One funny, outraged letter I once received from a reader hinged on the meaning of one word. My article took a swipe at the royal family. Readers rarely complain if you have a go at the royals. They're our favourite reality TV/sitcom, a sort of wife-swap Windsor crossed with snog, marry, reign combo.
I claimed that "I'd rather kiss an ugly toad than kiss Prince Charles". One sternly worded letter arrived under the letterhead of the Frog Appreciation Society insisting that "toads aren't ugly".
The word "ugly" may be a little fuzzy at the edges but we all know its core meaning. Terms such as misogynist, feminist, racist, bleeding-heart, greenie and climate heretic, however, work in an entirely different way.
Dictionaries will boast specific definitions. The Macquarie Dictionary recently downgraded the definition of misogynist to something cosier, namely "entrenched prejudices against women".
The Macquarie Dictionary spokesman claims that the announcement had nothing to do with the recent Gillard/Abbott argy-bargy.
This claim is laughable as Macquarie chose this moment to announce that they would upload the new meaning of misogynism to their website some time next year. Perhaps, the Macquarie spokesman should look up the word "spin". He or she will find it somewhere between the entries for bullshit and wanker.
In the realm of politics or anywhere else for that matter, it is not the meaning of the word "misogynist" or "feminist" or "racist" that counts. These words are used to silence others. He's a misogynist. Don't listen to him. Or she's a feminist. What a ball breaker! Once someone is labelled, they're gagged. When a politician is labelled, debate ends. This is the death of democracy.
Labels are used to gag people and, unfortunately, we have more than enough labels to go round. There is another sector of our culture where we are word poor and that is in the realm of relationships. We've lost the language that once gave a young girl a you-are-here certainty in an evolving relationship namely date, boyfriend, fiancé, husband.
Consider the relationship history of a girl in her late twenties today. She will have gone out with young men but not on a date. They'll still expect sex. This relationship is not a one-night stand. It's a four-minute screw. Her first relationship will be more than a date but less than a boyfriend plus sex. He has some status because he's in her phone. So he is her Text Sex Buddy.
She might stumble through a few similarly vague and equally colourful but tragic relationships. The good news is she can delete these Text Sex Buddies from her phone memory. Unfortunately, she can't delete her own memory.
Her first serious relationship will involve separate apartments and sleepovers. When the not-quite-a-couple live together they'll keep their bills and even their food separate. The relationship can limp on undefined for years. She's thinking they're heading for marriage, kids. He's not. When she pushes him for some clarity on the relationship, he's gone. I have seen this happen over and over. What is a relationship based on no sharing, no trust and no direction? It's a Why-Bother relationship. It's the decaf-low-fat-soy-peppermint-Java-chip-frappaccino relationship.
If you can think of a better name for that type of relationship, let me know. We need your help. At the moment, the Book of Lerv is full of blank pages. ■