It sounds Jewish, but is it?

Words with ‘Jew’ in them and whether they’re Jewish

It sounds Jewish, but is it? photo

Not everything that sounds Jewish is Jewish. Some cases in point:

A Jew's harp

… is a twangy, boingy instrument named either for the fact that it somewhat resembles a Biblical harp, or maybe through a mispronunciation of "jaw harp," since it is held in the mouth when played.

Norman Jewison

… is, unlike many of his fellow directors, not Jewish. Jewison directed the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, the Oscar-nominated Moonstruck, the cult-classic Rollerball, the original Thomas Crown Affair, the based-on-a-true-story-and-also-a-Dylan-song The Hurricane, Agnes of God … and on the one hand Fiddler on the Roof, but on the other, Jesus Christ Superstar.


… was the name of the Atlantic goliath grouper, either so-called because it conformed to kosher laws, or because they had large jaws and "jawfish" became "jewfish." Several Australian fish are also called this, possibly because the native "dhufish" was misheard.

In most cases, they no longer officially have those names used by official fish officials. But one kind does live off the coast of the town of Jewfish, Florida and they haven't changed their name yet. Also, there is a Jewfish Point in California… which is not on the Atlantic.


Yes, Tel Aviv is a major diamond center, but that is a recent development compared to the age of the word, which goes back to Middle English and ultimately has a Latin root meaning "plaything." Don't tell that to the guy who spent three months' salary on an engagement ring though …


… is short for Jacksonville University, in Florida.


This is a form of spiritualism originating in Africa. Because its belief system involved power given to objects, it likewise has the "plaything" origin given by French colonizers; an alternate theory says the word is from the African language Hausa.


From "Jujubes were first produced some time before 1920. The "jujube" is an edible berry that grows in the tropics. But the name of the berry has nothing to do with the make-up of the candy, which is more likely related to one of the basic ingredients of both Jujubes and Jujyfruits: ju-ju gum. The original flavors were lilac, violet, rose, spearmint and lemon."


This is a book (later, a movie and now a remake) about a fictional game involving a portal to a jungle. What might surprise you, however, is that its author, Chris Van Allsburg, is a converted Jew. More confounding is that he wrote the Christmas book (later, a movie) Polar Express.

Judas Priest

This epic heavy metal act was named for a euphemism for "Jesus Christ!" created to avoid involving that name after stubbing one's toe or burning one's toast. Similar expressions include: "Cheese and rice," "Jeepers Creepers" and even "Jiminy Cricket."


… is the name of the plant, or the fiber it produces, that is used to make the fabrics burlap and gunny, as in "burlap bag" and "gunny sack." The word "jute" is probably a version "jhuta" or "jota," from the language of the India's Oriya people.


This is a Japanese martial art that was brought to Brazil and modified there. In Japanese, the words roughly mean "yielding art," as its philosophy is based on letting the attacker's own energy work against him. It was devised for unarmed people to protect themselves from armed assailants.

Meanwhile, the following words are indeed Jewish or Jew-related…

"Wandering Jew" plant

Not a reference to an actual Jew but to a symbolic one: the homeless, stateless "wandering Jew" in a parable by Jesus. The term is applied to any of nine plant species with "wandering," winding vines. The plants themselves do not wander.


The intuitive sense that a person is Jewish.


An "Afro"-style hairdo, on a Jewish person.


The blending of Jewish or Hebrew lyrics and melodies with bluegrass arrangements and instrumentation. Acts include Nefesh Mountain, Klezmer Mountain Boys, Rocky Mountain Jewgrass and other bands that seem to have the word "mountain" in their names.


Jewhoo was a website that listed Jewish celebrities; since it shut down, the name has been picked up by many others. Jewgle bills itself as "the Jewish search engine." And JewTube offers "curated Jewish videos."


The stage name of the unnecessarily tall Sean Altman, formerly of the a cappella group Rockappella, when he sings his Jewish novelty songs.


There is no real consensus on the meaning of this term. Uses range from a unicorn bedecked with a tallit and Jewish star … to a young Jewish celebrity who appeals to young women of all backgrounds.


This is the title of a South Park episode about Cartman supposedly seeing such a creature, a Jewish chupacabra. The episode involves an Easter egg hunt and Cartman flirting with converting to Judaism after Kyle, his Jewish friend, explains Passover to him. There is also a tranquilizer-induced dream with a musical number. It's … a South Park episode.


A play (later a movie and a book) about a Jewish man teaching his non-Jewish friend about Judaism, so that the latter can meet and marry a Jewish woman.

Paul Wieder photo 375
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