Letter: My word, what a nonsensical ban

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The Independent Online
Sir: Rhys Williams reports (17 March) that an English university has banned its staff from using the expressions 'my wife' and 'my secretary', on the grounds that the word 'my' indicates possession and is discriminatory. It is to be presumed that Mr Williams is either the victim or the perpetrator of an academic joke, since it is difficult to believe that any British university could publicly flaunt such linguistic simple-mindedness.

If you address a judge as 'my lord', is it to be assumed that you are claiming ownership of him? And what about 'My God]'? And if I say 'My dear chap, the mistake was obviously yours', is it to be concluded (a) that I possess the dear chap, and (b) that the dear chap is the possessor of the mistake?

Even a cursory glance at the OED shows that the use of the word my does not necessarily imply possession, but can be used vocatively, prefixed affectionately to terms of relationship or endearment.

Yours faithfully,



17 March