Friday, September 11, 2009

“Does he take sugar?” and how we use language

Radio 4 used to have a magazine programme about all issues relating to disability. The title of the programme (see above) rather brilliantly encapsulated the way that people with disabilities are often patronised simply by the way that people address their able-bodied companions rather than themselves.

I wouldn't regard myself as a wildly militant politically-correct thought policeman. I simply think that people should be treated equally. One of the things that used to irritate me when I was working for a big financial organisation in the City was the way that some men would introduce a group of their colleagues in this way, ‘This is Hubert Seifert, Mike Hammond, Fred Bloggs and Susanna’. It was only ever women that were introduced with only a first name and it seemed to me a very discreet way of putting them down. Of course I'm probably crediting my former colleagues with an intellectual grasp of the subtle nuances of language that they never had.

What do you think?


Blogger annie said...

I agree, Julie. And, also,As you say, some of them might not have had minds really capable of fine-tuning the nuances of language, so they may have been speaking out of habit--they were use to mentioning women by first names because others did it. It was done even more back in my time in The Fifties, though I DID work in several places that seemed ahead of their time in their equal treatment of women.

9/12/2009 2:19 AM  
Blogger Judith said...

The same sort of thing happens to the old. Very often the addition of 'dear' to the end of a sentence, as in "Are you alright,dear?" or "Can I help you dear?", is making an ageist assumption of weakness or dependence. But it can be very difficult to be sure. My son who has lived years in Manchester, addresses everyone, young, old, male and female as "love", and the intention is, and sounds quite different.

And then of course, several steps up the offensiveness ladder, and more grossly inappropriate, are "this young lady" and "80 years young",in describing an elderly woman - that have me gnashing my teeth. Incidentally, I can't think that I've heard such phrases used about men, in which case there is a sexist strand as well as an ageist one. How very complex it all is!

9/12/2009 8:23 AM  
Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hello Julie,
I get 'love' and 'dear' from bus drivers at times, but now there's a Myki ticketing system, the drivers don't talk so much to me!
About talking OVER people with disabilities, we just have to stop ourselves speaking to their carer. We have a loveable man at church who shakes a lot and is difficult to understand but he actually wrote a book of his life, letter by letter, and he is such a funny guy once you make the effort at conversation.

9/21/2009 2:21 AM  

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