Discriminative Dictionary of Turkish (GIT North America)

For the interview on the Discriminative Dictionary of Turkish (Ayrımcı Sözlük) published at the GIT-North America on March 11, 2012 click here.

“Dictionary of Discriminatory Sayings, Proverbs, and Idioms” was launched by Ümit Kurt and Ahmet Ozcan. The online dictionary calls for contributions for a collective conscious-raising about sexist, racist, and xenophobic expressions in Turkish, not only to problematize their effect on the way we think about ‘others’ but also to expose them as hate crimes. Ozcan, who is currently writing a PhD dissertation entitled “Last Kurdish Bandits” at Bogazici University, kindly shared with GIT-North America the idea behind their initiative.

Discriminative Dictionary
Dictionary of Discriminatory* Sayings, Proverbs, and Idioms

(*Sexist, Racist,Xenophobic etc.)

by Ahmet Ozcan

“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare upon the brains of the living.” (Karl Marx)
“Language is not neutral. It is not merely a vehicle, which carries ideas. It is itself a shaper of ideas.” (Dale Spender)


The specters of the past are haunting us. The generations of the present, anxious and hesitant about their future, are clutching onto the legacy of their ancestors, believing that they can exist in the modern world, whose salient and permanent characteristic is obscurity and volatility, only under its shadow. Since they are afraid of facing themselves right here and right now, they identify the present with its past, thus reproduce it under its shadow. They prefer to repeat, as they are not used to create in exactly the same way that they are forced to become stereotypes, as they”cannot” think. This legacy, reproduced every day by the ordinary language, is not totally innocent. It contains wisdom, discretion, and reason; but also spreads centuries-long social hysterias, prejudices, and obsessions.Language is not a neutral means of communication; it is the very instant reproduction of the present power relations and of the domination of one gender, religion, sect, race, and class over the other(s). Language creates others. The other of the present, through language, is thrown next to the others of the past.


While Turkish Linguistic Society has begun to erase, in hurry, the discriminative idioms and proverbs in the dictionaries; we aim to collect and assemble them not only to analyze the reproduction of discrimination via daily language, but also to expose and condemn them as hate crimes against society and humanity. Our objective is to problematize, rather than neglect, the discriminative language. We call for your contribution to this collective study.

About the Idea of Discriminative Dictionary:

As everybody else, I have been witnessing the discriminative language in my daily life. These are the sayings that are shared only among the friends and the family and told as reasonable and true judgments, since “there can be no smoke without a fire.” As soon as I classified the discriminative sayings, idioms, and proverbs that I’ve collected with the question “who is the other?” the data shows, by itself, how discrimination has penetrated into our daily language and shaped us through it. These sayings that emerged in a specific period with a specific cause differ according to their sexist, racist, and xenophobic characteristics; for instance, an idiom could be both sexist and racist at the same time. I was sure that this was only the tip of a giant iceberg and I dream about a “Discriminative Dictionary” not only to analyze the whole data for studying discrimination in the mentality of generations, but also to expose and condemn discrimination from our daily language. Such a dictionary could only be possible through a collective study and thus, with my friend Ümit Kurt from the Department of History at the Clark University, I’ve established the blog on Discriminative Dictionary. I am happy to note that as far as now, the blog received a really warm and enthusiastic welcome from the public.

The problematization of the discriminative language:

At the very moment that I read the news reporting that the Turkish Linguistic Society has created a committee of academics to erase the discriminative idioms and proverbs in the dictionaries, I thought that we should problematize, rather than neglect, this daily-used discriminative discourse which is, through ordinary language, reproduced and transmitted to the new generations. In other words, in order to exclude discrimination from language, it is certainly not enough to expect hopefully that discriminatory sayings will be forgotten one day; on the contrary, it is indispensable to criticize, falsify, and condemn them as crimes of hate against society and humanity. Now, at this very point, the Discriminative Dictionary aims to contribute humbly into such a conscious effort to exclude discrimination from the daily language.

The politics of emotions:

As opposed to the definition of human as “homo-economicus” in the early 18th century; the 21st century, which has begun with the Arab Spring, reminds that human is also an emotional (thumos) social being. In other words, s/he is ruled neither only by class interests nor by a cold daily rationality, s/he is also shaped by emotions that are shared and clashed in society. The discriminative discourse, which is especially on the rise in Turkey in recent years, has been fed by social emotions like pride, rage, and hate. (This is exactly why discrimination is called a hate crime.) However, in order to oppose discrimination, the newly developing democratic political culture in Turkey should radiate counter-emotions like self-esteem, toleration, empathy, and love. I believe, with reference to Hrant Dink’s political position on the Armenian issue, that a sincere sadness is maybe the first emotion that we, as the whole society, need to feel about our dark past. I think that the famous “existing political and economic contradictions” will acquire a new dimension in the face of such a powerful emotion. Here, the Discriminative Dictionary aims humbly to contribute into the radiation of such emotions, i.e. the emotions deriving from understanding “the other”.

Masaccio-The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden (1425) (Before and After the Restoration)

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