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Catherine Chatterley


By Dr. Catherine Chatterley, October 3, 2011

The question about the hyphen in the spelling of the word antisemitism is a debate that goes back to the 1990s. While most historians have made the switch, many in the media and the general public continue to spell the word anti-Semitism.

So why does this matter?
Well it is very significant because there is no such thing as a “semite”
(only a speaker of semitic languages), therefore there is no such
thing as “semitism,” and one cannot oppose something that does not in fact exist. The locution is the invention of 19th century Europeans who wanted to distance themselves from the more common expression Judenhass (Jew-hatred), then thought to be medieval and obscurantist in an age of science. Wilhelm Marr used the pre-existing term in 1879 when he named his political organization Die Antisemitenliga (the League of Antisemites).
Spelled with a hyphen, the word makes no logical sense, but instead relies on racist nonsense taken from the field of linguistics. In our current political climate people are increasingly arguing that Arabs are Semites as well and that anti-Semitism actually includes hatred of Arabs too. The people who argue these things are not just ignorant of the history of the word and of the phenomenon it describes, but are unknowingly espousing European racism.
The fact that the larger culture, and the spell-check and auto-correct function in Word, is ignorant of this change is frustrating but it really is an important distinction and the word should be spelled consistently without the hyphen as historians do today.
Historian Shmuel Almog made this point way back in 1989:
“So the hyphen, or rather its omission, conveys a message; if you hyphenate your 'anti-Semitism', you attach some credence to the very foundation on which the whole thing rests. Strike out the hyphen and you will treat antisemitism for what it really is—a generic name for modern Jew-hatred which now embraces this phenomenon as a whole, past, present and—I am afraid—future as well.”
Now if we could also have people stop using the nonsensical word “race” as well.
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