Magazine article The Spectator

Why Has the Word 'Grandmother' Been Banned by the Guardian?

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Has the Word 'Grandmother' Been Banned by the Guardian?

Article excerpt

There are too few active homosexuals and career women in the Third World. This is because blacks and Asians -- from Australasia to Bangalore -- have a tendency to put them in a pot, cook them and eat them.

Primitive African tribes also eat crippled people -- those in a wheelchair, or merely suffering from a hare lip -- and indeed those they consider to be ethnic minorities. I know of one handicapped spinster who committed suicide rather than be eaten by some gypsies in Bombay. Her illegitimate daughter, an air hostess, who herself had given birth to Siamese twins in Calcutta, appealed for clemency but this fell on deaf ears. She is now an illegal asylum seeker living in the province of Northern Ireland -- and a grandmother to boot, with a bachelor son.

Oh, enough, enough. I had intended to work my way through the entire book, but that will do for now. There's 27 of them up there, in that peculiar opening paragraph; words or phrases which have been banned by one of our national morning newspapers, the Guardian.

It recently gave away a free style guide to its readers, just in case they were mystified by its occasional weird language. Most of my transgressions you will be able to spot, I would guess -- Third World, active homosexual, crippled, handicapped, deaf ears (a phrase which makes deaf people cross, apparently, although not if you whisper it), career women (all women are potential career women, OK? ) and grandmother (why refer to her familial position at all, you reactionary pig? ). Others may come as a surprise -- ethnic minorities is not on, you have to say minority ethnic instead. There is of course no semantic difference between these two constructs, any more than there is between the currently fashionable 'people of colour' and the utterly de trop 'coloured people'. Australasia is out because it's ethnocentric, we should say Oceania instead. The phrase 'in a wheelchair' is frowned upon for reasons I simply cannot comprehend and saying that someone committed suicide might distress relatives, so you should say 'killed themselves' instead, which will make them feel a whole bunch better. But Bangalore? We should be saying Bengalooru, you idiot, even if it is a place most Guardian readers have never heard of and will have to scurry away to their left-wing atlases to locate.

In fairness, it is the BBC, rather than the Guardian, which has led the way in calling foreign places by names which no British person has heard of, a consequence, mind, of the hyperactivity of its previously overstaffed pronunciation unit (PU). This exemplifies a golden rule: dignify some minor problem with a whole department and you'll soon be in deep trouble. I remember one of the PU's operatives, a strange thin man with a ginger beard and spectacles, bursting into the studio cubicle one morning to inform Brian Redhead on the Today programme that he was pronouncing Turkey incorrectly: it should be Turrr-KEE-yah, he said. Redhead responded on the talk-back button with a bunch of high-volume stuff which the Guardian's style guide has also outlawed, on grounds of taste. But 15 years later the pronunciation unit has won and Redhead has lost; every week, it seems, a new city is rechristened, suddenly pronounced the way they pronounce it over there -- and to hell with what confusion this causes among the British public. …

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