Archiver > BRITISH-JEWRY > 2006-06 > 1151528290

From: "Eve Richardson" <>
Subject: Fw: [AMJHISTORY] "Peruvian" Jews
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 17:12:10 -0400

Here's some further input on the subject of the term "Peruvian"Jews.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Lyn Slome" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 11:26 AM
Subject: Re: [AMJHISTORY] "Peruvian" Jews

South African Jews used to say that a "Peruvnik" was someone who "hadn't had
all his corners knocked off." Also said as: "Oh, he's a real Ambassador from

Perhaps the below will be helpful.

Lyn Slome
Director of Library and Archives
American Jewish Historical Society

Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 06:17:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Belling, V, Veronica, Mrs" <>
Subject: Term 'Peruvian' in Harkavy's dictionary

The term 'Peruvian' was current in South African English literature
between approximately 1890 and 1910. It was used by gentiles and by
anglicised Jews to describe the rude or uncouth behaviour of recent
Eastern European immigrants who had not yet acquired acceptable
standards of western cutural refinement. Yiddish speakers would refer
to the term as 'Peruvnik'.

The etymology of the term is somewhat obscure. The most common
explanationion in S.A. English is that it is an acronym for Polish and
Russian Union, a Jewish club founded in Kimberley, the diamonond mining
centre, in the 1870's. However all sorts of other fairly way out
suggestions have been made, such as connecting it to Baron de Hirsch's
colonisation scheme (which was in Argentina rather than Peru), and a
suggestion that it might have had some connection with the Yiddish verb
'pruvn' meaning 'to try'. And there are various others.

However what I am trying to ascertain, on behalf of Prof Milton Shain,
Director of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, who discusses the
term in his book 'The roots of antisemitism in South Africa', is
whether it was commonly used on the Lower East Side, or ever appeared
in early American Jewish literature. The reason that I am asking is
because the term is listed in Harkavy's dictionary 1928 edition,
although only on the English side and without any explanation. It is
simply translated as 'Peruvyanish', with the secondary definition:
'Peruvyanishe kore', translated as 'Peruvian bark'. I subsequently
found out that 'Peruvian bark' was the household name for 'quinine',
which was made out of the bark of a tree most readily available in Peru
in those days. It was a word that would have been known by the early
immigrants, as malaria was common in Eastern Europe and I believe
quinine was also used as a more general analgesic.

'Peruvian' is the only South American country term which made it into
Harkavy's dictionary, which includes the European terms: French,
Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian. On the other hand Harkavy does not
include Russian or American. In the case of German, Spanish, Italian,
and English, the personal noun, i.e. 'a Daytsh' or 'an Italyener', is
also given and in all cases, other than Dutch, the adjectival phrase,
i.e. 'di Fransoyzishe shprakh' is also provided. In the case of Spanish
it also includes the term for 'Spanish fly' - 'Shpanishe flig'.

On the basis of the above comparisons I am trying to figure out how and
why 'Peruvian' came to be listed.

Was it just because of the country? Was the term, in its South African
meaning, known on the Lower East Side? If it was not used there, could
Harkavy have been familiar with the term 'Peruvian' in its South
African context? Or is it just included because the word was needed as
a qualifier to translate the then commonplace medicine 'Peruvian bark'-
quinine. And finally could the term 'Peruvian bark', a bitter medicine,
tie up with its meaning in a South African context?

Any comments, suggestions or explanations would be appreciated.

Veronica Belling
Cape Town

-----Original Message-----
From: Eve Richardson [mailto:]
Sent: Tue 6/27/2006 11:24 AM
Subject: Re: [AMJHISTORY] "Peruvian" Jews

Is anyone familiar with the derogatory term "Peruvian Jew" ?
Does anyone know its origin ?

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