Monday, July 28, 2003

The excerpt below is from an article by Kate Legge which appeared in The Weekend Australian of July 26th., 2003, p. I19 but which does not appear to be online.


MY girlfriend was cross at a sixtysomething male colleague with whom she was collaborating on a research project. "He's an old woman," she sniped.

As she dropped this clanger, we both reacted with a shriek that was part word police, alert for politically incorrect pejoratives; part self-preservation, given we are dangerously close to qualifying for membership of this majority; and part amazement at how it miscast the old women we know and love as fusspots.

Bitchy is an androgynous adjective. Once restricted to gossiping women, it is applied to men, often in gay circles, when the talk turns personal and critical of clothing, haircuts and taste in shoes. Bastard remains sex-specific. You don't commonly hear women called that.

Ageist words present the next frontier of verbal cleansing. When I started in journalism it was the inaugural Year of the Disabled and cadets were dispatched to interview groundbreaking achievers.

It was 1981. The term disabled had replaced blunt hooters like crippled or spastic and our linguistic smelting continued. Words were beaten and moulded on the social forge around notions of challenge and opportunity rather than hindrance and disadvantage.

Like the media's discovery of feminism with its reporting of the first female astronaut, chief executive, MP, magistrate and so on, there were endless stories of the first rock climber in a wheelchair and other conquerers overturning discriminatory laws. Inevitably, tokenism reared its head and there were times on this journey when we lurched from the sublimely inspiring to the sheer ridiculous.

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