“A supporter of or player for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club” is what the Oxford English Dictionary recently expanded their definition of the term ‘Yid’ to include.

This is an extraordinary development for a word that, to this day, still deeply offends many members of the Jewish community.

Writer and Broadcaster David Baddiel has been very outspoken in his belief that there should be a blanket ban on what he describes as a “race-hate word” in football grounds, creating a short film, along with his brother Ivor, criticising its use.

The Baddiels state that, unlike the reclamation of the N-word by black musicians, most Tottenham fans are not Jewish.

In fact, less than 1% of the population in this country are, according to the most recent census. As such, they logically believe that Spurs fans have no right to reclaim the Y-word.

However, in doing so, they ignore the historical context in which Spurs fans adopted the Y-word as a self-identifier.

This occurred in response to years of abuse from opposing fans, which they attempted to render impotent by taking on the term themselves.

The Baddiels have claimed that this abuse largely occurs due to the use of the Y-word by Spurs supporters.

The issue in this is that it seems to place blame squarely at the feet of Tottenham fans, who predominantly chant the term only to stress its positive connotations.

Similar issues are also present across the Atlantic, with the Washington Redskins’ name and logo causing discontent for years amongst the Native American community.

Likewise, on their road to victory in the Super Bowl, Kansas City Chiefs fans caused controversy with their “war chants” and imitations of tomahawk chops.

However, unlike the UK, the United States has far fewer legal restrictions on the freedom of speech; the Supreme Court has even gone so far as to rule that denying the trademarking of derogatory names would be an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment.

Potentially influenced by the fact that, even if offensive, the name is not illegal, the owners and management of these teams have openly defended their traditions.

Washington Redskins President, Bruce Allen, went so far as to highlight the use of the name by high school teams (with a majority Native American composition) as evidence that the name itself is not, or at least is not used in such a way that is, inherently offensive.

Spurs, by contrast, have never officially adopted the Y-word through club channels and have always stressed their “zero-tolerance” stance towards anti-Semitism.

However, they have always stopped short of stating that the usage by Tottenham fans of the Y-word amounts to anti-Semitism, only criticising the lack of context provided by the OED’s change in definition.

In the club’s most recent survey on the matter, a third of fans stated that they use the Y-word regularly in a footballing context, although very few would use it outside of this.

Is it then acceptable, but only in this very narrowly restricted context, because the law would seem to suggest so.

The Metropolitan Police have stated that they will distinguish between anti-Semitic Holocaust chants directed at Spurs fans, which are an offence, and some songs sung by Spurs fans including the Y-word, which are not.

In 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued cases made against three Tottenham fans arrested for using the Y-word, stating that the language used could not legally be considered “threatening, abusive or insulting” under the circumstances.

Gerald Jacobs, the literary editor of The Jewish Chronicle, agreed with David Cameron, back when he was Prime Minister, that such hate speech should only be prosecuted when it is motivated by hate.

Jacobs noted how ‘Jew’ had replaced the Y-word as the foremost insult directed at those of the Jewish faith, with the OED reflecting how the use of the Y-word has developed.

Therefore, I would agree with Frank Furedi, the Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, when he encouraged caution with policing language.

We absolutely should clamp down on all forms of anti-Semitism, as it has no place in society.

Derogatory usage of the Y-word, be it by Spurs fans or those of the opposition, should be strictly punished, with such individuals having no place in football stadiums.

However, in today’s society, the evidence seems to suggest that when Spurs fans use the Y-word to bestow hero status upon their favourite players, as they did with the well-known Jermaine Defoe chant, this does not amount to anti-Semitism.

Crass language is commonplace at football games, and perhaps it shouldn’t be.

However, should the positive chants of Tottenham fans be the target of the Baddiels’ campaign? I would argue not.


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