Crosswords are known for their entertainment value, but a recent inclusion in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s puzzle is creating quite a bit of attention. One of the clues in last Friday’s edition was “Shylock,” a word widely regarded as offensive when used to describe Jewish people. And lo and behold, the clue pointed to a three-letter word: Jew.
“The answer was ‘Jew,’ and it shocked me. I was stunned that it wasn’t caught,” said Mark Cooper, just one of the newspaper readers who discovered the controversial crossword inclusion.
See, Shylock was a character in one of Shakespeare’s plays (“The Merchant of Venice”), but, as WXIA-TV notes, the term also doubles as a racial slur. The individual in the fictional portrayal was a Jewish moneylender who was immensely greedy. Thus, the title is less than endearing when used today.
While Cooper said that the term was being used to describe the character and not necessarily in a derogatory manner, he still believes, given its history, that Shylock shouldn’t have been used in the puzzle. And considering that his own parents escaped the Holocaust just before World War II, the issue is personal.
“If they put ‘African American’ as a clue, they wouldn’t put ‘Uncle Tom’ as the answer,” Cooper continued, also adding that, “It’s just as inflammatory as what Paula Dean said.”
The avid crossword puzzler wasn’t alone in his angst either, reports the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group that tracks anti-Semitism. In fact, others complained about it too. While the organization said it isn’t of major concern when compared to other violations and instances of anti-Jewish sentiment, it is, nonetheless, troubling.
Following complaints, Tribune Media Services, which syndicates the puzzles, apologized for the word’s inclusion. Noting that the company is “very sensitive to racial or cultural references in the content we distribute,” the newspaper company expressed regret that this wasn’t caught before publication. The “I’m sorry” was printed in papers and also sent directly to the ADL.
“The puzzle should not have been distributed with that clue, and we apologize for the offense it caused,” Tribune’s managing editor wrote to the ADL. “The issue has been discussed with the creators and editors involved, and the clue will not be used again in a Tribune Media Services crossword.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, praised the decision in a press release on the organization’s website, commending Tribune over the apology.
“They have made clear to us that they understood this was an offensive stereotype, and that the Shylock clue should never have made it into the puzzle,” he said.