Franklin County on Florida’s Gulf Coast falls squarely into what some social cartographers call the Redneck Riviera. The Florida Panhandle may only be a few hundred miles away from the enclaves of southern Florida where our some of our forebears play shuffleboard and mahjong and squint at butterfly ballots in coke-bottle glasses, but it might as well be Kishinev. It’s Franklin County, where World War II warriors trained to simulate jungle combat, where we turn our gaze in this week’s edition of Jew as a Verb.
It was there that the marginally-Jewish sounding Cheryl Sanders, chairwoman of a board of commissioners, delivered this line at a public meeting to dissuade her peers from discussing across the board raises for county officials:
“Today’s not the day to do it,” said Sanders. “We’re here [for Nabors’ salary], not to be up here jewing over somebody’s pay. I can’t believe that you all would put a man down who has worked here for 26 years because he don’t have a high school education.”
The incident was reported without comment by David Adlerstein, who is both the city editor of the local paper and Jewish himself, before the story was picked up by Jim Romenesko’s media site. Despite the hubbub, Adlerstein did not seem bothered by the comment:
“I have heard the expression on more than one occasion around these parts in my dozen years at the paper,” he writes in an email. “It doesn’t offend me, unless it’s used to describe someone who cheats you. But haggling and dickering? To me, it’s a proud trait of my tribe, and it’s a solid cut above cold-hearted stiffing someone with a pious grin. But that’s me.
That is you, David Alderstein. Meanwhile, Romenesko reports that Sanders, the utterer of the phrase, subsequently apologized to those who questioned her about the comment, but added that the incident had been “blown out of proportion” and that she is “not anti-Semitic and there was no malice toward anyone.”
But here we are.
Just months ago, we reported on Oklahoma State Representative Dennis Johnson, who used Jew as a verb on the floor of the legislature and then explained he meant it as a compliment to the Jews because “they’re good small businessmen as well.” Back in 2011, Texas State Representative Larry Taylor also failed with words in trying to defend delivering payments to victims of a windstorm when he implored his colleagues: “Don’t nitpick, don’t try to Jew them down.”
Given the latest incident (which even has a Jewish defender), should we just accept that we are probably a generation or two away from having the word Jew strictly used as a noun in parts of the United States and that, like the way some reflexively deploy “gyp” without thinking twice to mean the exact same thing, it’s time we stop fretting about it? I like to fret, but I’d love to hear from those of you who don’t.