Never have we been so opinionated! With the rise of technology and social media, we now have more ways of communicating then ever before. Whereas in the past this was to friends, family and work colleagues, now it is to the world, and all those virtual strangers. But language changes doesn’t it? It doesn’t remain the same.
I’m thinking how easy it is to offend someone, which in a world of constant communication and viewpoints is commonplace. I had a client the other day who said “oh sorry, you’re right. Excuse me, just having a blonde moment!” It was of course meant to be funny; a shared in joke. He didn’t know of course that I am blonde, so totally unaware it could have hit a bad note. I wasn’t particularly phased; I’m always referring to my head as a hat stand rather than a brain!
Do you remember several Christmas’s ago when Tesco brought out their Christmas card range? The one that said “Santa loves everyone, even the gingers!” Of course it was meant as a joke in the same way as age is laughed at on cards, but enough people complained and the cards were removed. Not long before that, Tesco again made a mistake with placing the 50 Shades of Grey DVD next to the children’s DVDs. It made the news! Incidentally my local Co-op is still employing this method with 50 Shades of Grey and the Shaun the Sheep movie – obviously less people have complained and so it remains!
Similarly there are the times when people use “love”, ‘dear”, “my lover” and other such wording when they speak to you on the phone. Some people are comfortable with this, others not so. The one I find strange is when a client abbreviates my name, which always feels a bit overly familiar when we’ve never even met!
I had an African lecturer at university who once in class said that it was impossible for a black person to be racist. I bristled at this comment. I don’t agree! There are some words that are not acceptable anymore but it makes no difference whether a black or white person uses one of these terms. Take the word ‘Nigger” which we all hate. A contestant was thrown out of the Big Brother house several years ago for using that word as enough people got offended, and rightly so.
My mother tells me stories about when my grandfather was younger and how you could buy “Nigger brown” shoe polish. It jares doesn’t it? You might laugh in an embarrassed way, but it is not acceptable language anymore and rightly so. She also showed me one of the same grandfather’s photo albums taken during the war. Underneath each photo he had labelled and dated what was above. One read “Visit to a Wog cemetary!” Oh dear, that definitely would not be correct anymore. Ironically when I found out this stood for Western Oriental Gentleman however, I actually thought it sounded quite respectful, but just shows how abbreviations can dramatically alter a word!
Following on from this we all remember Noddy, don’t we? We all enjoyed his adventures, yet suddenly the golly’s were deemed unacceptable. I have to say at the time I never thought of this as rascist and the golly’s in that way. I thought they were people who lived in the forest and therefore were dirty. In the same way as the children put up the chimneys in The Water Babies. Not long ago Winnie The Pooh was deemed as a “gender confused bear” – where did this come from?!
My grandmother when we ask how her doctor’s appointment went, will still regularly say “I saw the foreign chap, you know, the coloured one.” She means no offence, was born into a very different world, but we do worry when we hear her say this in other people’s hearing. Everything has changed too much for an eighty year old to recognise.
I understand a while ago there was talk of taking the Holocaust out of the History syllabus in schools. It was felt this might offend our European partners. Is this not oversensitive? It is still a part of the world’s history and to deny what happened to thousands of Jews is refusing to accept not only what they endured, but indeed that they ever existed. Not all periods of history are comfortable ones, but denying they even took place is wrong. How long before 9/11 will also be put in this censorship box?
On the news tonight was the result of a court case on Katie Hopkins. She had accused the wrong person of something she was innocent of on Twitter. Katie should have apologised, but for whatever reason, maybe just that she was Katie Hopkins and she doesn’t do apologies, she has now been successfully sued in court. So it really is so easy to offend.
Whenever we have an important meeting at work we know just how much it matters that we are clear, succinct and to the point. We must use the right words. If we do, we are likely to be listened to and our comments, suggestions, feedback might be taken into account, we get it wrong with an ill-chosen word and the meeting can be a disaster.
Most people are good people and when they offend it is accidental, but just occasionally someone goes too far. I leave you with this video of the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, and what is probably the most blatant case of, in this case, sexist statement I found this week. It caused uproar, and I think we can all agree, with good reason!