Words of the Week: Matti Friedman

“When I started reporting on Israel for the international press, I was made aware of linguistic quirks unique to this particular beat. One good example was the word ‘settlement,’ which, in ordinary usage, means ‘a small village,’ an isolated community out of Little House on the Prairie or perhaps colonial Rhodesia—but which we often used to describe suburban towns of 50,000 in the West Bank or certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem. A typical reader of the English language envisioned one thing, while the reality was another. Another quirk was our use of the word ‘capital,’ which we refused to apply to Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem is Israel’s official seat of government, and that is the meaning of the word, which has nothing to do with international recognition. Or there was the word ‘disputed,’ which we weren’t allowed to use for the West Bank, even though there’s obviously a dispute over the territory—the word ‘disputed’ would make it seem like Israel might have a case. Our vocabulary was a kind of political code.”

Opening paragraph of Matti Friedman’s “Zero-Sum Game” (Jewish Review of Books)

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