Misuse of language…

// 12 February 2008

No I’m not going to comment on punctuation and grammatical errors on the F Word (as one of the main offenders that would be hypocritical) but rather on the misuse of terms with very gender based implications.

Take this morning’s Today programme (link will only work for 24 hours on 12th Feb). Jazz trumpeter Digby Fairweather commenting on the closure of The Jazz DAB radio station by its’ parent company called it “the rape of culture” and argued that if commercial special interest stations were never going to work then Classic FM should stop broadcasting to “halt the abortion”.

Now I’m sorry but lets review that language shall we? Rape means (according to Dictionary.com)

1. the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.

2. any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

3. statutory rape.

4. an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.

5. Archaic. the act of seizing and carrying off by force.

Assuming Mr Fairweather meant to use either definition 4. or 5. the usage still doesn’t bear up – nothing has been seized, carried off or plundered. The radio station owners have closed an unprofitable DAB only station. Despolitation? Not really. Violation? Well only if you are the sort of person who feels violated by the post arriving on a sunny morning (without due reason). And his second term of choice, abortion means:

1. Also called voluntary abortion. the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy.

2. any of various surgical methods for terminating a pregnancy, esp. during the first six months.

3. Also called spontaneous abortion. miscarriage

4. an immature and nonviable fetus.

5. immature placental or fetal tissue prematurely passed or curetted.

6. any malformed or monstrous person, thing, etc.

7. Biology. the arrested development of an embryo or an organ at a more or less early stage.

8. the stopping of an illness, infection, etc., at a very early stage.

9. Informal. a. shambles; mess.

b. anything that fails to develop, progress, or mature, as a design or project.

From Dictionary.com

Do any of those apply to Classic FM? Well certainly not 1-7 even in a metaphorical sense. 8 and 9 I am guessing is what Mr Fairweather meant but actually, again, it doesn’t apply, Classic FM is thriving with 6 million listeners and so cannot be classed as a shambles.

No Mr Fairweather decided to use words which served specific rhetorical meanings. First because they are both words most associated with women he creates The Jazz within the patriarchal image of a delicate woman needing protecting (she’s obviously white and middle class, that goes almost without saying!). This woman is then “raped” and her friend, Classic FM, is considered an “abortion”. But more annoyingly Mr Fairweather when challenged about whether this was rather emotive language claimed it was both right and appropriate!

So here’s my argument. Mr Fairweather, such usage will only be OK when real women aren’t raped. There is a million miles between closing a radio station and raping someone – trust me because I hope you’ll never have to find out in real life. Similarly the flippant use of abortion also isn’t on – spontaeous and medical abortions are both potentially distressed events. Even where a termination is sought that’s after a lot of thought on the part of the woman.

Misappropriating such language denigrates the life experiences of women. So get a grip. We understand you are upset about the loss of a radio station, truly we do. But I for one am sick of the terms being misused because they grab attention. And boy are they misused. An amazing number of things been said to have been raped like Iraq’s Oil, the Appalachian mountains, the Constitution, Spring (yes that is the season), Christ by a film no less (not shown on film, just by the production of a film), Europe, Russia, the Mind, the Soul and perhaps most novelly the phallus.

Mostly what these disparate claims refer to is exploitation or misuse. But this in itself also trivilalises the idea of “rape”. If rape is just exploitation then it isn’t, necessarily, criminal and if it is just misuse then it isn’t, necessarily, harmful.

So here’s my call this morning, lets ask that terms which have developed specific meanings are used carefully. Lets not allow usually male, white and middle class commentators to misuse language. Whilst archaic definitions should be remembered in some ways, it’s not always useful, after all none of these articles are referring to Rape or Rapus meaning an area or locality. So either we keep all meanings alive or we remember that as language advances we have to move with the times. And that means being sensitive to the connotations and implications of the words we are using.

So Mr Fairweather, if it wasn’t a violation, and I would aver that it isn’t, it’s not a rape.

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