Horse Hockey and Buffalo Bagels – “Redefined”

Recently in the wake of PM Pragmata De Ville’s now-famous “misogyny” speech re Federal Opposition Liability, Tony Rabbit – kind of a “Dean Martin Celebrity Roast at the MGM Grand Hotel” deal, minus the laughs, but chock full of zingers – one or two people, including your humble and rumpled blodgester, tremulously raised the possibility that the PM (and others) had got it a little wrong.

As enjoyable as it was seeing the Liability getting an overdue baking and bucketing, and as much as he perhaps can be called on having some values dating back roughly to when cars started with a crank and footwear was fastened via means of buttons, that “misogyny” wasn’t quite the right word.

(A concern that seems to have borne emphatic and poisonous fruit as the conservative arm of Australian politics has flailed around with alarming vigour and inaccuracy since – in roughly equal proportions – desperately trying to find examples of Labor Party functionaries who have somehow slighted women as a whole or individually, and can thus be labelled “misogynists” – i.e. a transparently desperate ploy to take the curse off whatever damage had been done by the PM’s Rickles-like 15 minutes of viral fame making “that” speech.)

All of which could and possibly should have been dismissed as so much political grandstanding, via the misuse of emotive language.

Until the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary weighed in a week or two later and announced that publication would revise the definition of that word, misogyny, to suit more modern usage, or whatever the precise verbal bull-biscuit in question was. The proximity, convenience and publicity benefits of this all happening as the saliva was still settling from the Gillard speech (and subsequent reactions to same) seemed, much like the common window, fairly transparent.

There were those of us – well, speaking in the non-regal singular, me, but I’ll wager I wasn’t flying Han Solo here – who, from the start, suggested that misogyny wasn’t the right word in context, and that if people are talking about sexism, or, to coin a flavoursome antique from the hippie era, male chauvinism, then that’s the expression they ought to use, rather than sprinting for the end zone in terms of gunning for publicity, and thus inaccurately using a far more emotive term like’misogyny’.

It’s a clarity of speech/precision of language issue. There are existing words and expressions – perfectly valid ones, possibly some of them involving profanity – for people who think women’s place is in the kitchen, that higher reaches of employment and education are beyond them, etc etc, and all that sterling 15th century claptrap.

None of those words are ‘misogyny’. That means hatred of women. That’s just what it means.

(The ‘miso’ part of the word unless it refers to a sort of intermittently-flavoured Japanese soup, means hate. It’s from a Greek word, ‘misos’, according to the nearest dictionary to hand, which has no reason to lie to me.)

Misogynists might well hold the prejudiced beliefs concerning women expressed a few paragraphs back, but not all who hold such beliefs are misogynists. Both reading/locating a definition and working out the logic in the previous sentence are middle secondary school stuff at most. It’s not all that challenging.

Unless one goes galloping off wildly in all directions carried away by a combination of rhetoric and emotion. Which is exactly what Corinne Grant seems to have done here.

My response to this, for want of a better expression, wild hand-flapping guff, is located on that site, but to make things easier, and to help pad out the interweb, I reproduce it below as well.

Incidentally, on that same site, The Hoopla, you can read this excellent piece by journalist Tracey Spicer. As a bonus, this employs the correct use of the word, misogynist. And how.


(my response to Corinne Grant’s energetic departure from the planetary surface.)

Horse hockey. Ill-considered, emotive horse hockey at that. The issue here is retaining the clarity of the language. It’s a valid issue. Why artificially change the definition of a word when better alternatives for what is meant (i.e. by the revamped, thoroughly modern millie, all-new chorus line version of “misogyny”) already exist in the language?

Sexism is what was being discussed in the PM’s speech, and has been in weedy attempts since by the Opposition and its allies to countermand the damage done by the PM’s now-famous quarter-hour of zingers.
Sexism and misogyny weren’t the same word. They didn’t have identical connotations at all. How will it help the language – our tool of communication between each other – to artificially remove the distinction between these words?
The argument that there is no standard or “single-source” one-truth dictionary reference is weak sophistry. When this issue arose, re the Macquarie I checked three dictionaries I use as reference all the time, and which, as someone who writes for a living and reads constantly and widely, I consider representing a pretty decent spread of approaches to the language.
All had identical meanings for “misogyny” – hatred of women. That’s what the word means. Kind of like how “misanthropy” doesn’t imply someone who’s “Just a bit grumpy”.
There’s no room for movement there. No new phenomenon has come up that needs encapsulation via the previously existing word ‘misogyny’, which already had a clear and viable meaning. Language isn’t a bunch of loose definitions scuttling about like hermit crabs and trying to run into old words and live in them.
The more it’s a tool of precision, the better humans are going to be able to communicate with each other using it.
An unnecessary dilution like this is a diminuition as well. It’s a misuse.
This is a communicational, linguistic issue. It’s not sexism. Raving about it being pedantry and trumpeting that the feminist aspects of the discussion trump any such considerations (the latter apparently being designated invalid anyway – i.e. message here seems to be there’s no ‘One Dictionary’ authority but there IS one Corinne Grant Authority) is pretty rich. Too rich for my stomach, anyway. I’d wager I’m not the only one.
Incidentally, just to remove this as an easy get-out clause for any who disagree with my argument, I have never voted Liberal/National in my life, and do think women should work (or not work) at whatever the hell they want, get paid as much as men for it, marry whoever the hell they want, etc.



6 thoughts on “Horse Hockey and Buffalo Bagels – “Redefined”

  1. Maybe he was being “mildly misogynistic”. Or we could be delving into the realm of philosophical semantic externalism…

  2. You’re a fucking genius larry.

    I can’t COMMUNICATE with anyone in the modern world because so many definitions of words have been corrupted / appropriated to mean whatever feminists / post-modernists / religious-nuts WANT them to mean.

    It is a serious problem in our society, if now every definition is “subjective” you never know what anything means, and you constantly have to re-learn language instead of using it to get things done. This creates a highly inefficient society,

    but I guess that is okay…because we are deliberately throwing the game to allow “developing” nations to catch up….

    sorry I’ll get with the game plan…

  3. I ticked the last comment (James Earthenware) for appearing here, basically because a little nagging voice reminded me that I’m still one of the minority that advocates that free speech inherently must include the stuff you don’t necessarily agree with – something many folks here – print medium, electronic media, government/politicians of all levels and stamps – tend to forget at the drop of a poll, focus group, slice of demographic ‘research’, or just about any other occurrence.

    That said, my concerns re the modern day hokey-pokey being done with liguistic abuses/misuses in general and dictionary definition adjustments being enacted (ludicrously) to reflect the former, is particularly one-dimensional. It has very little, and in some cases nothing, to do with the arguments put forward by James.

    My point regards, on a base-line level what might be hi-falutingly termed the basic human condition in terms of the difficulty, sometimes trending impossibility, of one human being trying to successfully convey what’s in his head to one or more others, let alone then working out whether the thought/mindset/whatever it was WAS in fact successfully apprehended by the other person.

    The tool we mostly use to do this is language. The more precise the tool is, the more it can help with this quixotic and perhaps borderline impossible task/ideal of conveying ideas between two or more humans so that all have the same concept in their heads at the same time.

    Changing established, precise definitions of words to match errors in general use screws this process up even more, and is particularly not justified when the “new” definition now being ascribed to an inappropriate word already had one or more perfectly viable words to cover that definition.

    For one concrete example, we don’t need to erroneously change (or ‘broaden’) the definition of ‘misogynist’ to include the definition of the word ‘sexist’, as the word ‘sexist’ already exists. Making the word ‘misogynist’ less specific – apart from enshrining an error of use, which is logically idiotic – does absolutely nothing to help humans communicate about complex ideas in such a way to enhance understanding between individuals via application of language. It does the exact opposite.

    Just to make this clear, my argument has nothing to do with feminists, post-modernists, or religious people, none of whom I have any particular ongoing beef with on this or any other particular topic that I can think of.

    I also wasn’t saying dictionary definitions have become subjective, or that my issue with the alteration of definitions was because it “makes society inefficient”. (Except perhaps in the loosest sense of the latter.)

    I have absolutely no idea, and probably no interest, in James’s notion that “we” (whoever “we” is meant to represent here) are “throwing the game” to allow developing nations to catch up. I also have no idea why “developing” was in quotation marks in the email. I don’t see that any of that has anything to do with what I was writing about in the first place.

    In the interest of disclosure, or whatever you’d call it, I did junk, or ‘non-approve’, at least one other comment by James Earthenware as I thought the sentiments included were getting progressively further and further off topic, nor did they seem to reflect anything I’d be likely to espouse on this website.


  4. As someone who enjoys cryptic crosswords I don’t mind a little play on the definition of words. I think Larry you might be fighting a losing battle. For example practically no one uses the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘carefree and happy’ anymore even though this definition is still in the dictionary. I do agree though on your definition of ‘free speech’ (if I’m understanding what your saying correctly). It doesn’t mean the right for your opinion to prevail but the right for everyone’s opinion to be heard and considered equally.

  5. Language use for cryptic crosswords isn’t the same as it is in spoken or written English, otherwise folks like me who can’t untangle so much as one clue in cryptic crosswords, wouldn’t be able to follow the language. In fact, if we follow the policy of everyone doing the Humpty Dumpty shuffle (i.e. “When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean – nothing more and nothing less”) all language will ultimately become cryptic crosswords to everybody – the Tower of Babel rebuilt, for a comparatively rare Biblical reference on this site.

    ‘Gay’ is a spectacularly poor example of what’s being talked about in the comment I made. It’s been used for decades to mean “homosexual”, and increasingly rarely to mean “merry” or “happy”. I don’t have a problem with a word mutating over time, or being co-opted over time, as long as the usage is genuinely commonplace. That’s not a misuse. Also the later use of “gay” is not an error of degree (as “misogynist” used in place of “sexist” is) – it’s a completely new definition that’s been drafted in over time.

    “Misogynist” used as a synonym for “sexist” or “chauvinist” (in the old hippie-era “male chauvinist” sense) is purely and simply a misuse. It’s not sufficiently common by a long shot to represent a ‘reclaimed’ or ‘adjusted’ meaning.

    Whether or not I’m fighting a losing battle – and my suspicion is that everyone trying to keep the English language rational and useful, let alone correctly applied, IS probably fighting a losing battle – your example doesn’t have anything to do with what was under discussion here.

    The “right for opinion” bit came across as a bit gibberish-y to me.

    If people trumpet a position in a public forum, based on zero research or knowledge, get called on it, then are found be in error, it’s pretty weak of them to bleat that the individual/people who identified their error as being big bullies, or whatever.

    Frankly, folks who sound off without a clue on a subject, then get called on it and are caught red-handed as having blathered on without knowing what the hell they were talking about, ought to take their lumps.

    The “right for everyone’s opinion to be heard and considered equally” is a crock – but it works nicely for continually stifling and poisoning the level of debate in this country.

    That’s what I call the “Beer Garden democracy” – everyone gets to sound off from either end about any subject that comes up, regardless of any thought, research or knowledge on the subject that they bring to the table.

    This is appropriate for you and your mates (or me and mine) around a table in a beer garden, but a waste of everybody’s time in a public forum. If we sit around listening to everybody who feels like they really truly MUST have an opinion, but they know nothing of the subject under discussion, we never get anywhere, and endlessly repeat the same time-wasting fallacies in argument over and over again.

    Put it this way (and it’s the simplest solid example I can give as to why this line of thought is purely a non-starter) if a fire breaks out near my place in the street, there, to you, may well be a “right for everyone’s opinion to be heard and considered equally” but to be frank with you, I’m listening to the fireman, no matter how much you, Neil Mitchell or anybody else earnestly and deeply feel they’ve got something to offer that should be “heard and considered equally”.

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