What's In A Name?
Posted on November 8th, 2021
By Rab Bruce’s Spider
Words are important, and names especially so. The other day, I contributed to a social media chat about whether Scots regard the term, "Jock" as offensive. The general response was that it was offensive, and my contribution was to say that English linguistic culture often ascribes de-personalising names to people from other nations. The examples I quoted were Jock, Paddy, Taffy, Fritz and Ivan, but I’m sure you can think of others. My point is that these terms, often regarded as mere banter by those who use them, are very rarely used by the people at whom the names are targeted to refer to themselves because they regard them as derogatory. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the sort of person who would claim that referring to Scots as Jocks is mere banter is also the sort of person who would be annoyed if an Australian called them a Pom. They would recognise it as not being complimentary, yet they cannot understand why terms they use themselves are viewed as derogatory by those they address in such ways.
One respondent in the chat did have a go at me for attacking everyone in England and, while I believe the English are the worst culprits for this sort of verbal insult, I think it is important to note that I referred to English linguistic culture which extends to all native English speakers. Yes, that includes Scots, and before any Scots start denying they use such terms, I would point out that older generations will undoubtedly remember when it was common practice to refer to people from Pakistan and China by names which are most definitely frowned upon nowadays. So, we are not blameless, and the chat went on to include lots of suggestions for derogatory terms for the English, something I am not really interested in discussing since it reduces us to the same level as the people we were complaining about.
I’m afraid that much of this is wrapped up in British Exceptionalism. Using derogatory terms to describe other people reinforces their lesser status, and I often recall the Fawlty Towers sketch where the Major describes people from various countries using a succession of words which were, sadly, in common use only a few decades ago. I know that particular scene is now sometimes cut from screenings of the programme but I think that misses the point. It was supposed to highlight bigotry and condescension which used to be built in to British culture. It was a superb portrayal of precisely the sort of attitude which still enables people to use terms like "Jock" and claim it is merely banter.
We all know that the N Word is now taboo unless spoken by people in the Black community when talking among themselves. I think it’s about time these other derogatory terms were viewed as equally taboo.
But there have been other examples of casual misuse of language recently which have highlighted the lack of knowledge about, and interest in, Scotland by people who really should know better.
Last week on Twitter, Clarence House’s official account proudly announced that Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall had visited Glasgow Station. Anyone who is going to produce official statements surely should be aware that some basic research so as not to use inaccurate names is an essential part of their job. Yet the Prince’s own household could not be bothered to check the actual name of the station, perhaps holding the London-centric view that a provincial place like Glasgow must have only one railway station. It was, once again, sloppy and condescending use of language.
The problem is that this was not a one-off example. We’ve now had Sky News broadcasting that Kay Burley would be reporting from the Isle of Sky. OK, maybe that was a simple typo, but it’s pretty poor from a national broadcaster. But then, it was only the Jocks who would notice, so they possibly thought it didn’t matter very much.