs out of it.