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

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star