kike

Definitions

  • A derogatory slur for a Jewish person.

Example Sentences

  • "You should never call a Jew a kike, it is highly offensive and rude."
  • "I remember the first time I threw a punch. I was in the lunch line in third grade, and a kid in my class, Will, called me a kike. For those unfamiliar with the term's usage, calling a Jewish person a kike isn't wildly dissimilar from calling a person of African descent the n-word." (http://dailyyiddishkeit.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-being-called-kike.html)

Languages of Origin

English

Etymology

Unclear. See note.

Who Uses This

White supremacists

Regions

North America

Dictionaries

The New Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten and Lawrence Bush (New York, 2003[1968]).

Notes

Less frequent today, this word was a common insult for Jews in the early to mid 20th century, both by non-Jews and by German Jews referring to Eastern European Jews. Several etymologies have been proposed, but there is no consensus. One theory is that Irish immigrants to the United States first used the slur, perhaps based on the Gaelic word "ciabhóg" (pronounced k'i'óg), meaning forelock, sidelock; a person adorned with a forelock or sidelock, referencing the peyos of Orthodox Jews (Cassidy, How the Irish Invented Slang, 2007, p. 199). Despite methodological problems with this dictionary, this etymology seems plausible. Some early recorded uses of "kike" are in writings by Irish Americans and in dialogue of Irish Americans interacting with Jews: McCardell's 1904 book Show Girl & Friends and a 1912 McClure's Magazine article about a baseball game with Irish and Jewish teammates. An explanation suggested in 1914 (Gotthard Deutsch, article in American Israelite) and popularized by Leo Rosten (Joys of Yiddish) is that "kike" comes from the Yiddish word "kaykl," meaning circle (but it actually means roll/tumble in a circle), because illiterate Jews would sign their name with a circle, rather than an X, which looked like a cross, at Ellis Island. A 1926 article in American Speech (by J.H.A. Lacher, also quoted in 1945 by H.L. Mencken) reports hearing the "kiki" in 1886 in Minnesota, used by German Jews to refer to Russian Jews. Kiki could have then changed to kike as the word was picked up by non-Jews. A related possibility is that German Jews referred to newly arrived Eastern European immigrants as "kikes" because many of their names ended in "(s)ki" (Rischin, The Promised City, p. 98; OED), and then the term spread to non-Jews. Joseph Wallfield (Studies in Slang, 1997) suggests it came from the Jewish name Chaim, which, pronounced Kaim, was commonly used as a slang word for Jews in Germany in the 19th century. The word may also be influenced by "Ike," an American/English nickname for Isaac, which was a common Jewish name. Another theory derives "kike" from "caeca" (blind) from a 1593 antisemitic papal bull titled Caeca et Obdurata Hebraeorum perfidia 'The Blind and Obdurate Perfidy of the Jews' (Michael & Rosen, Dictionary of Antisemitism from the Earliest Times to the Present). All of these theories have flaws (see analysis of several at https://blog.oup.com/2009/10/ethnic-slurs-kike/). More evidence is needed regarding this etymology.

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