The wisdom of using “shylock” as the Word of the Day at your coffeehouse

By | February 1, 2013

Carole and I stopped at the Starbucks in Williston, VT after my doctor’s appointment this morning; my throat was killing me and I was desperate for some hot tea. While we were waiting for our drinks with the other drones, I noticed with some amazement that this particular Starbucks had happily posted a “Word of the Day” on a little blackboard … and today’s Word was “shylock”.

I wish I’d thought to grab a picture with my Droid, but the definition that they gave was “a grasping, avaricious moneylender” or words to that effect.

I glanced at Carole and said “I’m not sure that’s really a … good word to use, given its anti-Semitic connotations, and the whole debate over the ‘Merchant of Venice’ and so on.”

Carole did a double-take over her own and said “Yeah. Huh. I wonder if they get the Word of the Day from corporate or something.”

The barista overheard us and said “No, we come up with those here.” Then she cheerily repeated the definition for us with the air of someone happy to have learned something and happy to share it with her customers. And when we repeated our doubts as to the propriety of using “shylock” as a word of the day, given the likelihood of causing offense among Jewish customers, she was surprised and confused. Apparently she wasn’t really familiar with Shakespeare’s play.

I tried to explain about the whole “contrasting the cruel, greedy nature of the Jew with the mercy of the Christian characters” and Carole chimed in with the “Yeah, and he was made to give up his religion and convert to Christianity and this was seen as a happy ending for the character.”

The barista said “Huh. Maybe we should take that down.” And she did so between drinks, sliding the little blackboard off the counter (where it had been positioned so every customer coming in would look right at it). While she was making my drink, though, I heard another employee ask what was up and the barista said “Apparently it’s antisemitic.”

I sort of suspect that the minute we left the store the little WOTD blackboard went right back up on the counter. But I’d also be surprised if no one else comments on it.

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4 thoughts on “The wisdom of using “shylock” as the Word of the Day at your coffeehouse

  1. Karen

    Ugh. I’m continually amazed at the lack of awareness people have for cultural references, and how genuinely in-curious they are.

  2. Carole Furr

    I didn’t take from it the same impression as Jay. I thought she was glad to be informed. Jay might be right, though. I didn’t hear the final comment, so I don’t know the tone of it.

  3. Fed_Up

    I’m betting they had no clue, & meant absolutely nothing by it.

    1. Jay Furr Post author

      Oh, I’m sure they meant nothing by it — they just didn’t realize that to many people, it’s a word with a history of offense. It happens now and then.

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