Wordwatch Towers

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

Excitable and bubbly

with 12 comments

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A couple of days ago a member of the public was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 as part of its election coverage. The person concerned was providing free administrative help at a political party’s local HQ.

The piece began with the sound of the interviewee’s voice quietly counting out envelopes. The reporter then started speaking to introduce the interviewee, immediately using the description ‘excitable and bubbly’.

Of course, you now know that the person heard counting envelopes was a woman. I’ll eat my hat while doing an impression of a banana if I ever hear a man in similar circumstances described in this way.

So many of the descriptions of women that roll off keyboards and out of (often female as in the case above) mouths either unwittingly or deliberately serve to belittle, undermine and disrespect us. Well, it’s election week here in the UK. I vote for change.

She’s so intolerant but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly

Trilling and shrieking

Top scientist or top female scientist?

Gratuitous modifiers — or the lady bus driver

Am I allowed to say that?


12 Responses

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  1. Excitable, bubbly – and interrupted in her counting! I think that might make me rather excitable too…



    05/05/2010 at 12:09 pm

    • Hi Ron — nice to see you here again. Hope you’re doing OK.

      Yes – I wouldn’t mind if she had actually sounded ‘excitable and bubbly’ — perhaps in response to ‘being on the wireless’ — but she didn’t. ‘Excitable’ sounds a bit like a puppy or a child. (Language is often used to infantilise women.)

      Btw, I’m still waiting for an opportunity to use ‘nugget of cobblers’. I have it filed.x


      05/05/2010 at 12:15 pm

      • Hi Deborah,

        I thought you were taking yourself off to Fresh woods and pastures new… ?

        I got involved in the local elections some years ago, and there is precious little excitement to be had. God, politics is dull.



        05/05/2010 at 12:36 pm

        • You mean my sabbatical? Yes, I thought Wordwatch Towers would be closed for longer than turned out in the end.

          Cleggstacy isn’t floating your boat? You do surprise me. At least the Mrs Duffy incident provided some amusement. We are currently awaiting permission from on high for a proxy vote, without which a member of our household will be disenfranchised. I think the chances that we will succeed in jumping through this particular bureacratic hoop in time for the actual election tomorrow are less likely than Gordon Brown learning how to smile properly.


          05/05/2010 at 12:49 pm

          • Ha! I was supposed to have a postal vote – didn’t get it. Still, given that the post box is almost as far as the polling station, it’s not much help. If we can have secure online banking, I see no reason why we can’t adapt the technology for online voting.

            This year will be the first time I’ve not voted in a general election. I’m minded to vote for Cleggy (I’d normally vote Labour but I’m a tad disenchanted), but as Frank Field is as immoveable as a super-glued limpet, it’s not worth getting rained on. Might go to the pub instead.



            05/05/2010 at 1:08 pm

            • I don’t blame you. I crossed Labour off my Christmas card list a few years ago (instigating wars and the introduction of ID cards not being at the top of my political priorities). The pub sounds good.


              05/05/2010 at 1:19 pm

  2. Sounds more like a white-wine review than the reaction of someone counting envelopes.

    Michael Farrell

    05/05/2010 at 4:18 pm

    • Yes, Champagne, presumably.


      05/05/2010 at 5:36 pm

  3. I vote for change too! Every couple of hours. (I’m so focused on body-fluid humor lately. It must be the influence of my new job. My latest post is about the symbolism of healthy poo.)

    Excitable is in common usage in the USA in regional, mostly Southern syntax, for both men and women. It is not, however, a compliment. “Excitable boys” tend to end up in jail. Bubbly is an adjective applied to women, or occasionally to gay men here.

    I especially enjoy it when you offer these tips with a window to the world at large. Topicality increases resonance, don’t you think?

    Invisible Mikey

    05/05/2010 at 11:22 pm

  4. Hi, Mikey — thank you for your kind words, which I very much appreciate, and also for sharing the info about how ‘excitable’ and ‘bubbly’ are used across the pond. Really interesting — especially using ‘excitable’ in relation to men but, interestingly, still not in a good way. Thanks very much.


    06/05/2010 at 6:12 am

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