Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Trilling and shrieking

with 7 comments

Cherie Blair Many thanks to Danrandom for maki...
Image via Wikipedia

A leading  barrister was interviewed for the Sunday Times and Times online about their involvement, among other things, with a 1.2 billion pound project to promote greater opportunities for women in the workplace.

In the piece, the barrister:

  • is described as having ‘moist Spanish infanta eyes’;
  • apparently ‘trills’ when speaking;
  • pauses during the interview to take a sip of water and ‘shake their bouffed black locks’; and
  • ‘shrieks’ the word ‘no’ in response to a comment by the interviewer.

You can tell, of course, that the interviewee was a woman: Cherie Blair as it happens. But you knew that anyway, because a prominent male lawyer would never have their physical appearance, mannerisms or speech described in this way when being interviewed about a serious multi-national initiative.

I’m no fan of Cherie Blair, but I do object to the use of these lazy clichés that have the wider effect of undermining women in general. Particularly ironic in this case when considering the reason why she was being interviewed in the first place.

Gender-neutral writing

She’s so intolerant…



7 Responses

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  1. Good points. A paper might describe male physical characteristics, but perhaps not so pejoratively. I’d expect to see for men positive terms like “lantern-jawed” or “grey-flecked,” say. *filing away “moist Spanish-infanta eyes” for later use elsewhere*

    Blair sounds quite smart. She’s managed to raise four kids while having a career outside the home. (If I’ve just offended, sorry in advance.)

    Michael Farrell

    21/02/2010 at 5:04 pm

    • Mrs Blair is a very clever woman — ex-PM Blair always acknowledges that she is smarter than he is. She is a judge and recently became involved in a controversy involving what some perceived as a too-lenient sentence based on the fact that the convicted person was a religious man.


      21/02/2010 at 5:11 pm

  2. “Shamso Miah, 25, of Redbridge, east London, broke a man’s jaw following a row in a bank queue.” So all that stuff on The Guardian about Brits’ queuing up so well was just malarkey? My dreams shattered….

    I’d say she’s allowed to consider any factors that affect his propensity to commit violence; but it’s judicial indiscretion to voice religion as one. Moreover, I’d say his religion didn’t prevent him from socking another man in the jaw in a bank queue.

    Tony is not Catholic, right? His immediate ancestors seem to have come up very well from humble beginnings.

    Michael Farrell

    21/02/2010 at 5:26 pm

    • Tony Blair was a member of the Church of England, but became a Catholic after leaving office. While in office, his then media advisor, Alastair Campbell, famously interjected “We don’t do God” when Blair was asked something pertaining to his religion.


      21/02/2010 at 5:38 pm

      • Hmmmmmm. Verrry inneresting: a post-office conversion? Do you think he was secretly holding mass in the cellar at No. 10? I read something about him and his wife engaging in pagan New-Agey practices on a Mexican vacay. What’s wrong with just margies on the veranda overlooking the ocean?

        Michael Farrell

        21/02/2010 at 6:19 pm

  3. It is fairly typical of journalists to use perjorative physical (or other) descriptions to prejudice the reader against the case the interviewee is putting forward. Ive seen it done many times to all kinds of people, and the object is to convey that this person fits a certain stereotype which “would say that”, or is generally not to be trusted. This is how the media exercise power over public opinion whilst still being able to claim that they are being even handed and unbiased.


    06/02/2014 at 12:31 pm

    • Hi! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You’re so right, of course. The trouble is, this kind of thing can be very subtle (more so than this example) and sometimes difficult to detect. It can be insidious.


      06/02/2014 at 7:27 pm

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