Football Etymologies: The Y Word

T-shirts for sale saying Yid Army outside White Hart Lane stadium, home of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)

The ‘Y’ word: yid. It sparks controversy for its complex expression of identity. This article takes a look at the term and how it came to common usage amongst Tottenham Hotspur fans – and their opponents’- vernacular.

Football Etymologies: The Y Word. Remember Its Real Significance?

Anti-Semitism and Self-Definition of Identity

The term ‘yid’ was first recorded in Hotten’s Slang Dictionary of 1874, a shortened form of Yiddish, or yidden, referring first to the Jewish language, or the Jewish people, in way of slang. Rosten posits that Yid derives from the Middle High German for Jüde, which in turn is a:

“truncated form of Yehuda, which was the name given to the Jewish Commonwealth in the period of the Second Temple. That name, in turn, was derived from the name of one of Jacob’s sons, Yehuda…”

This article will not attempt an in-depth history of Jewish persecution; though it stretches back to 1290 in England when King Edward I expelled the Jewish people from the country. However, it is crucial to keep in mind the highly problematic nature of the ‘y’ word. The persecution and oppression of Jews during the Holocaust, but also the Pogroms throughout Europe have more recently constructed a definition of Judaism that words such as ‘yid’ only serve to extend.

Reclaiming the ‘Y’ Word: The “Yid” Army

It is clear, therefore, to understand the contentious nature of this term. It could be argued that it is possible to reclaim and appropriate slang such as ‘yid’. The Ashkenazi Jewish community use “yid” to mean “fellow” or “mate”. Indeed, “yid” in the Jewish community did have an unsullied meaning of simply referring to another person in their group. In the same light, Spurs fans have adopted “yid” as a response to the abusive, discriminatory remarks made by other fans in the 1970s and 1980s.

With a large number of Jewish fans in their collective, the entire Tottenham faithful adopted and used the term to celebrate unity and to transcend the abusive nature of the term. Comedian David Baddiel has argued against this, claiming that there may be a large number of Jewish people in the area of N17, but nowhere near as many that attend the matches.

Moving Forward

Anti-semitism is still a grave issue in today’s world. Thus, “yid” may still be serving a purpose in the vernacular of Spurs fans. On the other hand, it is perhaps now an anachronistic term. It can be argued that “yid” or “yiddo” or “yid army” are terms that no longer defend an ethnic minority. Instead, when used by Spurs fans inside the stadium, it means another fan or a loyal player.

Jermain Defoe has his own song which deems him a “yiddo”, but Defoe has no links whatsoever to Judaism. Thus, in this context, it means something similar to Harry Kane‘s song “he’s one of our own”. Both songs uphold the players for belonging to the club and in the fan’s hearts, but neither invoke Jewish identity. If fans aren’t using the term for its original inception, should Spurs fans use it all?

Responsibility

The main issue with the future usage of “yid” is that the responsibility for using the term lies in the wrong hands. Only the Jewish community at the club have any right to deciding whether to use the term. There has been some not so distant challenge to the term, whereby arrests were being made for the use of “yid”. The THST’s communication with the FA resolved this at the time. The THST argue:

“should Spurs fans’ use of the Yid identity come to an end, this should be as a result of the feeling among the Spurs community that it was time to move on.”

However, this stance really should be modified to state that it must be those directly affected by the term who decide on its usage.

Conclusion

Yid is a term that invokes the most traumatic events in history; the Holocaust and historic, systemic persecution. However, the recent adoption of the word by the Spurs faithful is reactive, defending its own local contingent of Jewish people. Banning the ‘Y’ word is something that Jewish Spurs fans should only have a say in. For now, “yid” survives and is acceptable in a match environment. If Spurs fans want to continue to use this term, they must be aware of the real significance of the term. In this way, the ‘Y’ word can continue to be a complex self-definition of identity, that recognises and protects the Jewish heritage at the club, but moreover acts as a living reminder of the atrocities that such a term is born out of.

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