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A woman without her man…
Good grammar and punctuation aren’t optional extras:
A woman without her man is nothing.
With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Ricky Gervais’ latest series, Derek, is currently airing on UK television. Gervais plays Derek, a care worker in a residential home for older people. Reaction in the papers today prompted me to watch it. Here’s a link to the first episode. (Probably available in the UK only.)
The programme raises a number of interesting issues, but I’ll stick to the language-related ones.
Firstly, and most straightforwardly, a common error: Derek is described in the Guardian as ‘a 50-year-old man with an undiagnosed mental health problem’. Now it’s safe to say that Derek is depicted as having some kind of learning difficulty or disability. This is not the same as having mental health problems. Journalists should ensure their terminology is correct.
More interesting to consider is the following, written by a different critic in the same newspaper:
Gervais insisted that the character is not intended to represent a specific disability; he is simply naive and gullible….Personally, I accept that Gervais is not portraying someone living with an identifiable syndrome. But, for me, this is a weakness of the series…The drawback of Derek is not that it is cruel about disability but that it is often soft on a character whose identity remains too vague.
A critic in The Independent newspaper is similarly reductive, asking, What if there’s a label for this kind of dimness? But doesn’t provide an answer. (And such an interesting use of the word ‘label’ there.)
We shouldn’t feel this need to place people in neatly labelled boxes; their individual identity is not defined by a diagnosis. And it should be noted that Derek’s identity as portrayed by Gervais is anything but vague.
Tellingly, none of the other characters portrayed in the programme have been criticised by TV critics for not having been assigned a label. Even though none of them have one.
As Derek says in response to an official’s offer to have him ‘tested for autism’, if being ‘tistic’ doesn’t mean that he’ll die and won’t change him, then he doesn’t need to find out, thanks. And neither do we. The words, the labels, would get in the way of the person.
People are too complicated to have simple labels.
Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
(To be clear, I’m not saying that individuals and those who care for them should not have the right to obtain a clear diagnosis in order to receive the advice, treatment and services to which they are entitled.)
Photo credit: mtsofan
The Church of England has voted in favour of retaining the status quo: it will allow men bishops only.
There’s a sentence you won’t find in any newspaper today. Not only because it sounds as if it were written by a child, but because I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be reading about ‘male bishops’ or a ‘male bishop’.
So why are the terms ‘woman bishop’ and ‘women bishops’ being used so ubiquitously by the media in their coverage of this story?
The noun ‘woman’ can be used as a gratuitous modifier, as previously explained, and its use in relation to female bishops has the same uneasy, patronising whiff about it. I fear that when women are finally allowed promotion through the ranks, the modifier will cling on for grim life, along with the suggestion that a woman cannot really, if we’re honest, be a ‘proper’ bishop.
It’s a habit the press need to break now. Otherwise, when the day comes, there will be bishops and there will be women bishops. Mark my words.
Stylistically, it’s very sloppy journalism, too. Why refer to ‘women bishops’ and ‘male bishops’ in the same sentence or paragraph, as I’ve read today?
Consistency, consistency, uniformity.
Follow that mantra, and you won’t go far wrong.