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LILBURN, Georgia (WXIA) — Mark Cooper starts each and every day with a coffee and a crossword. But he rarely ends up horribly offended before he can finish the puzzle.
That’s what happened Friday when he saw the clue for number 32 Down in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It read, “Shylock, e.g.” The answer was a three-letter word, and he hoped it wasn’t what he thought it was.
“The answer was ‘Jew,’ and it shocked me. I was stunned that it wasn’t caught,” Cooper said.
He said he knew it was technically referring to the character in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Shylock was a greedy moneylender, and he was Jewish. His name now doubles as a racial slur.
Cooper, whose parents escaped the Holocaust before World War II, said it doesn’t matter if the puzzle was referring to a character — it still shouldn’t be used.
“If they put ‘African American’ as a clue, they wouldn’t put ‘Uncle Tom’ as the answer,” Cooper said, referring to the character in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin whose name is now also an insult.
The Anti-Defamation League received several phone calls from offended readers Friday. The ADL monitors hate groups and keeps track of offensive language. They said the puzzle wasn’t a major concern, but it was troubling.
“There have been debates for a long time about just how virulently anti-Semitic Shakespeare may have been when he created that character,” said ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut. “We just think they should have avoided the whole matter by just not publishing the crossword.”
The AJC syndicates their crossword through the Los Angeles Times. They did not respond to a request for comment from 11Alive Sunday.
Cooper and his brother spoke to representatives of the paper Friday. In an email, they said they didn’t mean to offend anyone, and referred to the dictionary definition of the term, which cites its Shakespearean roots.
Tribune Media Services apologized for using “Shylock” as a clue in a nationally syndicated crossword puzzle for the answer “Jew” after the Anti-Defamation League said it was insensitive.
The media syndicate said in its apology that appeared in newspapers on Sunday that the puzzle “should not have been distributed with that clue.”
Tribune Media added that it “is very sensitive to racial or cultural references in the content we distribute and regret that this slipped through.”
The ADL had called on the syndicate’s editors to apologize for using the clue after it appeared on Friday in newspapers across the country.
“Perhaps the puzzle authors were unaware of the use of Shakespeare’s Shylock character throughout the years as a vehicle for anti-Semitism,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman wrote in a letter to Tribune Media Services. “Selecting Shylock to elicit the answer ‘Jew’ demonstrates cultural ignorance and an extreme lack of sensitivity. Even if done inadvertently, such a linkage perpetuates classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as evil and money-hungry.”