in the garden


Dec 2002 Journal

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Freudian slippage

One day in September the Daily Telegraph reported an American scientist’s discovery of a gene that renders Jews averse to consuming alcohol in large quantities. It didn’t seem a particularly world-shaking discovery since we are widely known to have a greater propensity for fressing than shickering (a term which incidentally has entered Australian slang). However, embedded in the text of the report lurked a hideously inept malapropism. This was the description of European Jews as ashkenazis. ASHKENAZIS!

Had the reporter responsible for this lapse, I wondered, ever heard that in Hebrew male nouns take the suffix im in the plural. There are, after all, quite a few words with that ending in current usage – kibbutzim, chassidim, Bank Hapoalim – that any fully-pledged member of the journalistic profession ought to be familiar with. Besides, anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the Bible, or with Milton’s Paradise Lost, ought surely to have heard of cherubim and seraphim.

Having pondered the matter for several days, I am inclined to blame this slip of the word-processing tongue less on ignorance than on ‘Freudian slippage’ due to brain-washing. If one hears constantly that members of the Israeli Defence Force behave like Nazis – an allegation shouted from the rooftops by tub-thumpers like John Pilger and Will Self, and echoed by Establishment figures like Chris Patten – it insidiously worms its way into the collective subconscious. (Didn’t a delegate to the TUC conference at Blackpool shout out ‘Sharon!’ when Tony Blair asserted that Saddam Hussein was the worst dictator in power in the world today?)

On second thoughts, maybe Tom Paulin is moonlighting as a Daily Telegraph journalist under an assumed name. Stranger things have happened in Fleet Street, also known as the Street of Shame.
Richard Grunberger

previous article:The psychopathology of politics (editorial)