Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A rapist by any other name

London's Metropolitan Police are discouraging the use of the term "gang rape" in preference to the term "group rape", according to an article in today's Guardian. A rape by two or more assailants is bad, but does one of those terms more neatly conjure up the image of a quick succession of violent sexual attacks by people working in concert?

The Met argues that the term "gang" is often code for groups (criminal or not) of young non-whites. So to use the term gang rape would be linguistically racist.


This isn't the first time that the Met has come up with such nonsense. Or where I've thought "Hey, that's the first time I've heard that was racist, and I just don't think it is"

Take for instance the term "nitty-gritty", meaning the essential details. A former colleague was working for the Met and had been told off for saying it. Why? Because the term was derived from a description of the detritus which collected in the holds of slaving ships. Only it hadn't. That's just not true as anyone who can Google and discern a reputable source could find out in a minute or two.

(It would be a cheap shot to say that maybe the Met should work out the difference between the word terrorist and the word electrician before venturing on to more complicated semantic territory.)

Another one that gets me, though I can't blame it on the Met, but one that's been floating around UK public sector circles is the objection to the use of "brainstorming" because it might be offensive to the mentally ill. We're supposed to use the term "mind showers" instead (which I find suggestive and mildly offensive itself). How about "brain washing" to describe pandering to linguistic bullies?

When I was challenged for saying brainstorming recently I said "I've had mental health problems and it doesn't offend me in the least". Well, that shut them up, partly because I reckon they suspect it's true. (It is.)

There are all kinds of terms that are genuinely offensive and are often used offensively. But I think it's offensive and potentially racist/ discriminatory to define benign terms as malign both to those whom the terms are meant to apply and to those who use them innocently.

1 comment:

Vol-in-Law said...

The idea that the word "gang" has some racial connotation would never have occurred to me, until the Met just put it into my head. I hate them foisting their own racism off on me and the general public.