Monday, 9 November 2009

No Hetero!

I've discovered a new reason to love the internet: Bryan Safi's 'That's Gay' segments from a US show called infoMania. This guy is a genius: He's funny, camp-but-owns-it, rather than camp-to-amuse-straight-people, and he identifies and dismantles casual and not-so-casual homophbia in popular culture.
The title 'That's Gay' is spoken in a disparaging tone (as in 'ew, that's so gay') but the title graphics are a cute, cheery rainbow design, immediately forcing the viewer to remember that the negative use of this phrase and the second class citizenship of the queer community are, in some mysterious way, linked. It's a very clever show.
The thing that really caught my eye was a segment on the use in hip-hop music of the phrase 'No Homo' - i.e. "Not that I'm gay or anything!", possibly short for "I'm no homo, but..." Click here to watch. It has typical gangsta rap lyrics that get quite graphic, so watch out if playing it in the office...
As Safi points out, this phrase is highly offensive. The idea is that it allows straight homophobes to act in ways that might be construed as effeminate or gay (male to male affection, appreciation of beauty in anything other than female sex organs, use of sexual slang towards other men) without allying themselves with the queer community they hate so much. I guess this is KIND of a step forward in that it frees them up to be slightly less macho absoloutely all of the time. However, the people specifying that their words or actions 'no homo' usually make multiple references to their heterosexual exploits as well. By sayin 'no homo' they are not giving us shock breaking news that they aren't gay, the are making quite sure we remember that they don't LIKE gay people and don't even want to share your train of thought with a bunch of queers.
When Lil Wayne says 'no homo', Peter Tatchell does not fall onto the floor weeping in shock & disappointment that one of the most promising gay hip hop role models has gone back into the closet. We can extrapolate that he's 'no homo'(or at least that he's not comfortable with any homosexual feelings he might be experiencing...) from the desperately overt heterosexuality portrayed in his songs, videos and lifestyle. Why say it at all?

But now I am worried. If doing something as innocuous as stating affection for friends, admiring a landscape or rhyming 'luck an'' with 'buttfuckin' throws doubt on hip hop artist's sexuality, what about the thousands of ostensibly heterosexual things I say and do? Things like showing affection to a male friend, deciding to wear make-up, even (gasp) enjoying hip hop! I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea about me, I mean, gross. Imagine people thinking I'm hetero. I'd never live it down. But I've come up with a solution: No hetero. It works just like no homo, but you say it after doing something terminally straight.

"I just bought the most gorgeous pair of heels! No hetero!"
"I think David Tennant's kind of hot... no hetero."
"Fuck you, Nick Griffin! No hetero."

and for the boys,

"Hey who cares if my accessories don't match! And sandals are just more comfortable with socks! No hetero."
"Hey! Golddigga! I love this song! No hetero."
"No hetero, but Megan Fox has an amazing body..."

I think it could take off.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Bad women drivers, funny foreigners and stereotypical poofs? It's OK: It's "edgy".

What the hell is happening to comedy? For most of my teenage and adult life, 'alternative' comedy has been pretty much mainstream, with the Jim Davidsons and Bob Monkhouses of the world being viewed as bigoted has-beens. Jokes about nagging mothers in law, black people with 'hilarious' accents and mincing, prancing gay men were disdained as offensive or, more damningly, unfunny. Comedy got surreal, monologue rather than one liner based, and was even occasionally delivered by the women, ethnic minorities and queers who had previously been the butts of the joke .
I'm not saying that the new breed of comedy was clean, wholesome and politically correct. Where would the fun be in that? It was just that prejudice and bigotry were perhaps more likely to be the target of the comedy than its basis, also with the more culturally diverse collection of comedians, routines about minority cultures were more likely to come 'from the horse's mouth' than from a platform of straight white male superiority.
I suppose my generation has been spoiled by the range of alternative comedy available. The old-school hasn't gone away, it just stopped being the be all and end all, and a generation rejoiced.

But in the newish, now somewhat shop-soiled millenium, a scary new trend has taken place. Comedians show up making jokes about the queen both being old and having a vagina*, smelly gypsies** and gay men liking musical theatre***. Are they washed up, old school comedians on tired reruns on 'the worst of the 80s' compilations? Nope, they're just "edgy". It's postironic, apparently. These guys are deliberately being provocative and making us laugh out loud in shock as they break the taboos no-one else will touch. They're laughing AT the racism and sexism and homophobia we all secretly harbour. That's the theory, anyway. To me it just sounds like old recycled crap. I heard some of it on radio 4 the other day. RADIO BLOODY FOUR! (think NPR if you're in the US) If you can't get PC liberal bias on radio 4, what's the world coming to? And yet, I was hearing jokes about the collective noun for young frogs being 'french exchange trip', a German guest was ridiculed for having an incomprehensible accent (it wasn't) and laws against women drivers were touted as a good idea in a panel game hosted by David Mitchell. Mitchell is pretty funny, and is definitely not old hat, so why is he, like so many comedians, going for this tired old material? Is it an eighties trend too far, or was the halcyon decade of jokes not based purely on the prejudices of the hegemony an abberation in a centuries old tradition of comedy?
Watch out women, queers and foreigners: Normal service has been resumed.
*Frankie Boyle, **Jimmy Carr, ***Demetri Martin for god's sake! Is no-one safe?
That silly woman and hairy lesbian Word Geek

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Recently I've found two of my long standing kneejerk reactions in conflict with one another.

Immovable Truth #1: Workers who are unfailry treated can and should strike and should have the support of the public. As a child of the north and the eighties, it would be difficult fo strikes not to be an emotive subject for me. As such, when the bin men in Leeds went on strike, my reaction was 'right on, go for it!' - as weirdly70s as that may have sounded.

Immovable Truth #2: Men and women should be paid equally for equal work. Not just the same job, but EQUAL work, so that could be two different jobs that are equally as challenging as each other, but one might be a job more dominated by women, e.g. care work, while another might be something we associate with men, e.g refuse collection, but they should still get the same pay. Especially if both jobs are paid by the same agency, e.g. Leeds city council.

I'm pretty good on non-sexist language, but even I struggle with saying refuse collector, or 'bin-person', as much as I struggle with 'dinner person' or 'lunch supervisor'. It's dinnerlady, and part of my soul rebels, even when I'm talking about a MALE I have no problem with a guy serving fishfingers and chips* in the school cafeteria, or a lady emptying my wheelie bin of a Tuedsay, in fact I rejoice on the rare occasions I see these things, but the societal sexism around certain jobs runs deep, language-deep. As a result, not many women are binmen. I've NEVER seen one, in fact. The odd dinnerbloke, and male care assistant, yes. Female bus drivers, rare, but getting more common. Binladies? Nope. Nada. And funnily enough, which sector of Leeds city council employees turn out to be getting paid loads more than their equivalents? Binmen. Funny that.It's not the guys' fault. Rubbish collection is a strenuous but well paid job. competiton for jobs is high and these guys have worked hard to get them, and bought houses and cars in good faith that their paycheques weren't going to suddenly get slashed. It's shitty to suddenly pull the rug out from under them like this. Care assistants, on the other hand, are incredibly poorly paid, and I can tell you first hand that anyone claiming that helping a stroke victim with senile dementia get up, get washed and dressed, go to the toilet, and eat breakfast while reassuring them that everything's OK despite the fact that they've forgotten that their spouse died 20 years ago and aren't really sure who you are even though you've done the same thing every day for a year takes LESS skill, strength and sensitivity than collecting wheelie bins and emptying them into the back of a lorry can only be being deliberately obtuse.

But this is the council we're talking about.

Equal pay legislation has been around for decades now and yet women take home considerably less than men. Not because, as has been suggested by some pundits, they 'choose lower paid jobs' but because they are socialised towards certain skillsets, and those areas are devalued simply BECAUSE they are 'women's jobs' Cooking, cleaning, care of children and vulnerable adults: none of these are seen as occupations worthy of a 'real man'. Recent UK legislation demands transparency from councils in what they pay jobs of equivalent skill, and now decades of disparity in 'masculine;' and 'feminine' jobs has come to light. Leeds is the tip of the iceberg. Bin strikes are planned in Brighton and may go nationwide as councils are forced to even up the pay. This has to happen, but by making the bin men take the brunt of the changes in savage cuts, the council risks further polarising male and female workers by creating bad feeling between them, and then claiming that the much needed payrises in 'women's jobs' are impossible because of the stubbornness of the bin workers.

I don't know what the answer is, but I think there's a lesson here.

Much like the recent MP's who've been forced to pay back extravagant put previously legal expense claims, binmen have enjoyed an unfair advantage. It's not their fault and they did nothing legally wrong, and now they are losing that advantage, which really stings.
So if you're offered a job with benefits that just... seem too good to be true, proceed with caution, because at any moment it could get whisked away.

*Um, I mean sustainably sourced grilled fish slices and fat free potato wedges, which in NO WAY resemble the junkfood they replaced. Thanks, Healthy Schools Initiative!

Friday, 16 October 2009

One of these bloody things

I've been tagged by Riot Kitty, so here goes. One word answers are required for all these questions. I hereby tag Hannah, Bunbury, Don Alhambra, Michael and anyone else who can be bothered.

Where is your cell phone? AWOL
Your hair? overlong

Your mother? Traveling

Your father? *shudder*

Your favorite food? steak

Your dream last night? lateness

Your favorite drink? Tea

Your dream/goal? Published

What room are you in? bedroom

Your hobby? performing

Your Fear? hatred

Where do you want to be in 6 years? Berlin

Where were you last night? bed

Something that you aren’t? conventional

Muffins? blueberry

Wish list item? wisdom

Where did you grow up? keighley

Last thing you did? breakfast

What are you wearing? vest

Your TV? Scrubs!

Your pets? Pets?

Friends? varied

Your life? disorganised

Your mood? Alert

Missing someone? many

Vehicle? no

Something you’re not wearing? basque

Your favorite store? Lush

Your favorite color? purple

When was the last time you laughed? this morning

Last time you cried? last night

Your best friend? inspiring!

One place that I go to over and over? Berlin

One person who emails me regularly? John

Favorite place to eat? Wasabisabi

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Homophobia: what exactly are you afraid of?

Homo, as in homosexual, means 'same'. Same-sex is a more politically correct term than 'homosexual' beacause putting things in Latin makes them look medical and medical = problem. 'Queer' means 'different', but 'homo' means 'same'. Isn't it funny that we read 'queer' as a less offensive term, and 'homo' raises more hackles, I think, on both sides of the Atlantic?
Following this kinda-logic, the word 'homophobia' means fear of sameness. Again, weird. You'd think the one thing homophobes were afraid of was anything different. They'd like nothing better than everything and everyone being the same. Unless... same = well, equal. Maybe homophobes fear equality for all people. They feel more comfortable with the feudal system that places straight white males at the top and crushes disabled genderqueer pansexuals of colour at the bottom and then laughs at them as a symbol of 'political correctness gone mad' (note. if political correctness really went mad, the world would be a far more interesting place...).
Or maybe homophobes fear the idea that homosexual, same-sex people HAVE the same sex, ARE the same sex, and are....the same as them.
As my colleague Gary likes to say to straight people who say the only difference between straight and gay people is the kind of sex we enjoy, "My dear, that's the one thing we've got in common!" I think he's actually quoting someone there, but I couldn't tell you whom.
Maybe it's the fact that heterosexuals (or "different-sex people", but then, no-one seems worried that anyone is going to get offended about THAT little piece of Latin medi-speak)are the ones who are, well, queer.
Maybe it's just jealousy.
In case you're wondering, I commuted by rickety bus through the Peak District for 3 hours and spent a further 6 sitting in health and safety lectures in Buxton today. Your mind starts to wander.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

New Blog

I will be continuing with the wordly wibblings, but for a bit of light relief (yes folks, THIS is the heavy, intellectual blog. Sorry), please check out my other blog, Cute Overheard. Unless someone tells me it's illegal, I am going to do daily mash-ups of submissions to Cute Overload and Overheard in New York.

Silly, silly fun.

Friday, 2 October 2009


I dried up on stage yessterday. Like, completely dried.
I was compering a spoken word night, and it was going really well, I had the audience laughing, heckling, doing spontaneous (not forced and awkward) audience participation, and I was riding high on it.
Then I read out the next name on the list 'And now, next up, we have "Sarah"!' Silence. Then, from the back of the room my friend and the night's founder John shouts 'I think it's thee, lass!'
John's great. He organises the open mic running order and, usually I'm on it, except this time I'd specifically said I would compere. I have a big poetry gig on the 12th, and figured it would be greedy to take up an open mic spot. John had flipped into autopilot and stuck me in there as usual. I'd seen it, but sometimes it seems like every fifth person I meet shares my name, so I'd thought nothing of it.
Now, normally I have a good memory for my own work, I don't like reading from a sheet of paper, when actors, singers etc are expected to memorise, so I try to leave the paper offstage. However, when I KNOW I'm performing I'll run through the poems in my head a few times before i go up there. It's not that I worry about forgetting my lines, more that running through the rhythms of my pems in my head calms me, like a mantra. However, last night I hadn't done this, and for the first time I learned the value of it. I couldn't remember a line.
I managed in the end to blurt out the first stanza of one of my poems, and then I lost it again. I spluttered and gabbled and made a few jokes about John dropping me in it aaaaaand....
In the end I managed to whip the last stanza out of the air - omitting the middle two - which, given that there is a narrative to the poem, made no sense at all. Then I finished on one of my much earlier poems - one that's ingrained on my synapses, and got off the stage with dignity.
Then I remembered that I was the compere and awkwardly shuffled back up to the mic to introduce the next, slightly more together, poet.
John SO owes me a pint.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Why labels are really dangerous.

OK, let's kick off my return from the wilderness of the computerless other than the one at work (or, as I like to call it, Firewall City) with a serious post. Not a laugh a minute, this one, sorry.

Roman Polanski has been arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old. It was a long time ago, he is a holocaust survivor, a widower in tragic circumstances and he is an acclaimed film director. He is also charming and well liked.


He had sex with a 13 year old. Taking that on its own and ignoring the allegations that he vaginally and anally raped a 13 year old, it's still enough for me to think that yes, he should do time.

The problem is that those people who are outraged at his surprise arrest in Switzerland think that they know what "A paedophile" is. Paedophiles are nasty men, aren't they, boys and girls. They wear a dirty raincoat and lurk near playgrounds. They are social pariahs and easy to spot on the street.

They also know what a holocaust survivor is. They are saintly sages with an unabashed love of life masking an untouchable tragedy behind the eyes (cf Harold & Maude). Maybe they are impulsive and eccentric, but that's understandable and part of their charm. If they've had other tragic events in their life, so much the saintlier.

And a maverick film director. These are artistic firebrands whose genius excuses bad temper,hedonism and, again, eccentricity.

When these labels conflict in our head, we've got a problem. It's not comfortable to think that perpetrators of sexual violence can be an artistic genius or a survivor of horrors themselves. We are coached to automatically venerate these people. It isn't pleasant to think that the trauma of the holocaust might actually damage a person to the extent that they themselves commit unforgivable acts. After all, that might make us think about all those people we vilify and realise that perhaps they started out as victims and survivors: i.e: saints.

Nobody goes out saying 'I'm going to rape a child/exterminate a race/bully littler kids because I want to be evil'. It's more 'I've got to do this. I'm not really a perpetrator, I'm a victim heroically fighting back'. Hitler didn't go arounf twirling his moustache (he'd have had a job...) and going "Mwuahahaha". In his mind it was "My Struggle", not "My Evil Plan".

In Roman Polanski's mind, he'd lost his childhood, he'd lost his wife, and he was a genius who could do no wrong! Cut him some slack! Who could blame him for getting a little pleasure from a sweet young thing who was hanging on his every word? She was a perk of the job, right?

The majority of paedophiles are not labeled paedophiles. They are labeled Uncle, Daddy, Auntie, Teacher. Maybe they are kind to animals, perhaps tell great stories, could be brilliant cooks, talented muscians, sensitive listeners. They don't all have previous convictions because they haven't all been caught, so criminal records checks on caregivers can only marginally reduce the risk.

The absolute insistence from some quarters that Polanski's achievements in cinema, his advanced age and his troubled past should make him immune to prosecution makes me fear for young people who have been victims of abuse. If we only believe that people are rapists and paedophiles when they fit our profile of rapists and paedophiles, (or worse, know what they did but accept it because they are talented in another area,) then what chance do those suffering abuse have of bringing their abusers to justice?


Monday, 31 August 2009

A pie I wish I had baked.

While I await the glorious convergence of linguistic inspiration and time to blog, I'd like to entertain you with someone else's work, Specifically, Tom Bliss, whom I heard on Radio 4 a few months ago. It's a recipe for Pie made entirely out of English and Welsh placenames and is loads of fun to read aloud, as my friend Hannah and I found, giggling over the laptop the other night. If the unbritish among you have trouble sounding it out, you can see and hear Bliss performing it . here
Disclaimer. I don't own this poem, or know Tom Bliss. This post is just random fandom.

Middle English and Welsh Pie
Takely: Appleby, Plumly, Cheriton, Pirton and Cantelop Melonby. Washington, Cutmill and Unstone. Ingoe Bole - and Masham.

Pickwell: Blewbury, Goosey Bury, Shawbury, Shrewsbury, Blackbourough, and Llanberis. Tipton Shellow Bowells and Churn.

Watchet Caerphilly. Wendy Mold.. Outwell. Wendy Sea Palling Wormington, or Crawley Bugthorpe, Kilham and Binham.

Findon Knutsford: Haselbech and Cheshunt. Cracoe Penn, and Chopwell.

Bowling; Honing, Runnymede and Melton Cadbury. Then Stourton, and Lickey End. Addingham Timble Salt, and St Just Pinchbeck Curry, then Pannal and Mixbury Evenly.

Makeworth Doughton: Floore, Buttercrambe and Egham (Henlade) - and Beetham. Alfold and Needham, then Rollright Thingwall, and Coverham Puddington.

Lightthorn Furness Chimney, and Burntwood Heaton Ovenden Cookham.

Bakeup, Bakewell - Butley Doynton Burnham! (Wrexham).

Wensbury Dunnington - Tickton, Tockwith Tring! Orpington Ovenden.. Greet! Monmouth Pyworthy Over Kingston - for Mumby, Tuesley, Wembly, Thursley, Fridaythorpe, Thatcham Deighton and Sunderland.

Aynho. At Tees Thame, Kettlesing. Earl Grays Once Brewed, Ham Sandwich in Towcester, Then Clothall Over Tably (Calder Vale), and Carrington Hoton Dishforth Over Tably.

Addingham Clotton Milcombe, and Roseberry Topping. At Lastingham.. (Tanton Tatterford) Reading! (Waitby.. There’s Morecombe)!

Fetcham Glasson, and Filton Brimton Beer (Beer - Maida Vale).

Collingham Hungerford Guist Over, Yelling “Combe Gedding.” Askham Richard, Askham Bryan - Pattishall Wantage, and Sittingborne Downham.

Sevinton Pyon Plaitford. Devizes, and Passenham Roundhay!

Biggin Hill Eton. Wilden Tasely Darliston! Tewin and Swallow, Butley Noke Burpham or Belchford (or Trumpington)! Decorum Mattersey.

Fullford Tumby? Goodleigh. If Tirely, then to Charing Cross, and Knapwell. (Little Snoring).

Remenham: Mabe Burthouse, or to Much Hadham, or Nuneaton (Nuneaton? Shirley Nottingham!), Donyatt Sling in Minskip - Tinwell, and Selling... Onnelley Tebay!

Unthank. Blisworth Clapham?

Tom Bliss (2008?)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

the HELL?

All the blogs on my reading list have been deleted? how could this happen? Grrr.
I am following nobody. In most scenarios that sentence would be a good thing. Not now, though.

Ich bin ein Berliner?

My head is still stuck in a 'I wonder what that is in German' place at the moment. It's actually good from a wordgeekiness point of view because it makes me analyse what I say in English more.

While in Germany I had a conversation with a lovely woman called Kate from Australia about the benefits of being 'adjectivised' (I let this blatant example of verbing pass, because she made a good point.) being adjectivised is a good thing. It means to be described with, you know, describing words. As I have mentioned previously, we do not talk about 'queers(n)', but we can talk about 'the queer(adj) community'. Similarly, Kate prefers to be called lesbian, not A lesbian. atheist, not AN atheist.
It's fair enough, especially if one's identity is tied up with words that have been - or are - used in a derogatory fashion. Using nouns to describe someone, apart from breaking pretty basic, primary school literacy rules, is less that one step away from name-calling.
With this in mind, I started feeling uncomfortable listening to the German spoken around me. Germans (oops, German people! Is that a WW2 leftover? We don't talk about Frenches, 'Spaniard' rather than 'Spanish person' is derogatory, but The Germans is... fine?) talk about 'Schwulen and Lesben', literally 'gays and lesbians'. They refer to the Turkish community as 'die Turken' - the Turks. It just makes my skin crawl a little bit. Even though it was clear that this did not carry the dodgy connotations this would have in England.

But then something else occurred to me.
You would talk about lesbians, for example, but you would never say 'sie ist eine Lesbe' - 'she is a lesbian'. You would say 'sie ist Lesbe' - 'she is lesbian'. The word taking on a sort of 'nounjective' quality (think 'I am woman, hear me roar'). You could say 'sie ist lesbisch', making the adjectivisation complete. But this, I think, would be less, not more respectful.

This of course (wild tangent alert!) is where JFK went wrong in Berlin.

By saying 'Ich bin EIN Berliner' he removed his humanity. The indefinite article made it clear to the Germans that an inanimate object was being discussed. unfortunately for Kennedy, the inanimate object which is a synonym for 'citizen of Berlin' is 'iced doughnut'. Hence much sniggering ever after.

But you can see why he did it.

Because in the USA, if you think about it, the opposite is true. In England too, for that matter.

If you say 'I'm American' or 'I'm English'. It's a statement of fact. Whatever.
But 'I'm AN American', 'I'm AN Englishwoman'. Aha! Suddenly we're talking nationalism, civic pride; indeed, faintly racist territory. But in Kennedy's case, he was just trying to show his own pride at being associated with Berlin, and tried to apply an American nuance to the German language.

Which is a warning to us all: Try to be nationalistic in an unfamiliar language, and you might end up a doughnut.

Ich bin ein Word Geek.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bilingual Brainmelt

I've spent the last week in Berlin, which has been toll. Toll actually means crazy and the German word for rabies is 'Tollwut' which means 'crazyfury' - but in this case it's a good thing, because it also roughly translates as 'ace'.
Now, review that sentence in your head, and then consider that EVERY SENTENCE going through my head currently sounds like that and you'll understand why I have a headache. My brain starts off in English and then....then I realise I've forgotten large chunks of my native language and relpaced them with German. Then I'll get distracted on a little linguistic detour on the etymology of the word which, being German, is pretty easy to map. Last night I was sitting in a bar drinking Pilsener Urquell (which it turns out I say SO BADLY in German that no bartender has a clue what I'm asking for and I'm reduced to flailing over the bar like some unfortunate and desperate drunk mumbling 'da, da, Bier. OOOOrkvell!' until they twig and start speaking in English to me to save embarrassment.) ANYWAY (y'see?) I'm looking at the Urquell label, and at a bottled water someone's drinking called Spreequell. (The Spree is the river in Berlin. you say it 'shpray', well, I do.) and I realise...huh... 'Quell' means source, or spring. Urquell, is like "the original source" - which is also the name of a brand of bubblebath. so if you drank an Urquell in an Original Source bath, you could potentially get confused. What everyone else sees is that weird English girl who understands a surprising amount of German for an Engländerin, but can't talk for shit, giggling at her beer bottle. I'm gonna kvell, already. Which is where THAT Yiddish gem comes from. See? You see? Siehst du? And this is why I haven't updated the blog much. Mein gehirn ist ganz kaputt.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Man Crisps?

Just a little thought on an adcampaign I noticed last night. McCoy's crisps new slogan is 'Man crisps'. The implication being that these crisps - which are thickly cut and strongly flavoured and really rather nice - are more rugged and masculine and therefore intended for men. They are possibly the diametric opposite of 'Snack-a-Jacks' - tasty,low fat rice treats which are apparently only ever consumed by women in offices. Look at the two pictures above. Both are basically for prawn cocktail crisps, except that McCoy's have steered away from the slightly camp sounding 'prawn cocktail and gone for a rugged 'Sizzling King Prawn'. Alan Carr would order a prawn cocktail in an overly chintzy bistro run by Felicity Kendal in some thus far thankfully unimagined Carry On Film resurgence. Sizzling King Prawns are something Ray Mears might rustle up on an improvised beach barbecue. The idea of 'prawn' is also less of a threat to anyone's heteromasculinity if it's got the word 'King' next to it.
Then there's the colour. In the language of crisp packets, we all know pink = prawn, but McCoy's have gone for that trademark 'faded salmon' shade that guys can wear to the office without getting queerbashed, where as the packaging on the Snack-a-Jacks is more reminiscent of a mid-range bubblebath than anything edible. Then again, ladies don't EAT, do they? No, they simply float around on a cloud of perfume, flicking their hair and giggling, and clutching pink accessories that may or may not contain 'lo-cal' snacks.
All this is par for the course. I can only assume that, marketing wise, targetting a specific market (and excluding other potential customers) is as lucrative as - or more lucrative than - making your product accessible to everyone. Especially when the market has been effectively aimed at only one gender in the past. Rather than convince the potential male chocolate market, for example, that contrary to what the ad media have been telling you for years, chocolate is not just for the womenfolk and kids, and they are more than welcome to buy Galaxy bars and Maltesers, you concentrate all the masculinity on one brand and hope the guys'll go for that. Hence the aforementioned and reviled Nestle ad : Yorkie, it's not for girls. How's that for retrograde and offensive?
My initial reaction to this campaign was 'it's not for girls? Well I'm a WOMAN and I can have a Yorkie if I like. No hang on, they're Nestle, whom I boycott, and anyway their chocolate is substandard. And even if I DIDN'T boycott Nestle, I certainly would NOW. They don't want my business, I'll take it elsewhere.' OK, they were my initial, secondary and tertiary reactions, if we're splitting hairs.
And I kind of feel the same way about McCoy's. 'Man crisps'? Obviously too thick and rugged for my pretty little mouth. Fine. Keep 'em. But I don't like the sense of manipulation that gives me. If I buy them, an overtly sexist company gets my money. If I boycott, their marketing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and I look like I think they really are 'man crisps'. Similarly with snack-a-jacks, If I choose a pack of those, having boycotted the 'sizzling testosterone' or whatever it is, I'm merely fulfilling the gender stereotypes set up for me by a room full of corporate cocks. It's a real dilemma of the modern world. Sort of. Unless I just stick to Kettle Chips.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Just wanted to share.

While looking at the poetry of Shel Silverstein in search of inspiration for a bit of nonsense verse I'm working on, I came across this. It actually made me cry. Given the aptness of the title, I thought I'd share it here.

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

Shel Silverstein


Friday, 12 June 2009

Word Geek's guide to homosexual gay vocabulary and usage.

In my new job, we have to talk about sex and sexuality, and we have to be politically correct. It's a real balancing act at the best of times, but when it comes to talking about .... well ... what I want to talk about, it's a minefield.

This was brought to my attention when a colleague was trying to write a report on homophobia in schools. He wanted to say 'homosexuality' but had been told that 'homosexual' and therefore 'homosexuality' is considered offensive because it is the medical term for the 'condition' of being gay and our employers wanted it removed, newspeak style, from all documents. "What am I going to put then?" ranted my colleague (who is himself gay) "'gayness'? That's less offensive, is it?"

Now, as with most political correctness, the intention here is honourable. Someone somewhere has caught on to the fact that it's generally homophobic groups who use words like homosexual, and wanted to distance themselves from that. But they haven't thought about the practical implications. It's difficult though, for people who are not part of a persecuted minority, to navigate how to best indicate that they are not prejudiced against this group. So, as a public service, I'd like to provide a guide.

Homosexual (noun): Try to avoid calling gay people 'homosexuals'. It's not a BAD word as such, but when it's used as a label it just feels a bit... off.

Homosexual (adjective): This is slightly better, but where possible, use gay as the preferred adjective. If you must use it, use it to refer to the physical, not cultural, aspects of homosexuality. So 'homosexual feelings' is ok. 'homosexual poetry' is not.

Homosexuality: As seen above, homosexuality is causing problems. (The word, not the phenomenon!)Yes, it's a medical word. Yes, it's obviously link to homosexual, which can be offensive, but there is no other word in the language doing the same job and, as such, it . cannot be removed. Which in turn makes removing 'homosexual' problematic.

Heterosexual/ity: This is fine, apparently. This is the same double standard which has led to students in UK schools referring to 'chalkboards' instead of blackboards, but not calling whiteboards 'penboards'. The implication ends up being that 'black' and 'homosexual' have shame attached to them but 'heterosexual' and 'white' do not.

Queer (noun): No.

Queer (adjective): This is a fantastic, all inclusive word, reclaimed from being a horribly offensive homophobic slur, and widely used in America to describe all things unstraight. In the UK, however, it has more of a history of just meaning peculiar/eccentric, and has not been embraced in the same way. Americans in the UK should use it with caution as they may be misinterpreted. I think it's fab, though.

Gay (noun): This, like homosexual, is frowned upon. 'Gays' has homophobic connotations.

Gay (adjective): This is fine (as long, obviously, as you're not using it to mean crap) but can be misleading, as some people use it to refer to men, and some use it to refer to men and women.

Lesbian (noun): Unlike 'gay', this is fine. Who the hell knows why. Maybe because 'Lesbian Woman' sounds redundant. Some people prefer to say 'gay woman', which suits me too.

Lesbian (adjective): Also fine.

Bisexual/ity (adjective and noun): Again, fine, making a bit of a mockery of the fact that homosexual isn't. The abbreviation 'Bi' is often preferred.

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans): It's clunky, it's irritating, and it keeps picking up a random Q (for 'questioning'). But it's inclusive and a safe bet for official documents. Roughly equivalent to the American 'queer'.

I'll probably think of some more later, but that's all for now.

x WG

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

nonce up at liberty.

what the hell? Apparently, a french language website called vipublog has nicked my blog post about sexuality. Fair enough. It would have been NICE if you had asked. I would probably have given permission, and been quite flattered. But no. It's been half-inched, and, bafflingly, been put through some sort of babelfish device, from English to....english. I don't know whether this was to make it harder to search (in which case CALLING it 'The Cunning Linguaphile' was a bit of an own goal), or a side effect of having at some point translated it into french. Have a read. It's really quite odd. My favourite part is that 'come out' translates as 'nonce up at liberty'.
So, thanks for the compliment, you thieving scoundrels. Or should that read 'entering beget of the remove scurrilously'?

once again, a assignment in go uphill to the esteemed Dr S.(’the Sloz’ doesn’t pr?cis it, apparently) over and above at Excretera who, predictably, has called me on a high handed throwaway note I made in my at assignment, stating that the coming at liberty activity was ‘far more complex’ than most people contrive. It would beget been so temperately to equitable agreement sagely when you be familiar with that, Michael, but Ohhhh no.”What did you beget in attention?” he says. Damn’ university professors making me THINK hither a hog of oneself clog. Jeez. Here goes then.

In the LGBT community, the received erudition is that scoop is encouraged/indoctrinated into a heterosexual/heterosexist lifestyle and that it takes a fixed amount of willpower to deficiency of confidence this assumptions and the nonce up at liberty. Don’t the nonce up crying to me someone is concerned footnotes or a bibliography, all the same. The channel uncontrollable with this representation someone is concerned me is that it tends to negate/belittle the bi community, as in this paradigm, bisexuals are viewed as people who beget unsuccessfully shaken away the “shackles” of heterosexuality, in the future the pre-eminence be known of those people someone is concerned being ‘confused’ or ‘undecided’ which, in my impression is a anxiety of shit.

Here is the uncontrollable. When Stonewall happened, ‘Gay’ referred to what is age referred to as the LGBT or Queer community. anyone not ’straight’. i.e. Over the years, all the same the core of gay changed to refer merely to gay men or to gay men ad lesbians depending on partiality. The Bi and Trans communities were shouldered at liberty.

I reckon it’s easier to gain loam acceptance if you repute an ‘other’ to odium. Now the LGB community is good-looking transphobic, and those fully on transsexuals who beget been accepted ‘into the fold’ can be good-looking non-objective hither genderqueer people. I beget witnessed the gay (male) community be lesbophobic, and the lesbian community fence in it and drub it (to some extent), then the lesbian and gay community was biphobic and the androgynous community challenged and partly overcame THAT.

So the verified writings hither being gay and coming at liberty were in actuality more incorporating than common writings using the at any rate phraseology are. Also, coming at liberty as ‘not straight’ note leaving the in assemble, the class, the mainstream. Doing so to self-identify as having a pallid sexuality (that sounds ignoble.) is dire because there is no cohesive assemble to peter out d scratch ‘to’. Because that’s what they are. Therefore, if you are questioning your sexualtiy it is much easier to classify as gay/lesbian and hinder your opposite-sex launch and beget the inclusivity of the gay community, less than be hand to flail on all sides being hated aside both extremes. They are not the two choices you beget, they are the safety-in-numbers ends of the continuum. in persnickety Personally speaking, I self classify as lesbian, not androgynous.

But I like the iDEA of heterosexuality. This leads me to another complicating agent, which is that, in our brotherhood, a a stash of our feel of value is based on the approbation of the vis-?-vis shagging. It’s equitable that the technic doesn’t do much someone is concerned me. As a lesbian I don’t requisite men to frame an scratch on on me but as a ball in this brotherhood, there’s a generally of me that’s offended when they don’t. Many, MANY gay men I beget known derive payment ‘joke’ flirting with lesbians and ‘fag hags’. They like the female on because they beget been socialised to sine qua non that on to acquaint someone with something them that they are successful/’real men’.

“I’m mask-like! No, I’m gay! No, bi! cool one’s heels. Those people I identify who beget the nonce up at liberty into nontraditional sexuality/gender roles beget above all done so something like this. am I at one pro tempore masculine? Please refer to me as she.some of the pro tempore.

(headfuck commences).you identify what? I odium labels.” It takes guts to the nonce up at liberty as gay. It takes awesome self assuredness and assertiveness which I can merely equitable round-the-clock DREAM of to the nonce up at liberty as something that doesn’t beget a dependable clarification in our brotherhood.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Adult Devices?

Riot Kitty sent me this story and it got me thinking.

The northbound Toutle Rest Stop on Interstate 5 was evacuated Wednesday
afternoon while the Washington State Patrol Bomb Squad came to disable a
suspicious noise-making device.

“A passer-by saw somebody throw something in the garbage and take off in
a hurry,” said Sgt. Glenn Hobbs. The witness, thinking the quick exit
seemed odd, looked in the can to see what had been thrown away — then
called 911.

“It was a black plastic shopping bag, and they could hear a vibration or
ticking sound,” Hobbs said. Troopers closed the rest area, which is near
milepost 54, for about 1 1/2 hours during the incident.

The noise didn’t come from a ticking time bomb.

“It was an adult device,” Hobbs said.

He said this is the first time he’s been involved in the investigation
of a vibrator.

“It’s a once in a career thing, I hope.”

- Leslie Slape

Ah, the wonderful world of the euphemism! When you want to talk about it, but don't want to name it, our friend the English language is there with as many pussyfooting evasions as your memory and imagination can muster. I'm all for euphemisms: anything that makes the brain work harder and the language more complex is fine by me.

Look at the Vikings: They knew how to euphemise. If they could get a complicated, riddling substitution for a real word into their sagas, they would, so you get 'Raven feeder' meaning a warrior and 'Whale road' meaning the sea. OK technically, these are what are known as kennings, and they are more of a Norse literary conceit than a way of avoiding semantic embarrassment, but I'm all about them. I think we should have them instead of euphemisms. None of this 'adult device' meaning vibrator. If you're squeamish about saying vibrator then what about 'come buzzer' or 'hoe for the ladygarden'? Let's face it, "adult device" is a rubbish euphemism. the Vikings wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.
Why is sex the only 'adult' activity anyway? A film about getting a job has 'adult content'. A TV programme about the stock exchange is for 'adult audiences'. An 'adult device' could be a car, or a Blackberry, (the kids don't have those yet, right?) or a, well, a bomb. We don't, (or shouldn't) see many kids with bombs and guns. If I saw a kid waving a vibrator I'd be amused, maybe a little shocked, and interested to know the story behind what I was seeing. If I saw a kid with a bomb, I'd be completely horrified.
So why, in this story, kindly sent to me by Riot Kitty, is the gentleman being interviewed a) squeamish about saying it's a vibrator, when he was fine about it being a bomb, b) anything other than relieved that a vibrator is all it was, (surely, finding out that terrorists aren't blowing you up trumps havig to cope with the fact that technology is helping women get sexual pleasure without men?) c)characterising the non-bomb as 'adult' - like the potential bomb was a friggin' Tonka toy?
If we had euphemisms, no. If we had KENNINGS for bombs; like city-destroyer, limb-ripper or death-dropper, we might remember that they are in fact worse than 'adult devices'.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

They Upheld Prop 8, Parallel Universe Version

There was widespread outcry today when the controversial 'Prop 8' law was upheld in California.
The Law, which changed the state Constitution to restrict the definition of civil union to non religious couples and eliminated Christian couples' right to join civilly, met with outrage from members and allies of the Christian community when it first came into power last November.
"It's a violation of our rights", Margaret, an anti Christophobia campaigner said. "We're human beings who fall in love and we should be allowed to have civil unions just like anyone else."
As a Christian, Margaret has the option of 'marriage' - a little known Christian concept which would join her and her Christian lover Neil for life "before god". The ceremony would take place in a church and would have little meaning outside the insular Christian community.
Lynn Rushbough, a Queer fundamentalist commentator, encourages Christians to keep their relationships private. "That 'marriage' thing should be enough for them." she said on her notoriously christophobic radio show. "Their behaviour is dangerous to upstanding Gay Americans and to institutions like Civil Union. Some Christians even seek to undermine the Gay moral values upon which this country stands. Let them have their own little ceremony, but don't let them come running to us for legal recognition when they chose to follow such an immoral, ungay lifestyle."
Civil Unions currently afford heterosexual couples the same rights as more traditional Gay unions. However, the apparent backlash against Christian rights makes many fear that even atheist heterosexual marriages may be under threat.

Funny how it's not that way.

They Upheld Prop 8

I'm so depressed I can't even analyse this. Apparently the same sex couples who already got married before the original bill get to stay married. So... gay marriage is OK. But you can't do it anymore because it upsets the Christians. Way to separate church and state. Marriage is a Christian thing now? Watch out Atheists. Your marriage rights could be next.
On a personal note, I know I don't live in California, but as the half of an anglo-american couple it's still another kick in the teeth for our chances of marrying in both our countries. For me to have any rights as an American spouse it'd need to go federal. Yeah, right.

Friday, 22 May 2009

A bit of crossover

As many of you are aware I also do a poetry blog, Chick Thing Poems.
I say 'do'. It gets the odd update when interesting things like poetry nights and competitions are in the offing, and when I need a bit of feedback on a poem, but is generally poorly maintained.
However this little bit of nonsense I came up with half an hour before an open mic slot last night seemed to fit better on this blog.
So here it is.

Just To Avoid Confusion

If you're going to say
"That's so gay"
Please make it clear
That the unfashionable T-shirt to which you refer
Always knew it was different from the other shirts,
Pretended to be interested in being paired
With a nice silk skirt, or pair of racy hotpants.
But secrently it longed to go with jeans,
Chinos or even combats
But didn't want to tell the other shirts
(for fear of being taken to the cleaners)
And so got in with a more colourful crowd
And ended up being dyed a telltale pink
After an ill advised tumble
With a pair of
Corduroy Trousers.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Late Night Ramblings on Sexuality

Once again, a post in reply to the esteemed Dr S.('the Sloz' doesn't cut it, apparently) over at Excretera who, predictably, has called me on a high handed throwaway comment I made in my last post, stating that the coming out process was 'far more complex' than most people think. It would have been so easy to just nod sagely when you read that, Michael, but Ohhhh no."What did you have in mind?" he says. Damn' university professors making me THINK about stuff. Jeez.
Here goes then. Don't come crying to me for footnotes or a bibliography, though.
In the LGBT community, the received wisdom is that one is encouraged/indoctrinated into a heterosexual/heterosexist lifestyle and that it takes a certain amount of willpower to challenge this assumptions and come out. The main problem with this view for me is that it tends to negate/belittle the bi community, as in this paradigm, bisexuals are viewed as people who have unsuccessfully shaken off the "shackles" of heterosexuality, hence the reputation of those people for being 'confused' or 'undecided' which, in my opinion is a load of shit.
Here is the problem. When Stonewall happened, 'Gay' referred to what is now referred to as the LGBT or Queer community. i.e. anyone not 'straight'. Over the years, however the meaning of gay changed to refer only to gay men or to gay men ad lesbians depending on preference. The Bi and Trans communities were shouldered out. I guess it's easier to gain acceptance if you define an 'other' to hate. I have witnessed the gay (male) community be lesbophobic, and the lesbian community fight it and overcome it (to some extent), then the lesbian and gay community was biphobic and the bisexual community challenged and partly overcame THAT. Now the LGB community is pretty transphobic, and those full on transsexuals who have been accepted 'into the fold' can be pretty prejudiced about genderqueer people. So the original writings about being gay and coming out were actually more inclusive than current writings using the same terminology are.
Also, coming out as 'not straight' represent leaving the in crowd, the tribe, the mainstream. Doing so to self-identify as having a fluid sexuality (that sounds dirty...) is frightening because there is no cohesive group to run 'to'. Therefore, if you are questioning your sexualtiy it is much easier to identify as gay/lesbian and repress your opposite-sex attraction and have the inclusivity of the gay community, rather than be left to flail around being hated by both extremes. Because that's what they are. They are not the two choices you have, they are the safety-in-numbers ends of the continuum.
Personally speaking, I self identify as lesbian, not bisexual. But I like the iDEA of heterosexuality. It's just that the practice doesn't do much for me. This leads me to another complicating factor, which is that, in our society, a lot of our sense of worth is based on the approbation of the opposite sex. As a lesbian I don't want men to hit on me but as a woman in this society, there's a part of me that's offended when they don't. Many, MANY gay men I have known enjoy 'joke' flirting with lesbians and 'fag hags'. They like the female attention because they have been socialised to need that attention to tell them that they are successful/'real men'.
Those people I know who have come out into nontraditional sexuality/gender roles have generally done so something like this. "I'm straight! No, I'm gay! No, bi! wait... am I definitely male? Please refer to me as she...some of the time... (headfuck commences) know what? I hate labels." It takes guts to come out as gay. It takes incredible self assuredness and assertiveness which I can barely even DREAM of to come out as something that doesn't have a solid definition in our society. Because then, the only label people can find to stick on you is 'other', making you everyone's favourite hate-object.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Our Complicated Lexicon

This post is in response to the comments on this post on Michael Szollosy's blog Excretera (which, by the way, is excellent, though a working - or at least idling - knowledge of psychoanalytic theory helps.)

It was getting too complicated to further hijack the Sloz's comments, so here's the deal.
'Go gay' and 'Turn gay' are both used quite derogatorily (word? word.)to imply that a person has been in some way corrupted into homosexuality. The reason is that both phrases rest on the heterosexist assumption that everyone starts out straight by nature, but some people deviate form this natural form to embrace alternative sexualities by their own volition.

Similarly the concept of 'turning someone gay' or 'making someone go gay' implies that gay people are recruited by predatory gay types who have already 'turned' or 'been turned' themselves.
The preferred term is 'coming out' or 'identifying one's sexuality'. This is because the favoured thinking is that people come to a realisation about a pre-existing sexuality which ahs previously been ignored or repressed because of insidious cultural pressure to be heterosexual. I don't know if this is the case, but it is the hegemony within the LGBT community. Myself, I suspect things of being FAR more complex.
That said, 'turning (someone) gay' is no more or less heterosexist a phrase than 'going gay'. I just think that as long as we're talking in those terms, the former is more elegant.

Similarly I would speak of 'turning someone vegetarian' rather than 'making someone go vegetarian'. If I were vegetariphobic...

Incidentally, for the benefit of other readers, Michael is totally down with the gays and all that. It was ME who started all this gay stuff, because he nicked the joke about getting a toaster oven for recruitment of lesbians (first used on the 'Puppy' episode of Ellen. Don't mess with a girl who simultaneously came out and did a Media Studies A-level in 1999!) to deprecate his own militant vegetarianism. (Yes, Michael, a salad spinner it is - If I ever do turn to the dark green side, yours will be in the post.) I still think tofu tastes of sick, but am, for the record, starting to regard my meat addiction as a vice rather than a virtue.

Thankyou for your time


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Thoughts on ID cards.

OK, so not strictly about language, but maybe about we define ourselves...identity and language are linked, right?
Yeah, that's not tenuous at all.
Anyway. National ID cards, Personal Information database. The UK Government are trying really hard to get this stuff through and every fibre of my being cries out against it. I don't know which is more scary, the idea of an inept government - who leave sensitive information on laptops on trains, and lose CDroms with the names and addresses of every parent in the country - having all my personal details on a database, or the idea of a more efficient government one day having the same thing. Lets think about regimes known for valuing order and efficiency and wanting everyone to carry their Papiere - sorry, papers - around with them. Not good, is it?
And then there's the cards themselves. HOW do these prevent identity theft? By putting your identity on a handily stealable pocket sized bit of plastic? It just seems doomed from the start as any kind of a plan.
But it will happen. Mark my words.
How do I know? Because as a nation we like cheap booze. The government now sanctions shops and supermarkets VERY heavily if they are caught selling drink to anyone who MIGHT be underage. Stay with me here: it's all connected. I can't imagine that the government want us to stop buying booze. Real ales, for example, are one of the few surviving british exports. The taxes they stick on alcohol have got to be pretty useful too. The health service keep lobbying for booze to get more expensive and more difficult to buy in bulk but from what I've seen it's only getting cheaper.
But in order to pacify the health lobby, the government promises to get tough on underage drinking.
How can we curb underage drinking? Ask everyone to show ID when they buy beer.
Ah HA!
Seriously. It's doing my head in. I'm THIRTY! My partner is 33! We tried to by a measly bottle of wine at the supermarket. The wife had TAUGHT one of that outlet's cashiers (who irritatingly wasn't in that day) for five years. And because neither of us carry ID, we couldn't have wine. I'm not going to carry my passport around. It costs like £100 to replace if I lose it. I don't drive. So now I can only buy the crap, overpriced wine at the local shop where they know my face.
Standing in the city centre with my partner, wineless and ranting with frustration, I'd've given ANYthing for an ID card at that moment.
And that is why it will happen.
Just watch.
As a side note: When the NO2I.D. campaign ask you to sign a petition, and you do, and you put your address and postcode, aren't you creating a database of your personal details and SENDING IT TO THE GOVERNMENT?
How much of an own goal is that?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Poet Lesbian

So, we have a new Poet Laureate in Britain. It's an odd role. You're supposed to be the official poetic voice of the nation. Traditionally the job description includes poets for state occasions like royal weddings and coronations. More traditionally, the job is usually held by a straight white male.
When Ted Hughes - who held the post for a few years and incidentally, was the-crappest speaker and performance poet I have ever seen - died, there were a lot of problems filling the post. Any poet who was any good, (e.g. Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy) wouldn't touch it because of the restrictions on their style. In the end it went to Andrew Motion, a poet who is willing to write to order but, frankly, writes verse that provides a perfect opportunity to use the word anodyne. He was commissioned to write a poem which would then be printed on the side of one of Sheffield universities. As my friend Graeme put it "I resent the time that stopping to read it took out of my life." Now, however, he (Motion, not Graeme) has thrown in the slightly limp towel and resigned from the post. The new PL is... Carol Ann Duffy. Apparently The Establishment decided that giving the Poet Laureate more freedom would result in.... better poems, and removed the 'obligatory fawning poem about the baby prince's first spit-up' clause. Duffy, after being approached again with the more relaxed terms of employment, took the post on the advice of her 13 year old daughter, who pointed out that she would be the first woman to hold the post.
And that's what the headlines are saying. First Woman Poet, First Northern Poet, First Scottish Poet (Techincally she IS Glaswegian, but is more obviously a Manchester poet than anything else). But so far only the international and gay press have stated what is, to me, the biggest milestone: Carol Ann Duffy is openly gay. Woman's Hour on Radio 4 interviewed the poet, about her perspective as a woman writer, with an emphasis on motherhood. Duffy mentioned winning a women's poetry contest in the 80s and being shocked to hear herself referred to as a "poetess". The weird quaintness of this word does imply the idea of a sweet amateur writing rhymes about buttercups, kittens and unrequited love. I can see why she doesn't like it. But is the wholesale avoidance by the British press of the words 'gay' and 'lesbian' an attempt to encourage the public to see her as 'just a poet' (in which case why on all the focus on her gender and nationality)
Or do they just not want to frighten the horses?
Some of Duffy's most famous works deal with sexuality. Warming Her Pearls, The Laughter of Stafford Girls High, From Mrs Tiresias... All received huge acclaim and are full of female, lesbian sensuality. In her new role, will she be forced to write 'straight'?
And if she doesn't, will everyone just pretend it's not happening?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bye, kids.

I've just finished working at a special needs secondary school, where i was sent for a month. I would have been there longer, but my shiny new job as a gay/bi women's sexual health worker (woohoo!) just started, so for two days a week I'm now a professional lesbian, so I'll only be doing short term school jobs on the other days.

Much as I'm excited about my new job, I'm hoping to be going back to this school occasionally. It's completely awesome. The kids all officially have 'moderate' special needs. that is, severe enough to be taken out of mainstream school, but moderate enough in comparison to a lot of special schools. it's basically the 'we're not sure what to do with this kid' school, leading to a chaotic mix of learning and behaviour problems and a huge spectrum of ability and attitude.
I'd like to celebrate my time there by writing about some of the turns of phrase I heard that made me boggle and giggle...

The kids at this school are socially aware enough to swear and use slang and generally appear far more knowing than they are. Like all teenagers, but more so. Interestingly, many of them come from backgrounds where it is considered normal to use terms like 'spaz/spacker' and 'mong' (see previous posts on these terms) to mean 'idiot', despite the presence of students with cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome. They simply don't connect the word with the meaning, and if you try to explain it, they rarely believe you.
The girl who really surprised me was the one who regularly used the phrase 'monging me out' as in 'stop it, you're monging me out' or 'that really mongs me out' basically anything that's disturbing/annoying her is doing this. She is one of the more able kids; no actual 'conditions' as such, just a subnormal IQ, and usually finds the more extreme physical special needs exhibited by students on the school's sister site particularly unsettling. Persuading her, on visits to the other site, not to loudly proclaim 'MIIIISS, can we go back to OUR school? THIS LOT ARE MONGING ME OUT!' I tried to explain why that wasn't a cool way of expressing herself, pointing out that we had Down's syndrome kids in school and comparing 'mong' to racial slurs such as 'Paki'. Her response? 'But Amir IS a Paki. AND he's a right mong.' Amir, incidentally is one of her best mates. He is Pakistani, but is not Down's syndrome. However, he has very similar behaviours to Down's kids. He doesn't care if she calls him a Paki. It's tough to explain to both of them why it's not cool.
Another kid I enkoyed working with was obviously from a very articulate and intelligent family, with at least one parent/carer who reveres Richard Dawkins as a god (There's a lot of that about: can't they see the irony?).
She's great, taking on creationist kids (mostly muslim but some christian) to argue for evolution and against religion (bear in mind this is a special school. you do NOT expect to walk into 'But look at pictures of skeletons. we LOOK like animals.we are animals. we CAME from other animals. your book is WRONG!') She also stands up for gay rights on behalf of her uncles who I'm told are planning to adopt. If a kid uses the word 'gay' as an insult she is down their necks faster than any of the teachers, citing her uncles and demanding that they explain themselves. She's hard. there's not generally much homophobia in her class. Except from her.
Previously mentioned 'mongs me out girl': Why have you got silver toenails?
Darwinist: My little brother painted them for me. Just 'cos he wanted to use it himself. Ended up with it all o'er his hands though. Little Poof.
Me: I thought you said it was OK to be gay. What about your uncles?
Darwinist: oh yeah. My uncles are gay. it's normal. I don't know why people are bothered.
Me; But... you just called your brother a poof.
Her: yeah, he IS a poof. He's gone to school today in nail polish. Poof.
Me:That's a bad word for a gay person.
Her: I know. but I like gay people.
Me: I know, but if you use words like poof, other people will think it's OK to call gay people names.
Her: Then I'll smack them one.
There's a logic there, I suppose.
In the same class, later the same day, much male adolescent giggling was occurring about the title of the new(ish) film Lesbian Vampire Killers. Comfortingly, 'Mongs me out' girl had taken the earlier conversation to heart.
Beavis-like Teenage Boy: Heheheheheheheh Lesbian. Heheheheheheheheh, Lesbian Vampires. Heheheheheheheh.
M.M.O girl: Shut up! There's nothing wrong if two vampires love each other very much! Stop picking on vampires!
At this point, I fell off my chair.
I'm gonna miss these kids.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

When is GBH not GBH? When it's the cops.

I saw and liked this on one of my favourite procrastination centres: .
It's a valid point, and one I think we can transpose to the G20 protests in London on April 1st.
For those of you in America and elsewhere who may not have heard the full story, there were lots of protests in London to mark the G20. Anyone from climate change protesters to anticapitalists, it was hyped up in the media to be a full scale mob riot with thugs aplenty. Even though the majority of protests on the day were peaceful, the news coverage looked like this:
Sky News
Bad protesters. Naughty protesters. Much was made of the man you can see at 0.51 'taunting' peaceful police officers. One has to wonder where he got the headwound that made him so angry, though.
The police were praised for their decisive and necessary action in a very difficult situation. Any peaceful protesters who had suffered only had their thuggish, violent, riot-happy comrades to blame. Even a protester called Ian Tomlinson's sad death was due to those evil mobs preventing the police from helping him after he had an unexpected heart attack.
Then this video shows up.

The Guardian, incidentally is a left-wing broadsheet paper, to whom this video was given by a New York fund manager who also wasn't there for the protests, but had been 'kettled' (trapped) by the police. And since this came out, the heart attack verdict given by a police autopsy has been called into question. Internal injuries are now believed to be a more likey cause of death.
And now a fair few others have come forward with compromising video footage directly contradicting claims made by the authorities, and suddenly the London Metropolitan Police don't look so 'courageous'.
But still the language is different.
I heard what I assume to have been the head of the Met, or at least a spokesman on BBC Radio this morning. He said the actions of some officers was 'regrettable' and 'IF there were (Officers deliberately covering up their ID to avoid later complaints, as appears to be the case with Ian's truncheon-happy buddy)they will be dealt with'.
There are still politicians claiming that the police were just doing their job, and it was the protesters who 'started it'.
Thing is, if you're up against the police, and the police are whacking non violent passers by with truncheons, (sorry 'using necessary force in a difficult scenario') what are you going to do, call the police?
Or do you become a 'violent mob'?
Or relinquish your right to protest?
Them's your choices.
My thoughts are with Ian Tomlinson's family. It's hard enough to lose your dad without being lied to by the police as well.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Definitely Intelligent

I was at my mum's over the Easter break. On Jesus day itself we celebrated with the usual pagan egg rituals and my cousin came over with her husband and kids. I like kids. I like babies and teenagers, toddlers and tweens. I like teaching kids new things and I like it when a kid can outwit me. However. I really appreciate downtime from the little darlings. I like to be able to walk away from work or from a mummified (no... wait. I don't mean that...) friend's house in the knowledge that I can go home and be irresponsible. And honestly, I don't know how my cousin does it. She is an incredibly devoted mother and her older child, her daughter, is WAY too smart. Having a clever toddler is a minefield. All the white lies and sweeping statements you can get away with for other kids, like "Father Christmas doesn't bring toys to naughty children", "If you have a late night your hair will fall out" or even a simple "It's dinner time." are painstakingly dissected and debunked by a fresh-from-the-box genius who can run rings around you.
The reason I wanted to talk about my cousin's kid, though is this. If one word fits her, it's 'definitely'. When offered lasagne at lunch, she responded Charlie and Lola style: 'I def'nitely, def'nitely don't like that AT ALL' But definitions are something she is obsessed with. Amina hates linguistic ambiguity. It makes her really cross. If you refer to what she's wearing on her feet as 'shoes' when sandals, boots or even Crocs would be a better description, you're in the doghouse. Words that are normally and comfortably accepted as having multiple meanings are avoided and, and this is the part I love, replaced with her own coinages. 'Baby' is unnacceptable as a description of her little brother, as it is an adult term of endearment used in pop songs. So he's a zing. Or in extreme cases, Mr Zing. 'Go' is used only to refer to the action of going. As an imperitive in a game, as in "Ready Steady Go!" The words 'ah bwah pwigh' are substituted. The list goes on.
Anybody else got words they made up as a kid? do you still use them? I love this kid for talking control of an illogical language and, aged 4, whipping it into shape. And she's so strong willed, I suspect we'll all be using them before she gives them up...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

When it comes to the dentist, ignorance isn’t bliss.

I’ve practically moved in with my dentist over the past 6 months. Over a decade of dental denial doesn’t do much for the state of your teeth and when I did finally did force myself to sign up, there were a lot of problems.
I made it clear from the start that I was very nervous and panicky about coming in. My dentist was very sympathetic, and did her best to put me at my ease. However, it’s an NHS (National Health Service- subsidised by taxes and with flat rates, but long waiting lists and overworked staff) practice, meaning that they are incredibly dedicated but strapped for cash. These people work through their breaks, stay late and will do anything to make sure everyone gets the treatment they need. I have huge respect for them, but they don’t have time to chat (it’s not like I can make conversation during the seemingly endless fillings and hideous root canal treatments) and they work on the assumption that the patient would rather NOT know what was going on. So they just blithely stick piece after piece of apparatus into my defenceless mouth. Apparatus they never talk about, and which I have only seen through my safety shades at an angle not suited to anything than observing that the good dentist needs to cleanse the pores on her chin.
However, after months of highly uncomfortable research, I present to you my findings on the basic toolkit of your average dentist.

The Frankentooth Bolt: This little number clamps around your tooth like a vice, poking holes in your gum that you don’t know about until the anaesthetic wears off, but when it does they sting like buggery. They seem to generally use this when there’s a bigger filling to do, as if they are expecting the whole tooth to fly apart under the pressure.

The Face Sucker: Made famous by Bill Cosby’s iconic routine. Except these days they don’t leave you alone with the damn thing. Instead an enthusiastic dental nurse has at you with it like her mum’s coming to visit and she hasn’t hoovered in six months. This is fine as long as she gets the angle right and you don’t feel you NEED saliva, but when she’s reaching round to the back, god help you if you’ve a sensitive gag reflex. I swear she nearly sucked up my uvula last time.

The Bill Murray Packing Peanuts:
The things Bill Murray spits out at the end of the masochist at the dentist scene in Little Shop Of Horrors. Not a film you want in your head when you’re in that chair. If you prefer you can think about the Godfather, since that’s who you look like once they’ve pointlessly rammed them round your jaw like they’re planning to fed-ex it somewhere.

The Power Tools:
Holy hell. Forget the drill. This is like one of those all in one Black and Decker jobs you’re supposed to buy your dad for Christmas. It has a variety of scary looking add-ons, makes a selection of worrying noises and, occasionally, disturbing smells (cf Thubuh Smuboke Mabachibine).

The Tortured, Pissing Bat:
This is when they say “we’ll just give you a quick clean”, and you foolishly assume the worst is over. Not so. It makes a noise like a pipistrelle under extraordinary rendition and squirts water everywhere but your mouth. And it feels like the dentist is etching a beautiful filigree pattern on your gum line, i.e. intricately painful.

Flat-pack screws:
These little numbers are what they stick in your root canals. Inch long black spines, which, no joke, they screw into your tooth like they’re going to wall mount it. Dentistry, Ikea-style.

Thubuh Smuboke Mabachibine:
Bill Cosby again. “Smuboke, smuboke, smuboke! FIBUR!” I swear. If I hadn’t seen that routine I would have been out of that chair and down the street with a mouth full of metal when the smell of burning tooth hit me. Seriously, it doesn’t occur to these people that the easily spooked dental phobic might be bothered by a FIRE IN HER MOUTH with no warning?

The iFill™: My personal favourite. Unlike the well appointed medieval torture chamber aesthetic of the rest, this thing looks like Apple designed it. It seems to be used to ‘cook’ your filling after its gone in. it makes your mouth feel nice and warm. Kind of like your tongue’s in a tanning booth. It’s probably giving me cancer.

Would it be better if I actually knew what these things were called, and why they were used? Does knowing the name of something reduce your fear of it? I think so, but the dental culture here is ‘shut your eyes tight and let the experts get on with it’. This is why I have resorted to naming everything myself, and not in flattering terms. (Hmmm. I may be onto something here: could sexist racist and homophobic slurs POSSIBLY be born of fear and ignorance? Surely not!) One day, when they’re not rushed off their feet at my dentist’s (cold day in hell), I’ll have them give me a quick tutorial, and maybe it will be less scary after all. On the other hand, I like my names better. Another life lesson in prejudice there.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Go Iowa!

So, Iowa legalised gay marriage. Hooray for that. A rural, non-coastal state getting a clue gives me hope that one day, ONE day, gay marriage might actually make federal law in the states, giving me the option of emigrating to the states with my beloved as a real honest-to-goodness American-by-marriage. I'm not saying I definitely WOULD, I'm saying it'd be nice to be ABLE to.
But it raises a question. A question that the blog Queers United have irritatingly beaten me to.
Over here, we call gay marriage 'civil partnership' because the religious lobby claimed that marriage was a sacred term. Yeah, because there are no married atheists at all, right?
Any suggestions for a neutral, inclusive and descriptive term? answers on a postcard. Or in comments, whichever.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Victory, apparently, is Riot Kitty's.

OK in a departure from normal service, today's blog is dedicated to the awesome Riot Kitty and her crazy meme shenanigans. Apparently I have to:-
1. Post six random funny things about other people.
2. Then tag six other bloggers.
3. Link to the person who tagged you.
4. Be FUNNY.

Here goes.

1. My friend and exneighbour had an annoying and supercilious houseguest who woke her up one morning to the smell of noxious fumes after he put the cordless electric kettle ON the stove, melted the crap out of it, and then ran across the kitchen and dumped it in the sink, leaving a trail of molten plastic in his wake. He hasn't lived it down.

2. A kid in a behavioural inclusion unit (bad kid school) I once worked at asked to go to the toilet during a cooking class and didn't return. After some investigation of the moans coming from the cubicle it transpired that he had stolen some chillies in order to experiment with their 'stimulating' properties. He could barely walk when he emerged.

3. My beloved told a store clerk 'fuck you!' when she was two years old.

4. One of the followers of this blog owns a deranged, paint-drinking attack goose.

5. My best friend got a blowjob at my wedding, in the conference room of the city council building, and was almost interrupted in flagrante by a drunk-assed bridesmaid. This is what happens when you give the gays a foot in the door of local government.

6. My friend's mum, upon walking in on her offspring discussiong masturbation, said the immortal line "Oh don't stop on my account, I know all about wankling!"

OK, everyone following this blog should consider themselves tagged.


Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Apparently the my comments box has been on the fritz. I've fiddled with it and am hoping it will work better now. If you read this drop me a comment just saying hi - so i can see if it works for everybody.

If you thought 'bitch' showed inherent linguistic sexism, try German.

Check this out.
I love languages. I love learning the logic of them (or lack thereof). People who are raised bi- or polylingual tend to grow up to have higher I.Q.s. I reckon that this is because if you can think in more than one language you are forced to think in more than one way, making you a more imaginative and adaptable person. I can speak and understand German pretty well, and the different rules and logical grammar put me in a different, more logical mindset.
I have some serious problems with it.
Take for example the words dämlich and herrlich. These, you'll learn in school, mean stupid and wonderful respectively. Except that their literal meanings are 'woman-like' and 'man-like'. No-one that I know of uses the words consciously as a sexist tool. It's just sort of insidiously...there.
And then there's schamhaar. That's the German for pubic hair and yep, it's what it sounds like: shame-hair. Yeah, that's a mentally healthy attitude to your body if ever I heard one.
These things bother me, but perhaps it's just because of the direct nature of the language. German rarely uses Greek or Latin roots for its words so any outdated implications of words just stick around rather than being lost in dead languages. Still. I have to wonder: do German feminists think das Sexismus ist dämlich? do they shave their schamhaar or show off their stolzhaar? Is it more difficult to challenge prejudice that is entrenched in the language, or does the entrenchment remove the meaning?
I'd love to think it was the latter, but the fact that German satnav producers had to use a male voice because male german drivers 'didn't want a woman telling them how to drive' makes me doubt it.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Bitchin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

OK first off. I said bitchin', and I mean bitchin'. Riot Kitty, my lonesome commenter (come on the other five, where are you?) points out that the "in'" ending in place of "ing" is sloppy. For the most part I agree, but is some cases it is necessary. Namely, when you are referencing a pre-existing phenomenon, or when indicating the 'sloppier' pronunciation drastically changes the understood meaning. For example the film referenced in the title of this post would and should never be referred to as 'breakING 2: electric boogaloo' as this would be a misquotation of the original title. As regards the previous blog's title, I meant "bitchin'" - the now somewhat dated California surfer-dude adjective meaning 'good'. I chose this word to title my blog as it is one use of the word 'bitch' which seems completely positive, despite being utilised by a largely masculine community. The gerund 'bitching', on the other hand, has a completely different set of meanings and users.
The verbification of bitch implies 'something that bitches do' and bitches (women) down the ages have been castigated for nagging, whining and complaining. The verbing of this noun defines the women described as bitches by this activity: She is a bitch ergo she bitches, and vice versa.
The more developed meaning of the verb 'to bitch' is to make snide and painfully accurate remarks in a group of friends behind someone else's back. This is another activity that seems to be both stereotypically and actually indulged in by women and gay men. (I have a feeling straight men do it too, but they don't call it bitching. They probably call it having a confidential man to man talk or something...) The phenomenon of women bitching about each other is one that makes me very sad. I like the idea of female solidarity, but our society is geared against it. Women are constantly encouraged to compete and compare themselves to other women.Much is made of male bonding and camaraderie (see football matches, and the recent Carling Black Label beer 'belong' series of adverts in the UK) while women are encouraged to enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of any women in the public eye (see Heat magazine's infamous Circle Of Shame page, whic delights in pointing out horrors such as wrinkles, sweat stains and body hair on promninent young women. Nice.) I guess bitching is better than solving all your problems with physical aggression, but I haven't noticed that type of behaviour being referred to as 'bloking' lately, have you?

Sunday, 22 March 2009


Here's a word that everyone seems to love. It really can't seem to make up its mind whether its been reclaimed or not, can it. I don't know what female dogs ever did for their correct term to gain such complicated range of signification.
I first consciously came across the word in a primary school playground. I'd've been about 8. The school was in a rough neighbourhood and I was reagarded as being relatively 'soft' and 'posh'. However I was rarely bullied; my classmates merely regarded my sensitve nature and slightly middle class accents as minor disabilities which allowed me extra leeway. On occasion, however, it would be decided that I needed the edges knocking off me in as gentle a way as possible. One day, a girl called Tamela Parkin cornered me and informed she was giving me a test. Her peer group wanted to know if I understood what swears meant, so I was bundled into a quiet corner and quizzed. Amazingly (to them) I came away with a nearly perfect score. Two rebellious older sisters and access to lots of books not intended for me meant that my grasp of the required vocabulary was pretty comprehensive. The only two words I failed on were bitch and bastard, which were helpfully defined for me by Tammy as 'a girl dog' and 'somebody without a dad'. As my own father had recently left the family home, drastically improving my home life, I wasn't sure how bastard worked as an insult. Also, I thought dogs were nice enough animals, but chalked it up to the tradition of livestock based invective I was used to hearing on the playground.
But bitch is different to cow and pig and cat and toad etc etc. It was on Tammy's official swear list. In my subsequent experience it went along with words like Virago and Harridan and Termagant and Harpy. An insult meaning a woman whose strength and assertiveness in someway threaten a man. These are beautiful words, thoroughly reclaimed by the feminist movement. (eg the women's publishers Virago). In my opinion, bitch is the least of these, but it seems the most popular. I can handle being called a bitch in this contexct.
But no, it's far, far more complex.
If I'm a bitch, fine. But if I become just 'bitch', then the meaning changes. I'm no longer a strong, fierce troublemaker. Now I'm relegated to subordinate being, especially in the context of somekind of relationship. It seems that if I am the superior one in an unequal relationship, I am the 'Daddy' but if I am the inferior one, I'm the other's 'bitch'.
OK. Let's just pause and think about that one.
The power belongs to the daddy. The male patriarch. The highest in the pecking order in a traditional family. OK. we're in a patriarchal world. Masculinity = power in a million and one lingusitic ways. I can kinda see how that happened. But that the lowest in that pecking order is the female dog? "You're my bitch" means "I have dominated you and you must acknowledge me as your superior". And it is applied equally to males and females. It's not enough to imply that the person you are dominating is a subservient, non-human species. No. That doesn't make them feel quite bad enough. Better imply that they are female as well. That'll do it.
What really gets me is when a woman tries to put down a man by calling them a bitch. Unless they are talking about a gay man - at which point the virago-style rules come back into play - any woman who tells a man that they are, for example 'being a little bitch' is using herself as the metaphor which belittles her target. It's just tragic, when you start thinking about it.

Stay tuned for the verbification of 'bitch'.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Grammar ninjas: pedants or unsung heroes?

OK quick survey.
In your place of study or business you see an 'official' looking sign with an obvious (to you anyway) punctuatio-grammatical error. for example:
"All cup's must be washed - It is not the cleaners job!!!"
Do you A)Probably not notice, and definitely not care,
B) Roll your eyes, grumble, and possibly make a sarcastic comment to an equally grammar aware colleague, or
C)Immediately pat your pockets in search of a sharpie, stickers and/or bottle of correction fluid to fix the offending notice?

If the answer is A) - why do you even READ this blog? Not that I'm discouraging you, but really, what's the attraction?
B)This response is pretty normal, I guess, and covers most people I know, but
C), ah C): these are my kindred, the grammar ninjas.

We're a shy and mostly passive aggressive breed. We rarely make ourselves known by vocally complaining, but left alone with an apostrophe free possessive and a marker, we really cannot be trusted. Some, like my friend Becky, will take no credit of any kind, painstakingly recreating the font, size and colour of the original text in order that her added punctuation should fade seamlessly in. The other approach is the '3 out of 10: please see me' approach. The angry, red scrawl which berates the sign maker by regressing them to their childhood English lessons. Missing punctuation and capital letters added, unnecessary letters scored through and sometimes even a teacherish comment at the bottom complaining about the lax standards of the establishment. This can be quite funny, and IMO, there's little excuse for errors in the signage of, say, an educational establishment, or any place of business that expects its employees to produce correctly spelled and punctuated work.
So maybe the discreet way of doing things is more tactful, but less noticed by the people who could stand to learn a little more. The red pen method might offend but at least points out what was missing in the first place. The apostro-free culprits at Becky's workplace seem to think that a bizarre irl version of Microsoft Spelling and Grammar Check exists in their corridors, ready at any time to magically undo their illiteracy. Would making both our corrections and our scorn more apparent do more to persuade them of the joys of literacy, or simply offernd them into a follow-up sign saying something along the lines of 'NOTICE! Dont deface the sign's?', resulting in greater rifts between colleagues?
Maybe the answer is in the technology. Googlemail recently trialed an application called 'Beer Goggles'. If you send an email late at night it makes you do long multiplication to prove that you're not drunkenly sending anything you'll regret. Perhaps a similar application could pop up before office workers are allowed near the printer. If you can't pass a simple grammar test, to don't get to hit print. It would make all of us pedants so much calmer...

Monday, 9 March 2009

The line between neologism and just buggering about.

Neologisms. Aren't they great? They have to be the ultimate goal of any writer. Just think: your reading public trust you so completely that when you invent a word - whose meaning is apparent because of your sheer expertise with the language - they just...start using it, and it makes it to the dictionary. Previous blogs have hinted at my love of a certain set of ancient yet robust anglosaxon expressions, but just as dear to my heart are words that have been invented by a known writer, and have then been taken on in general.
What got me on to this, you ask? Well. There is nothing so flattering yet faintly demeaning than the expression of surpise and admiration on a colleague's face when you, a mere peon - and a temporary peon at that - instantly 'get' and respond to an intellectual comment of theirs.
In this case, Paul, a wonderful teacher I've worked with before, of the type who talks down to no-one and yet includes everyone, used the slightly suspect word 'architectiologist'. I asked if he meant architect. "No", he said, "someone who STUDIES architecture, not someone who designs the buildings themselves..." "but...Architectiologist?" I said, disbelievingly, but willing to be re-educated: after all, for all I knew, this WAS a word. "It's a neologism." he said - quite haughtily, if I'm honest. "What, as of five minutes ago?" I returned, at which point he stopped and looked at me. "People don't usually know what 'neologsm' means" he said, with a glimmer of new respect. "I usually get [insert gormless look of incomprehension] "Huh?" or something similar ". Now. I felt happy that I was on the same page of the great vocab book of life with him enough that we could trade high-falutin' words over the kids' heads, but I also felt a little sad that he didn't automatically assume that I would know what a neologism was.
This, my friends, is what defines a geek of any genre. If you don't MEAN to look down on others, but it genuinely baffles you how anyone could NOT know anything as basic as the word neologism/particle theory/application program interfaces, you're officially a geek.
Here is my question, though: what does it take to make a goofy-made-up-word an official neologism? Is it the fame of the writer, or can a truly great word spring from an un known source? wo, for example, coined words like 'lol'?( now an official word in my book, as is can be conjugated: I lol, you lol she/he/it lols, I loled, we all have loled.) Can I claim that "Advenstruate" is a neologism, meaning to menstruate in an adventurous way? (Shout out to Adventures in Menstruating, there, btw.) or do I need to wait until people other than me and people I bribe are using it before it counts?
Well, who confinkles? (worth a try, eh?)
And by the way, Paul, the word you're after is 'architectural historian'.

Sunday, 1 March 2009


I'm not going to tackle all the nuances of this word. (The podcast 'What A Woche' from the Dinglish-speaking podcaster Gale Tufts did a wunderbar job of elucidatiing the differences between the English 'so' and the German 'so'. (I can't find the specific podcast because it's from a few years back, but listen to her more recent stuff here.)
So, I'm rambling, but what I want to talk about is not 'so' as a pre-announcement, a way of breaking up an awkward silence or broaching a difficult subject, but the kind of "so" that ends a sentence. Or tries to.
It started with the deliberate tailing off of a thought in the hope that the other person will finish the sentence the way you wanted it to end - without you having to say the slightly cheeky or unpleasant thing you need them to know. My temporary boss recently did it when he needed me to schlepp into town myself and hand-deliver my timesheet, as he had already packed up his fax for the impending school relocation and couldnt fax it.
"It's all packed up but they need a copy today, so...". Two letters and three dots effortlessly communicating "You have to spend 2 hours on public transport because it didnt occur to me that I might need my fax machine before the end of term. Merry Christmas!" He left it hanging in the air. Waiting for me to dispel the awkwardness by apparently spontaneously coming up with the genius solution of me going out of my way, which he could then pretend never to have considered.
I played dumb. "So..." I repeated, smiling and nodding encouragingly at him to finish his thought.
"So...well...there's no way WE can get it to the agency for you, and it will have to be tonight so..." Again! I kept the friendly perplexed look up for a few more seconds as he squirmed, and then I played ball. "Well I suppose I can go into town and take it myself after work. I'll struggle to get there before they close though, so..." I smiled at him expectantly again.
"I suppose you'd better leave early, then." Yes! Two can play at that game.
But that's not the worst of it. This spineless get-out clause at least has the quasi-decency to pretend that the perpetrator genuinely hasn't considered the idea that the person s/he is "so..."ing might somehow be able to get them out of this fix by going above and beyond. It's cowardly and passive-aggressive but it in some way colludes with the target audience. What is far ruder is the loss of the ellipsis. The far more abrupt "so."
I first noticed this when a flight attendant pulled this crap on my lactose intolerant partner. She had ordered the VEGAN meal, as 'dairy free' completley foxes them and results in some cheese-drenched polenta creation because someone has their food intolerances mixed up. In this case, vegan had been too alien and they had substituted the vegetarian meal, and as the world of airline cuisine knows, vegetarians subsist on a diet of macaroni cheese. With extra cheese as a vegetable.
"Well we don't have any other meals for you, so." The attendant practically spat when we pointed out the problem. The "so." here meant "Discussion over." She didnt care what the end of the sentence would have been, she had delivered the inedible goop and her work here was done. There was practically a silent "ner-ner-ner" or possibly a subtextual "fuck you". My beloved didn't drop it, though, and I think eventualy scored some sad looking salad from first class. She had to go to another attendant though: as soon as this lady had delivered the final "So.", it was case closed for her.
The only response to this annoying linguistic gambit is to pretend it doesnt exist. To persist in the fiction that the perpetrator really just lost their thread mid sentence, and politely encourage them to continue where they left off. it will confuse - or at least frustrate - the worst offenders, who may not even realise that "so" has never been a sentence closer, but if you're lucky, you'll score an afternoon off, or even a "First Class" (note quotemarks) salad, so...