Find all my book details, new writing and more at my website: www.jvlpoet.com
Sign up for my email newsletter and I’ll deliver lovely bookish WordyNerdBird emails into your inbox no more often than twice a month!
While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.
Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.
Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.
It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.
The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.
Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.
In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.
In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.
Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.
There are other things one can say instead:
* Not an exhaustive list.
This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.
I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention. Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again. The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.
In more relaxed situations, you could also use:
* Also not an exhaustive list.
Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:
Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.
Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive TermTweet
#ThingsToConsider #inclusion #vocabulary
All my life I have thought of mistletoe as a European thing, and associated it with images of druids cutting it out of trees with a sickle– most likely embedded by all the Asterix books I read as a kid.
Mistletoe is, in fact, a very old word that dates back to Old English. It had closely related words for the same plant in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old High German and Gothic languages.
The plant was venerated by the druids, especially when it was found growing on oak trees, which were seen as the most powerful and mighty of trees. The druids believed that mistletoe had powerful healing properties, and it has traditionally been associated with life, renewal, hope, magic, and love.
This accounts for my enormous surprise last Friday as we were driving through southern New South Wales and I discovered that the teardrop shaped plants growing on Australian gum trees were, in fact, a native variety of mistletoe. They were different enough in colour, leaf shape and habit to be distinct from the trees on which they were growing, and a quick search online confirmed what I had jokingly suggested to my husband as we drove: “Maybe it’s mistletoe!”
Photos: WordyNerdBird. Mistletoe growing in an Australian eucalypt at Wilbriggie, NSW.
As it happens, Australia has about seventy varieties of native mistletoe, and another twenty or so that have been introduced. While they live semi-parasitically on other trees, they don’t do any harm to them or the environment as some other parasitic plants do. (Yes, Golden Dodder, I’m looking at you, you nasty weed.)
So, next Christmas when certain family and friends laugh at me for singing ‘Meet Me Under The Mistletoe’ I’ll be able to inform them that it does grow here naturally, and therefore Australians are just as entitled to sing about it as anyone else.
#words #history #etymology
Most of the time when we use the word passion, we are referring to either powerful emotion or a strong desire to do something.
However, when people talk about ‘the Passion’ of Jesus at Easter, the word has a different meaning altogether.
It doesn’t mean that He had a strong desire to die the way he did— even though he was absolutely committed to doing so— nor does it refer to His emotional state, even though he definitely would have experienced a plethora of powerful emotions.
Passion came into English from French around 1200 AD, meaning physical suffering. This came from the Latin word passionem meaning suffering or enduring.
Interestingly, passionem came from the past-participle Lati stem word pati- which meant “to endure, undergo or experience.” This means that passion is a cousin of patient and patience.
By the mid-13th century, passion had also come to mean an ailment, disease or affliction; rather than just the condition of suffering one. At about the same time, any emotion, feeling or powerful temptation to sin that might be considered as an affliction” might also be called a passion.
Therefore, when medieval theologians and teachers used the phrase ‘the passion of Christ’ they had no concept of how those words might cause confusion or be entirely misconstrued in the future.
It was another century or so before passion was used to refer to the intensity of an emotion or desire. Later again was the use of the word to refer specifically to sexual love or desire, which had developed by the late 16th century. By the 1630s, it had evolved again to include the sense of a strong liking, enthusiasm, or preference”, and by the 1730s, the object of that pursuit or desire was also referred to as one’s passion.
Because language continually evolves, old words often come to have several very different meanings. The beauty of etymology is that it explains the relationships and solves the puzzles that we might otherwise find very confusing.
And fhat, friends, why everyone needs wordy-nerdy people like me in their lives, ready to answer the tough questions and enrich your word power and vocabulary.
Happy Easter. x
Why is Jesus’ suffering called ‘passion’?Tweet
#Easter #GoodFriday #words Vocabulary
A sleuth is a detective: most often, the word is used to describe an amateur or privately employed detective rather than a police officer. As a word, it was very popular in early detective fiction such as that written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, and is perhaps less popular now than in previous generations. Even so, it it is a word with a fascinating history.
As a keen reader of mystery fiction for many years now I am familiar with many sleuths. I started with Tricia Belsen, the Hardy Boys and the like. Scooby Doo and the gang were my favourite TV sleuths, but my parents loved Jessica Fletcher. As an adult, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Phryne Fisher rank among my favourites. As much as I love Agatha Christie’s work, I always found Hercule Poirot to be insufferably smug and somewhat condescending, but that is a different discussion.
Sleuth had come into English at some point before 1200 AD, meaning ‘a definite track or trail left by someone or something’. This came from the Old Norse word sloð which means trail. This word was used to describe dogs skilled at tracking and following a scent or trail, known as sleuth-hounds. Thus, the first sleuths were not people, but dogs!
Eventually, the word came to be used for a person who tracked prey, or fugitives, or anything else in need of finding. It was used as a noun for a keen investigator by the mid 1800s, and for someone looking for clues to solve a crime in 1872. “detective” is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound “keen investigator” (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound.
Sleuth was not used as a verb until the early 20th century, when it was used to mean the act of investigating. The first written record of sleuth as a verb was in 1905. To sleuth out meant to investigate or discover, and the act of doing so was sleuthing.
It’s funny how one minute you can be having quite a good day, and then something happens that makes you stop and realise how much you really miss someone.
This afternoon I was parked by the river, having some downtime before my theatre company rehearsals tonight, and enjoying the filtered sunlight through the trees and the breeze blowing off the river.
An older gentlemen with a cane walked past me. He was tall but a bit bent over, quite well dressed but too thin for his trousers, and he walked along the path almost shuffling gait of someone who is no longer quite confident about where to put his feet. Lots of things about that remind me of my father; what moved me most, though, was the way he swung his cane as he walked: just like Dad used to, not so much relying on the cane like he was supposed to, but rather using it as a fashion accessory.
It was just a little thing, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. I suddenly wanted more than anything else to be able to hug my dad and tell him I love him. In that turn of a moment, the sense of loss was so profound, and the tears are still flowing as I type.
My head tells me I am being silly, but my heart is telling me that it hasn’t healed yet.
In a few minutes it will be time to dry my tears and head off down the highway. I’ll be fine by the time I am there, but I won’t forget the man with the cane. I don’t know who he is, but I hope he is as loved cherished, and well-cared-for as my dad was.
One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.
The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .
Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.
That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.
Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.
Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:
Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.
Ploce: It Is What It IsTweet
#words #vocabulary #Shakespeare
Empathy and sympathy are closely related words and concepts, but each is quite distinct from the other.
Both words draw part of their meaning from the Greek word pathos which means feeling and came from the PIE root *kwent(h) which means to suffer.
Empathy is an early 20th century word with much older roots.
To have empathy (n) is to empathise (v): to share a feeling, or more literally to be in the feeling, that someone else experiences. It suggests an ability to fully understand how another person feels and how their experience affects them both emotionally and practically. A person who empathises readily or easily is described as empathetic (adj) because they respond empathetically (adv).
Empathy is what Atticus Finch was teaching his daughter in To Kill A Mockingbird:
“First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
In other words, empathy is necessary for understanding other people, and therefore their experiences and behaviour, too.
Sympathy differs in that it relates to sharing a feeling or experience with or alongside someone else. It has a sense of commonality and community, where empathy is more individual. One who sympathises (v) is described as sympathetic (adj) because they respond sympathetically (adv).
Sympathy is a much older word, dating back to the 1500s, when it entered English via French ‘sympathie’ from Latin sympathi‘ and before that, from Greek sympathes which meant to have a common feeling or to be affected by similar feelings. The prefix sym- means together so when added to pathos, the meaning is feeling together – synonymous with compassion, which literally means suffering together.
The differences are subtle, but definite. Consider these example responses to a person grieving a loved one:
Empathy: ‘I understand that you are sad and hurting. I understand life will never be the same again. I’m here for you.”
Sympathy: “I share your sorrow and pain. Life will never be the same, but I am here with you.”
In both cases, the person understands they are not alone, but the ways in which their experience is understood and shared differ.
Crucially, both empathy and sympathy must be genuine in order to actually exist. Token words and empty expressions are meaningless.
If one is unable to connect at any level with the experiences of others, or to offer anything other than a token acknowledgment of someone else’s suffering, they have neither. There are such things as empathy training and empathy coaches, but if the subject does not have the capacity for it, one may as well try to teach a fish to walk.
Empathy and SympathyTweet
#emotions #vocabulary #blog
Why do we call the W ‘double U’ instead of ‘double V’?
For the answer to this, we need to go back to Rome, where they made no distinction V and U, nor between the letters I and J, even though one of each pair is a vowel and the other a consonant.
This means that in Roman times, these pairs of letters– U and V , and I and J –were what we call allographs. An allograph is an alternative form of the same letter, like upper and lower case letters, or the same letter in plain or italic, or in different fonts. Replacing one with the other does not change how the words are said.
Thats why you’ll see AVGVSTVS instead of AUGUSTUS or IVLIVS instead of JULIUS on old Roman coins.
The Romans did not have a letter for the /w/ sound because they didn’t really use it. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval England used the sound a lot in their language, so they needed a letter for it when they started writing things down using the Latin alphabet instead of the runic alphabet they had used previously. They originally wrote it as uu– which makes sense as the /w/ sound comes right at the end of the long /u/ sound– but then reverted to using the runic character wynn to represent the sound. When the Normas arrived in England in the 11th century, they brought back the usage of the conjoined uu to represent the /w/ sound, and it literally became the double U.
Even in today’s English, the previous identity of U and V is reflected in the varied spelling of similarly pronounced words such as flower and flour, guard and ward, or lour and lower.
Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.Tweet
#English #language #history
A person who shows different sides of their personality to different people or in different situations is commonly called two-faced.
Another word for this is duplicity.
A duplicitous person varies the way they act and speak in various situations in order to conceal the truth and try to make themselves look good, to save face, or to increase their popularity.
The problem with that kind of behaviour is that nobody likes being lied to and, sooner or later, the truth will expose the lies.
It must be enormously difficult for any person to maintain the deceit, and exponentially difficult for someone in a position of power or celebrity.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, is also our Prime Example of Duplicity. Like most politicians, he has made an art of duplicity for years, but it seems that now the carefully constructed facades are crumbling.
After two months full of allegations of heinous behaviour by members of parliament and other employees of the government, one after another after another, closely followed by revelations of concealment and obfuscation by others in positions of power and responsibility, Morrison’s default ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Daggy Dad’ personas are insufficient for dealing with the fallout of the current scandals, both in Parliament and in the media.
He says one thing to reporters he feels are antagonistic, another to reporters he thinks are his allies, and something else in Parliament. You can bet he says something different again behind closed doors when talking with his colleagues, and something else entirely when talking with those who have been accused of a range of very nasty behaviours or of sweeping the offences under a very large piece of Parliament House carpet.
What we are seeing now is an astounding array of very unattractive faces of Scott Morrison:
Overconfident Morrison is glib and supercilious.
Angry Morrison is vindictive and thoughtless.
Mansplaining Morrison is condescending and dismissive.
Misogynistic Morrison assumes the men are telling the truth and the women are always lying— and this is, perhaps, the most telling of all his faces.
The man who declares that an alleged rapist and another man accused of saying horrible things about his victim are both innocent, without listening to or looking at a scrap of evidence and without any official investigation into either allegation, is disregarding the law and demonstrating complete and utter disregard for the experiences of every woman who has ever been harassed, abused, assaulted, raped, or gaslighted. He is bringing the government, the political party, and the law of the land into disrepute.
While Morrison proclaims that his wife and daughters are the centre of his world, his actions communicate something different to Australian women: he and his own power are in fact his first priority. He speaks warmly about the women in his family when he doesn’t want to appear entirely heartless, but his emotions are never for the victims of the plethora of offences against women committed by the other privileged and powerful blokes he knows.
If he ever stopped for three minutes, like his wife Jen suggested, to think about any of the women who have been raped, assaulted, publicly denounced as liars, and vehemently slut-shamed over recent weeks as if they were his daughters, it doesn’t appear to have had any effect on his determination to protect the perpetrators in Parliament House. It hasn’t stopped him trying to deflect attention with corny staged photo opportunities and questionable claims about how well Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination program is going. It hasn’t stopped him attempting to explain it all away as storytelling and hysteria, or tut-tutting about the complainants’ mental health.
Like many Australian women, I am angry at the continued failure of our nation’s leader to make a meaningful stand on the current scandals rocking the nation. I am furious that the accounts of victims are dismissed, and that there is no responsibility taken at any level for the absence of belief and the lack of justice experienced by victims. I am disgusted that the women themselves are blamed for what has happened to them. I am sickened by the fact that this goes all the way to the highest levels of the Australian government: Members of Parliament and SenatorsCabinet ministers, senators, the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister have both had their integrity besmirched in different ways.
These issues aren’t going away anytime soon. The credibility of the Prime Minister and his government are damaged, probably beyond any hope of repair, and many Australians— mostly, but not all, women— are insistently demanding justice for the victims and genuine cultural change. Scott Morrison has a choice: he can lead it, or he can be left behind by it. The longer he leaves it, though, the latter is the far more likely option.
Duplicity: The Many Unattractive Faces of #ScottMorrisonTweet
Many men understand and handle the concept of consent perfectly well. Many men are respectful, decent human beings.
Others? Not so much.
There has been a lot of talk recently in Australian politics and the media about consent. It seems that some blokes out there just don’t understand the concept.
Honestly, it is not that difficult.
If you’re interested in someone and they say no, that’s the end of it.
Even if you are not particularly interested in someone but you just want to have sex with them, and they say no, that’s the end of that, too.
Even if you’re in a relationship and you want sex and the other person says no, that’s that.
If someone is drunk or otherwise under the influence, unconscious or otherwise unable to formulate a clear decision about whether or not they want sex, the assumed answer should be no.
Even if people are already in the middle of having sex, should one partner say they want to stop, that means consent is withdrawn and the other partner should actually stop.
But that is not the point.
The entire point is that sex should not happen unless both parties are willing. That’s what consensual means: the people involved are equally willing and in agreement.
Anything else is assault.
Anything else is rape.
Any person forcing themselves on another for sex is a rapist.
Any person assuming consent by someone unable to give it is a rapist.
It doesn’t matter whether they are strangers, friends, in a relationship or married. It doesn’t make any difference if one is a sex worker, or an employee, or happens to be lying naked in a field of wildflowers.
Even the dullest-minded man understands consent perfectly well when they are approached by someone they are not interested in or attracted to. When they say no, that’s that.
Clearly then, is not that they just don’t get it: the fact is that they refuse to get it. Somehow, they think the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them.
So here’s a message from Australian women to the boys’ club in Parliament House:
‘No’ actually does still mean ‘no’. It always has.
We don’t need a stupid phone app to register consent.
We just need everyone to understand privilege and power do not magically make “no” mean “yes”.
We need the people running the country to be truthful and respectful about the wicked deeds of other men— and some women— about things that have been done, and covered up, and excused by those who should be the first to uphold and apply the laws of the land.
It doesn’t matter who it is or what public position they hold: no rapist deserves leniency, no rapist deserves pity, and no rapist should have anyone explaining things away, covering up the truth or making excuses for them.
And anyone who does anything to protect a rapist deserves nothing but contempt.