Is "shonk" antisemitic?
July 15, 2008 2:45 AM   Subscribe

Is or was the word "shonky" antisemitic?

Australians use the word "shonky" and "shonk" to mean, respectively poor quality or questionable goods/practices, and those who trade in them.
I've heard two versions of its history; first that the word used to have antisemitic overtones and was nineteenth-century slang for "Jew", in much the same way as "shyster" retains its ethnic meaning, and second that it's a Yiddish import into English.
For me, Google yields only poor quality, questionable results. Is there anyone who can shed some light on this?
posted by Fiasco da Gama to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
OED says yes:

[Shortened form of SHONICKER.]

An offensive name for a Jew. Hence {sm}shonky a.1 (see quot. 1951).
1938 W. MATTHEWS Cockney Past & Present v. 153, I diffidently suggest the following words as the most familiar slang terms rarely used except by cockneys..shonk, nose, Jew. 1940 R. POSTGATE Verdict of Twelve I. v. 75 Let's have a bit of fun with the shonks. 1951 PARTRIDGE Dict. Slang (ed. 4) Add. 1168/1 Shonky, adj., mean; money-grubbing: late C. 19-20. 1981 ‘W. HAGGARD’ Money Men xv. 174 ‘Brighton?.. It's full of shonks.’.. ‘Which means there are hotels with night clerks.’

also, shoniker:

[Orig. uncertain: see quots. 1966, 1970.]

An offensive name for a Jew (see also quot. 1914).
1914 JACKSON & HELLYER Vocab. Criminal Slang 75 Shoniker, current among cosmopolitan thieves, especially Jews. A neophyte or inexperienced hand at the game. 1927 Dialect Notes V. 462 Shonniker, n., a Jewish pawn~broker. 1932 J. T. FARRELL Young Lonigan vi. 269 Two hooknoses..did come along. Andy and Johnny O'Brien..stopped the shonickers. 1966 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. 1964 XLII. 45 Thus folk etymology derives shonicker from Yiddish schnozzle... My colleague..suggests a derivation from Hanukkah. 1970 L. M. FEINSILVER Taste of Yiddish 338 Shon, shonk, shonky, shoncker, shonniker. These opprobrious terms for a Jew in England are supposed to have come from Yiddish shoniker (petty trader or peddler).

posted by vacapinta at 2:54 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The OED says that the noun shonk is 'an offensive name for a Jew', and is itself a shortened form of shonicker, which has the same definition. The origin of shonicker is uncertain.
posted by nomis at 2:55 AM on July 15, 2008

Thank you, both of you.
For the record, were I to stay in a hotel, I would insist that they employed a night-clerk.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:32 AM on July 15, 2008

Holy crap I've been using this word my whole life and had no idea it was anti-semitic.
posted by goo at 3:46 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

goo: snap.
posted by pompomtom at 3:51 AM on July 15, 2008

I started to use this word after being in Oz as I thought it sounded such a great word. I remember seeing a news article on the tv about 'shonky petrol'. I assume that it has largely moved away from these origins if it is considered acceptable on ABC News in Australia. Still, I will avoid using it now though.

But then again when Pakistan played the Aussies at cricket it was acceptable to refer to the team as 'pakis' rather than 'pakistanis' on the news too. This would certainly not be the case in the UK where using it is an epithet could get you prosecuted.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:11 AM on July 15, 2008

Pressed post to quickly-

Is this still acceptable in Oz in relation to Pakistanis? I am only going back to 2001 so it hardly seems aeons ago.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 5:13 AM on July 15, 2008

Paki doesn't have the same racial overtones in Australia as it does in the UK, it's another form of contraction like football becoming `footy', blowflies becoming `blowies' etc.

I always had a vague idea that shonky was something like wonky, as in not quite right. I guess if nobody knows it's anti semitic (and I had no idea), and it's not used in any offensive way, it loses it's original connotations.

For example, in primary school we had a thing which we called `jou jump' (that's how we spelled it). You'd throw something, like a collectable footy card or a small value coin out to a crowd, and everyone would leap to get it. About 20 years after that, laying in bed and thinking random thoughts, it suddenly clicked that it was really `Jew jump', as in the nasty idea of leaping to get something of small value. I was somewhat shocked, but we had NO idea as kids that it was anything racial whatsoever.
posted by tomble at 5:45 AM on July 15, 2008

Is this still acceptable in Oz in relation to Pakistanis?

Just the cricket team (which probably accounts for 90% of Aussies' references to Pakistanis...).

Pakis, Windies, Poms etc.
posted by pompomtom at 6:38 AM on July 15, 2008

Words change. I was shocked when I learned that "nappy headed" was racist. The reason was, I learned the word from hearing blacks use it, and it seemed to me to refer to a black guy that didn't keep is afro neat. LOL. I only learned the ugly side thanks to Don Imus.

Where I come from, in the American Midwest, if you get cheated on a deal, we say you got 'jyped'. Little did we know this was a reference to so-called 'Gypsies'.
posted by Goofyy at 8:18 AM on July 15, 2008

I was embarassed to discover Paki was offensive in the UK, as it certainly isn't used that way in Australia.
Why it is offensive in Britain remains a mystery to me, none of my white or asian acquaintances could explain it (although I only brought it up once or twice) - "It just is!"
I didn't understand, as I am happy to be called an Aussie, and know plenty of Brits.
posted by bystander at 8:06 PM on July 15, 2008

That might be where the word comes from, but I say shonky (in New Zealand) and I only associate it with 'crappy' or 'badly made' there's nothing antisemitic about it's usage whatsoever here.
posted by The Monkey at 1:04 AM on July 16, 2008

>Why it is offensive in Britain remains a mystery to me ... I didn't understand, as I am happy to be called an Aussie,

You probably haven't been beaten up by NF dickheads who called you 'Aussie'.
posted by pompomtom at 9:16 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

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