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Name's in a What? On:2009-02-19 16:45:57

I believe that Shakespeare once wrote something along the lines of:
"A nose by any other name would smell,
"So Romeo would were he not Romeo called".
And, any considerations of personal hygiene or the lack thereof in sixteenth century Verona aside, he was right you know: re-naming something doesn't make a ha'porth of difference!

I mean, consider, for example, the use of euphemism by spies, mobsters, politicians, health insurance agents and other such criminals. Is anyone any less dead because they have been 'terminated', 'rubbed out', 'whacked', 'blown away', 'fragged', 'neutralised' or 'that's not covered'? Did they get more out of the process or enjoy it more? Course not!
Or again consider the 60s and 70s, when it was almost the sine qua non of protest to become nominal realists1 when trying to change the norms of reality: then, then, in that time of woe, such crimes against humanity (or at least against human language) as the changing of 'chairman' to [Aaaaaauurgh!] 'chairPERSON'2 were perpetrated.

And of course there was the locus classicus of such changes: the re-purposing of the word 'Gay'.
I would be the first to admit that those who wished to appropriate that word to their cause had cause so to do (well I would be the first, but for the fact that a lot of people have done it before me, but saying with more accuracy something like 'I would be the 41,528,329th person to admit...' seems so preciously precise---and even if by chance it were right when I started, would almost certainly be way off by the time I'd said it).

 'Homosexual' was a word obviously too long, too clinical and (to be frank) too stressful on a classical education that tended not to be up to differentiating its first element between Greek ὅμός (meaning 'the same') and Latin 'hŏmo-' (meaning 'a human or a male') so they shied away from all the etymological confusion that would entail3, but then the poor buggers had no more luck amongst the various, and more-or-less pejorative, other terms then in use. So they adopted it and were (we may suppose) happy to be 'Gay'. And as they went so went the winds (or at least the breaths) of change.
And speaking of change: I assume you do know that there's a process of language change, that some call (by analogy with euphemism) 'Dysphemism ', whereby by a sort of Gresham's Law of language bad meaning forces out good meaning, but more of that later.

You see this essay was brought about because I was all aGoogling for something about Emma-my-political-one and ended up all agog at the number of hits she had, particularly the plethora that led to her local Prescott paper and to letters that were both pro and rather wildly con her support of relabeling (if not re-purposing) illegal aliens as undocumented workers.
Emma and her part thought it would help, others thought otherwise---often quite strongly.
Now I wouldn't dare get into the debate about people who seem so keen on sneaking into a country where other people want to A) exploit them, B) incarcerate them and C) deport them usually all at the same time: it's probably all a matter of taste, about which there can be no reasonable debate.
I would merely ask Emma and her ill-documented un-legals if it's worth all the effort.

Well, to return to that dyspheming. The OED4 cites the earliest use of 'Gay' in the modern liberational sense to various uses from 1922, but it hedges its bets by adding "It is likely that, although there may be innuendo in some cases, these [uses] have been interpreted anachronistically" during the period, presumably, that followed the Gay Rights Movements of the late 60's and early 70's. What the OED is much more certain about though, is what had happened to the word by 1978.
And I'll leave you to guess which word is a leading teenage term of disapprobation---and how that's just ... gay!

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


1 nominal realists: A silly philosophical paronomasia, See here for a lack of clarification

2 chairPERSON: Though, if I can speak ex-cathedra, apocope-ing it down to 'chair' doesn't seem anywhere near as bad by comparison.

3 hŏmo , ĭnis (archaic form hemonem hominem dicebant, Paul. ex Fest. p. 100 Müll.; cf. humanus and nēmo, from nĕ-hĕmo: homōnem, Enn. ap. Prisc. p. 683 P. = Ann. v. 141 Vahl.: “hŏmōnes,” Naev. 1, 1), comm. root in humus, Gr. χαμαί; cf. Germ. -gam in Bräutigam; O. H. Germ. gomo; Goth. guma; Old Engl. goom; Engl. groom; cf. also Gr. ἐπιχθόνιοι; Hebr. Adam, a human being, man.
   ὅμός , ή, όν, one and the same, common, joint, “οὐ γὰρ πάντων ἦεν ὁ. θρόος” Il.4.437 ; “ὁ. γένος” 13.354 ; “ὁμὴ σορός” 23.91, IG14.2469.10 ; “ὁ. τιμή” Il.24.57 ; “ὁ. αἶσα” 15.209 ; “ὁ. νεῖκος” 13.333 ; “ὁ. ὀϊζύς” Od.17.563 ; “ὁ. λέχος” Il.8.291, Hes. Th.508 ; “ὁμὰ χθών” IG14.1721 ; οὐ καθ᾽ ὁμὰ φρονέοντε not of one mind, Hes.Sc.50 ; “ἱκνεῖσθαι εἰς ὁμόν” unite, Parm.8.47 : c. gen., “ἑτέρων ἴχνια μὴ καθ᾽ ὁμὰ δίφρον ἐλᾶν” Call.Aet.Oxy.2079.26. (Cf. Skt. samá-, Goth. sama 'the same', cogn. with εἷς.

4 OED: To which money-grubbing swine, by the way, I just had to pay yet another $300.

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