Woke in Vogue

American Vogue has correctly castigated the word niggling, as in ***gling worry, for being racist in general and towards Meghan Markle in particular.

Huck and Afro-American James

As a lifelong champion of propriety, I agree wholeheartedly: underprivileged people like Meghan have suffered enough discrimination over the past several millennia to be exposed to such verbal abuse. Even when the affront is only phonetic and not semantic, it wounds just as grievously.

That’s why I’m amazed that this campaign against unconscious bias expressed through phonetic bigotry has taken so long to gather speed. After all, it was 22 years ago that an American official got in trouble for using the word niggardly. One would think that’s enough time for all those beastly words to have been expurgated from public discourse. Oh well, better late than never.

As Her Majesty’s subject, I’m proud that Hamish Bowles, the man who renewed this crusade for phonetic decency, is himself British, even though he chose an American magazine as his forum. After all, the language is called English, not American. Hence it behoves Britons to steer it into the harbour of moral goodness.

I wish I had initiated this noble effort. As it is, all I can do is jump on the bandwagon, even at the risk of breaking a leg.

To begin with, no campaign can succeed without a slogan. In this case, I propose ‘Down with Homonyms, Homophones and Other Homos…’ Oops, you know how it is. You put something down on paper and then realise how dreadful it sounds. Took me a second to recognise that my proposed motto is blatantly (if inadvertently!) homophobic.

But here’s the silver lining to that cloud: it has dawned on me that it’s not just words containing nig or neg that can cause lacerating offence, but also those starting with homo- and paedo- (or ped-).

It’ll take weeks of painstaking effort to compile an exhaustive, and exhausting, list of taboo words. The best I can hope to do in a short piece is signpost the path to the ultimate verbal virtue. In this spirit, here’s my modest contribution.

The N-words, in addition to ***gling and ***gardly: ***ate, ***ative, de***grate, ab***ate, ***ht (and its derivatives such as ***htgown), ***ligible, ***otiate, e***ma. In parallel with compiling this glossary, I’m contacting African officials about new geographical designations for ***eria and ***er, those guaranteed not to upset Meghan.

The H-words, in addition to those mentioned: ****geneous, ****logy, and so forth. The original word ****sexual, now being laudably replaced with the newly correct queer, should also be banished for stylistic incongruity. Combining Greek and Latin in the same word is grating on an ear as sensitive as mine.

The P-words to be proscribed: ***iatrician, ***estal, ***al, ex***ition, ***estrian, ex***ience, ***icure – well, you get the gist.

I could, probably should, have compiled a much longer list, but time is running short. I must go and toss into the bonfire my copies of Gone with the Wind, Huckleberry Finn and Collected Works of William Shakespeare (I haven’t got a separate copy of Othello).

Anyway, by now you know enough to carry on without me. If you get stuck, contact Hamish Bowles, Anna Wintour or Meghan Markle.

PS: The Times describes pop ‘multi-instrumentalist’ Jacob Collier as a “Londoner, who has been compared to Mozart and Prince”. No doubt Mozart would have felt honoured to be mentioned side by side with Messrs Collier and Prince. I’m only sorry for another multi-instrumentalist, JS Bach, who would have felt left out. 

4 thoughts on “Woke in Vogue”

  1. Letter “N” zer(?)self looks quite unsafe, look at the zigging and zagging, and those dangerous–looking tips – my God. It’s asking to be cancelled. 25 is enough. Replace it with an “M”, like they do in Nexico.

  2. “Pedicure” must be banned on two counts: 1) your statement of the offending “ped” (paedo); and 2) it implies (by use of “cure”) paedos are not born that way, but choose to act on an impulse. Free will is a thing of the past. Of course, no free will brings into question other whole movements (MeToo jumps to mind) that condemn actions that are so clearly NOT inborn. Some behaviors are inborn and thus perfectly acceptable (even to the point of pride!), while other behaviors are obviously not. Contradiction? Illogical? What a tangled web we weave… Oops! There’s that offending Bard, again!

  3. “Pedicure” must be banned on two counts: 1) your eloquent statement of the offending “ped” (“paedo”); and 2) it implies (by that embedded “cure”) that paedos are not born that way and that it is something requiring some sort of corrective action. Born that way implies no free will. And certainly free will is now a thing a the past, right? Hold on, the idea of no free will would bring down other whole movements (MeToo jumps to mind). I see it now: some behaviors are inborn and thus acceptable (one must even take pride in them!) and some are obviously NOT inborn; they are free acts and are thus to be purged. Anyone sense a contradiction? Lack of logic? Oh what a tangled web we weave… Oops! There’s that offending Bard again!

  4. Brilliant – and a vocabulary refresher to boot! Who says you don’t give good value?

    I remember years ago when certain elements of our glorious press were whipping up hysteria against paedophiles (‘…there’s one living near you…’ etc). One house was targeted and trashed by a baying mob of very overweight women who thought that leggings were a good look…

    …It turned out that it was the home of a paediatrician.

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