Choose your words carefully

WORDS have meaning and the meaning of those words can change depending on the context in which they have been said and to whom they have been said and when and where they have been said.

Today more than ever our words are being scrutinised, recorded, analysed, judged, shared, used sometimes, kindly towards us and unkindly against us, presenting us as victim or victimiser.

We are now aware of the term ‘troll’. When growing up it was to be feared if one had read the three billy goats gruff. It was a vivid picture in the Ladybird book of an ugly figure living under a bridge in a sweet green meadow waiting for one of the innocent billy goats to come along so it could jump out and eat it.

The moral of that story was that the clever little billy goats told the troll that if he waited then a much bigger tastier billy goat would come along and fulfil his need for food. Of course we know he was duped and that the final billy goat to cross was more than a match for the troll and sent him into the abyss.

If you happen to be in public life then the microscope is enhanced and will pick up any indiscretions. We live in a society where the moment we click post or send can determine a reaction. Those who lived in a world before the internet and mobile phone may still be learning at cost what an erroneous or misjudged word can lead to.

There will always be the cavalier, the rough rider, the keyboard warrior unrepentant and uncaring in what they say or do for reaction. The troll no longer lives and waits in isolation beneath a bridge in a sweet green meadow. The troll became a tribe and they walked amongst us and they became adept at using the technology to their advantage.

Today’s trolls could be described as a cross between the ‘old gits’ and ‘George Whitbread’ for those old enough to remember they were characters played by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. There were many others including; the scousers, the slobs, Tim Nice but Dim, which magnified the stereotypical society Enfield and Whitehouse were observing and characterising at the time.

A number of years ago one of my essays for Contemporary cultural studies was one on how portraits portray cultural identity. The essay looked at the way in which women and black people had been depicted through history. Surprisingly it was the artists who were pushing the boundaries for equality while TV programmes were running age old favourites like Love Thy neighbour and other racist and misogynistic evening delights for the discerning viewer.

Innocent times or tortured times? It depends what your point of view was at the time. It depends whether you were victim or victimiser. It depends whether you had the courage and conviction to stand up for yourself and others and insist that it was unacceptable.

The origin of the word ‘hysterical’ ties it to the idea that any show of emotion or force from a woman is evidence of her fragility and inherent instability, and echoes of that are still present in its uses today.

We have come a long way but as many will testify there is still a long way to go. The use of ‘hysterical’ to describe the contribution of a female at one of the highest institutions in our nation may not seem a big deal to some but for those who have been fighting for so long it is one word too many and has justifiably been called out.

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