Miles Kington: Have a little respect for small people

The average pygmy may not be able to do 'The TImes' crossword, but he can flourish in the jungle
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The Independent Online

I have received many letters about Sir Christopher Meyer's slighting references to our top politicians, and I would like to print some of them today, as that will give me more time to pop out and do my Christmas shopping.

From Mr Winston Delatte

Sir, I feel I must write in the strongest possible terms to protest against Sir Christopher Meyer's description of our leading politicians as "intellectual pygmies". There speaks a man who has never had a meaningful discussion with a pygmy. In my many years in West Africa I came to know and respect the pygmy people for their integrity, loyalty and, yes, intelligence, and I feel a great indignation on their behalf at the continuing unthinking use of the word "pygmy" to denote anyone with mean capabilities.

The average pygmy may not be able to do The Times crossword, but he can flourish in the jungle, which would be well beyond the talents of people like John Prescott and Jack Straw. One tribe of Pygmies I got to know quite well turned out to have long-established and highly effective traditions for settling arguments and establishing tribal policy, and could have taught a lesson to any of Blair's cabinets. Short in stature they may be, but they are no fools. To call someone a "pygmy" in my book is a compliment, even if the incorrect usage of the term does tend to dwarf the correct use.

From Mr Oscar Cranberry

Sir, I feel I must write in the strongest possible terms to protest against the use in the previous letter of the term "to dwarf". Those of us who have been unfortunate enough to be born of lowly stature have for too long had to put up with the unthinking use of "dwarf" as a catch-all phrase for smallness. Why must a small iris be a "dwarf iris"? Why is a cult science fiction TV show called Red Dwarf? Why is a burnt-out sun called a "white dwarf"? It all smacks of disrespect to small people, and show that the rest of you live in an ivory tower.

From Mr Ashley Keynes

Sir, At a time when the elephant population of the world is under constant threat, it is little short of reckless to use phrases like "living in an ivory tower". Do you know how many elephants it would take to provide the material to build a real ivory tower ? Of course, I realise that nobody intends to do so literally, but we at the Elephant Protection League take the view that even the frivolous misuse of the word "ivory" creates the wrong climate. (You can imagine how unhappy we have been over the years at the the dissemination of films under the label "Ivory Merchant"! The very idea that being an ivory merchant is respectable ...!)

May I conclude by urging your support for the elephant, the noblest member of the animal kingdom ?

From Dr Jack Wallright

Sir, It has always puzzled me when people refer to the animal world as the "animal kingdom". What is kinglike or regal about anything in that savage sphere? We at the Society for The Spread of Monarchy have long maintained that an enlightened monarchy outstrips any other kind of society, and that the naked struggle for power and survival in the natural world is a far cry from the democracy of such modern monarchies as Britain, Sweden, Spain, Holland, etc. Talk of the "animal kingdom" only cheapens our beliefs and makes out work more difficult. Nobody refers to the insect kingdom, or the fish kingdom. Why "animal kingdom"?

From Mrs Betty Jones

Sir, May I protest vehemently against the use of the expression "to welsh on someone", which is a direct slur on the entire Welsh nation? I realise that nobody has actually used the expression. I also realise that I may leave myself open to charges of the Welsh being over-sensitive about things, and even occasionally having a chip on our shoulder. And it may be fair to say that we do go on and on about things sometimes. However ...

Miles Kington writes: I am afraid that's all we have space for today. But do keep writing in to me !