Lynne Mortimer - Call me a person of size and advanced age – if you dare

Lynne Mortimer pointing the finger

Lynne Mortimer pointing the finger - Credit: Archant

Now hold on just one doggone moment. My pc alarm has just gone off.

It hasn’t hit our shores but as it’s happening in America it won’t be long before we’re all at it. In this instance, I speak of a new prescription for a hefty dose of political correctness.

Sometimes, I get the feeling the pc brigade would like to re-write works of great literature to rephrase the uncomfortable expressions playwrights and authors used, in good faith, in their times. Had Shakespeare been penning works of genius today, I suspect the feminist lobby might well take issue with The Taming of the Shrew, the story of a feisty, uncompromising woman who is eventually starved and bullied into submission by a husband she ultimately loves for his masterful ways and, no doubt his body odour and general hairiness. More recently, the 1940s musical Annie Get Your Gun ends (SPOILER ALERT) with sharpshooter Annie deliberately missing a target to make her man win the contest.

Corporate recognition of people’s sensitivities is a relatively new thing and, by and large I think it’s good that men no longer wolf whistle when a woman passes... although I confess to being a little disappointed when, having walked past many building sites in my prime (40 odd years ago), no one ever whistled. It got to the point where I would tour the town looking for new build, hoping to be affronted. Or arreared. It never happened.

Having worked in local government and in journalism, I do understand the importance of sensitivity and have tried to keep up with changes. I was there when elderly people became older people. Some of us remember OAPs (old age pensioners) but that term had to be thrown out when pensioners stopped being universally old. “I took my pension at 50,” is a phrase I shall never use, sadly, but I have heard it uttered. Thinking I was on the cusp of being an “older person”, I now find I’m not, according to a new “bias free language guide” produced by New Hampshire University’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) campus centre. It talks of “micro-aggressions”, tiny slights that may be indicative of a broader insult. My initial reaction to that is that life is full of micro-aggressions and we would be daft to worry too much about them. For example: “Are you all right de-ah?” said in a loud voice as to one who is hard of hearing. Yes, it’s patronising but it’s still an effort to help. I mean if you happen to have your head trapped in a the baby seat of a supermarket trolley, the words may seem to be those of an angel.

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There are plenty of macro-aggressions that we need to eliminate before we tackle the little ones.

It is held that “elders”, “seniors” and “senior citizens” are also inappropriate. So what are we looking for? Wrinklies, OTHs (over the hills)? Funnily enough, no. The expression the guide recommends is “people of advanced age”. Blow that for a game of soldiers. I don’t know whether I am offended or secretly pleased that I have something to be offended about.

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I am the proud possessor of a Senior Railcard. I have no desire to own a Person of Advanced Age Railcard. Nor am I impressed by “people of size” replacing “obese” or “overweight”. Just because a label acknowledges you are a person doesn’t change the fact it’s a label.

Another steer is that someone who is poor should be described as “a person who lacks the advantages that others have”... isn’t that a definition of “poor”?

Why use one word when you can use nine?

I would not be so rash as to agree that while sticks and stones may break my bones, words will never hurt me because it isn’t true. I didn’t like, as a person of lesser age (child) and a person of short sight (myopic), being called “four eyes”. But, actually, that was more of an intended insult than a perceived insult.

Please, don’t let us become obsessed with trivialities of language. There is a danger that bland uniformity will end up taking away our personalities and individuality.

Call me a person of advanced age and I may well advance a proposition of my own.

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