What’s in a word?

Ah, the complex power of words.  Yesterday we tweeted support for the Hope Not Hate campaign for responsible reporting (something we happen to feel strongly about).  In reply came an interesting response from Leith blogger and tweeter, yonmei, saying that the use of the word “shrill” in the campaign against The Star’s coverage of Muslim stories, was sexist.  The Star’s editor, Dawn Neesom, happens to be a woman.

So that raises an interesting problem.  Does Nick Lowles (the Hope not Hate campaigner who happens to be a man) undermine his cause by applying the word shrill to the tone of reporting in The Star?

Not sure.  We support the campaign because we believe the media plays an often destructive role in the public perception of ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, refugees – in fact minorities of all shapes, sizes and sexes.

But yonmei does raise a very good point about the power of words to confuse and distract attention from the cause itself (the Hope not Hate campaign is fundamentally about words and the way they are used by The Star and other papers).

This is a debate that erupts everyone now and then and may be a good sign – women are ever so gradually becoming more visible in public life and politics. A quick Google (“is shrill a sexist word”) produces thousands of blogs. To pick just one, the first on the page , US blogger Tom Watson, asks if he was sexist to accuse Hillary Clinton of ‘scolding’.   The assumption being that men never scold (shrill, shriek or scream).

Ironically, Lowles could have used the word shrill even if The Star’s editor was a man, though of course he would not necessarily have avoided being called sexist.  The Oxford dictionary definition of shrill is, “piercing and high pitched in sound”, and, ok,  that is more easily applied to a woman than a man. (As yonmei also points out the mean of words lies in use as much/more than in their dictionary definition) But there is a colourful description of the sound in the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary which describes, the “shrilling of a cock”.  and “his voice shrilled with passion”.

Anyway,  Hope not Hate is worth supporting and we will return to the subject of the media again soon.

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