Forget what the adage says about words never hurting. Language can be harmful—and has been for a long timeby Simon Lancaster / February 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Political correctness has never seemed less correct. It’s been blamed for Brexit, the rise of Trump and the woes of the white working-classes. But for all the complaints about our language being over-policed, without some care we can easily lapse, or be led, into tropes that don’t liberate our thought, but warp it.
Linguistic dehumanisation can, and often has, been followed by physical violence.
These six insidiously powerful metaphors show how, when we lose control of language, we lose control of humanity.
In 780BC, the poet Semonides of Amorgos deployed an epithet that would have remarkable longevity. He depicted women as “bitches who stray everywhere, always yapping. A man cannot stop her by knocking out her teeth with a stone. Ceaselessly, she continues barking.” Academic studies have shown that men who instinctively associate women with animals are more likely to commit sexual assault or violence against them. Mel Gibson and OJ Simpson both used the word about their girlfriends before attacking them.
Yet the word has become worryingly normalised: between 1997 and 2008 the use of the word on television trebled, and is a common term of abuse against women on social media. And, of course, Donald Trump was caught on tape saying, “I moved on her like a bitch,” before describing his “…