Saturday, 16 September 2017

Words and labels and stereotyping!

According to a news report linguistics experts have been researching words which have disappeared from use in the English language. They include words like "quacksalver" - a person who "dishonestly claims knowledge of, or skill in, medicine; a pedlar of false cures". A useful term, no doubt. Then there is a "percher" - someone "who aspires to a higher rank or status; an ambitious or self-assertive person".

I particularly like "snout-fair", which means "having a fair countenance; fair-faced, comely, handsome", and "sillytonian", which means "a silly or gullible person, especially one considered as belonging to a notional sect of such people". I can't help hearing the name of a certain school in there! "Merry-go-sorry" is another good one, a phrase describing a mixtures of joy and sorrow.

 The academics concerned would like some of the words to be brought back into everyday use. However their final list includes "slug-a-bed" - meaning a late riser - a term I use frequently. Does this mean my language is antiquated?

In this age of cuts in so many areas of education, I don't know whether to be relieved or annoyed that academics can still spend vast amounts of time on such stuff, and presumably get paid for doing so.

A school has been in the news because it decided to that made its uniform gender neutral so that transgender teenagers did not feel discriminated against. They did this by opting for trousers for everyone. The columnist Hadley Freeman wondered why they did not choose skirts for all or just keep the options open and let boys wear skirts if they chose just as girls can wear trousers. A much less socially acceptable option. Why do we feel more threatened by the idea of a boy in a skirt than that of a girl in trousers?

Hadley Freeman got onto this from considering the difficulty of buying gender-neutral toys for her two-year old twin boys. Clearly this gender-neutral stuff still has a long way to go.

And was it gender role-models that made the groups of boys on the bus I travelled on today behave as they did? There were half a dozen of them, probably aged about 12, having difficulty sitting still. I got on the bus and the first thing I did was ask one of them to stop hanging from the standing-passenger straps with his feet on two seats. I wasn't especially bossy about it, just reminding him that other people had to sit on those seats.

He stepped down but my remarks prompted one of his mates to comment that people did not "have to" sit on those seats; they could sit there or there or there (indicating empty seats) but not there (indicating the front seat occupied by a stiffly disapproving older lady). Another chimed in at that point: "She's miserable, threatened to slap me. That's #child abuse." So I joined in the game, telling him that what he said could be seen as #cheek. We "hash-tagged" to and fro for a bit, while the boys leapt around the bus like feral creatures. Not threatening but barely civilised. It's a good job the bus was mostly empty: just me and the miserable #child abuse lady.

Maybe they had simply had too much sugar. Maybe they had never been taught how to behave on public transport. Maybe they were just "being lads". But were they "being lads" or am I guilty of gender stereotyping? Would a bunch of girls of the same age behave in the same way?

I wonder!

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