While visiting a friend’s house this holiday weekend, I took some time to enjoy her collection of houseplants. She spends a good deal of time tending them, and made a point of showing them off during my visit. One plant in particular, with long, trailing leaves, striped purple and silver, stood out from the rest. I asked her what it was.

“A Wandering Jew,” she replied.

I had, of course, heard of the plant, and knew it was named for the Jewish shoemaker supposedly cursed with eternal life for mocking Christ during the Crucifixion. But hearing the name spoken out loud didn’t sit well with me, somehow.

I chalked it up at first to too many movies. After all, you can only hear the evil Nazi say the word “Jew” so many times before it starts sounding a little off. But when I Googled the name of the plant, lo and behold, I came upon a firestorm.

Google, it seems, had placed a disclaimer, “Offensive Word Results,” before any search involving the word “Jew.” According to Google, “the word 'Jew' is often used in an anti-Semitic context,” while “someone searching for (legitimate) information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like 'Judaism,' 'Jewish people,' or 'Jews' than the single word 'Jew.'” With a previously unseen sense of ironic wit, Google then concluded that “the word has become somewhat charged linguistically.”

I later learned that this issue arose because of a single website, although Google’s language is far broader. Indeed, if they are to be believed, the “J-word” will soon be the new “N-word” in fashionable circles. Based on my own reaction to hearing the word spoken this past weekend, maybe it should be.

How about a nice ficus, instead?

BrevityQuest 2007

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