Errors and Omissions: Four decades on and still we are using children to label women

Our Letters Editor points out attitudes more at home in the 50s than a picture caption

Share

Here is a picture caption from last Saturday’s paper: “A rare white humpback whale rises out of the sea off north Queensland. This stunning image was captured by nurse and midwife Jenny Dean last month. Ms Dean, a mother-of-three, came across the amazing show while on a whale-watching trip with her husband.”

Four decades of second-wave feminism have touched the writer sufficiently for Jenny Dean to be Ms Dean, rather than Mrs, but straight away we plunge back into the 1950s with “a mother-of-three”. If it had been her husband who took the picture, nobody would have thought of reporting the number of his children. It has nothing to do with the story.

One further point. It is patronising to tell readers that the picture of the whale is “stunning” and “amazing”. They can judge for themselves how stunned or amazed they are. I suppose we should at least be grateful that we were not told how many children the whale had.

We cannot flatter ourselves that this mother-of-three business was an isolated lapse. On a news page on Thursday we reported: “Lord Sugar’s bid to recover legal costs from former Apprentice winner Stella English has failed. The tycoon launched a counter-claim against Ms English, who has two children, after she lost a constructive dismissal claim against him.”

Is the reader supposed to imagine the mingled hope and anguish of the poor little tots as they follow every twist and turn of their Mummy’s legal battle against the evil ogre Lord Sugar? No, the children are mentioned only because writers see the number of a woman’s children as defining her identity, a measure they would not apply to a man.

Redundantness: This is from a film review published yesterday: “With every twitch, every startled glance and impatient gesture, Blanchett finds the human within this monster of snobbishness.”

Why not “snobbery”? Once more an abstract noun constructed from an adjective and  ending in “-ness” drives out an equivalent, shorter, simpler word, and the language becomes a bit more uniform, drab and clunky.

“Snob”, by the way, is an interesting word. In the 19th century it meant a vulgar person who tried to ape the rich and high-born; in the 20th it turned round to mean one who looked down on social inferiors: the fawning upward glance turns to a downward sneer. 

“Snobbishness” is recognised by dictionaries, but we don’t have to like it. What next: angriness; obscureness; distantness? Any absurdness is within the realm of possibleness, it seems.

Deathly: A world news in brief item on Thursday began with a horror that should have been cut from the agency copy: “A bill allowing stray dogs to be euthanized…”

“Euthanasia” is derived from “thanatos”, the Greek word for “death”. So if you must turn it into a verb, it would be “euthanatise”. But it is in any case the wrong word for putting down stray dogs, because euthanasia is supposed to be for the benefit of the patient.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone