Getting Wolfowitzed

ON LANGUAGE

By Philologos

Published April 15, 2005, issue of April 15, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘Getting Wolfowitzed: Bolkestein as villain” was the caption of a column by John Vinocur in the March 29 International Herald Tribune. It’s not the first time that “to Wolfowitz” has been used as a verb in the English language, but it’s different from the other times.

But first, who is Bolkestein and how was he Wolfowitzed?

Frits Bolkestein, a former Dutch politician and Cabinet minister now serving as European Union commissioner, recently has come under attack in the wealthier European countries for issuing them a directive to open up all jobs in their economies to migrants from poorer E.U. members. As Vinocur puts it, blue-collar workers in places such as France, Britain, Spain and Italy are up in arms at the thought that they will have “to defend la patrie from Bolkestein’s hordes of invading Czech plumbers,” who will take away jobs, it is feared, and drive down wages.

But in addition to a policy problem, Bolkestein has a name problem. In Holland, the name Bolkestein is perfectly normal sounding. Yet in many European countries it sounds not only foreign but also — think of Finkelstein, Goldstein, Rubenstein, Rosenstein — characteristically Jewish. And although Frits Bolkestein is no more Jewish than is George W. Bush, he has — because of his name — Vinocur writes, “gotten Wolfowitzed. Over the past months, just as [Paul] Wolfowitz before him had been marked as the plotter behind a world clash of civilizations, Bolkestein [has become] the sinister personification of a perceived cabal to tear apart Europe’s social protections.” As French politician Philippe de Villiers put it the other day, “Bolkestein, Frankenstein, un million de chomeurs en plus” — “Bolkestein or Frankenstein, it means another million unemployed.”

Vinocur does not explicitly say that this “cabal” is perceived as being Jewish. Nor do politicians like de Villiers. Yet they imply as much — as did Bolkestein himself when he recently remarked about his name and the reaction to it: “[It] has been misused. There’s an element of xenophobia in all of this, not to say more.”

For “more,” read “antisemitism.”

For Vinocur, then, to be “Wolfowitzed” means to have a Jewish-sounding name that is played upon by one’s political opponents in order to suggest that one’s policies are the result of one’s real or alleged Jewishness. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, nominee for World Bank president, is of course, not the only Jew to whom this has been done in recent years. Indeed “Wolfowitzing,” which began in earnest with the invasion of Iraq, is generally a procedure involving several names at once. Any mention of the neoconservative “cabal” that is widely alleged to have gotten America into Iraq is almost always sure to include additional names such Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, Norman Podhoretz and others of Jewish provenance, the insinuation being that pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli interests are behind American foreign policy.

“To Wolfowitz” in Vinocur’s sense is to behave as Paul Wolfowitz has been behaved toward; this makes it the opposite of previous uses of the verb, which mean to behave like Paul Wolfowitz. Thus, for example, the first writer on record to have spoken of “Wolfowitzing,” Australian journalist Tim Blair, accused his colleague Kerry O’Brien two years ago of having been “Wolfowitzed” about Iraq — i.e., of have been taken in by false claims meant to justify the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Used in this way, “Wolfowitzing” can be defined as politically deceiving the public by means of a deliberate manipulation of the facts.

Many other politicians have found themselves turned into verbs. “Bushed,” “Cheyneyed,” “Clintoned,” “Kerreyed,” “Deaned,” “Kissingered” — the list is long and growing. American English, that most flexible and inventive of languages, now allows you to verbalize not only almost any noun or noun phrase (e.g., “to shoehorn,” “to stonewall,’ “to blindside”) but almost any name, as well.

Few if any of these name verbs will survive, for the simple reason that they do not function independently of the person from whom they have been coined. To “Clinton” means no more than to resemble Bill Clinton, just as “to Kerry’ means to resemble John Kerry. It wouldn’t make much sense to say you were “Clintoned” by a friend or ‘Kerreyed’ by a next-door neighbor, which is why such expressions will not outlast Clinton’s or Kerry’s own public careers.

However, to “Wolfowitz” does function independently of Paul Wolfowitz; this is why one can say that Frits Bolkestein has been “Wolfowitzed” by Europeans. As used by John Vinocur, it is even a useful neologism. We don’t need a new word for public manipulating or prevaricating. But if “Wolfowitzing” means using a Jewish-sounding name to make antisemitic innuendoes, this is something that has lacked a word until now. As such, “to Wolfowitz” might have a future. I propose we check it out again in a year or two, when Paul Wolfowitz has been comfortably ensconced for a while at the World Bank.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.