Friday, September 29, 2006

Island apes, white ghosts and poms...

...all words used to describe British people, apparently. The focus of a couple of recent articles in The Guardian and The Mirror has been on the use of the word "pom" by Australians to describe British people, and whether or not it's a racist term.

There are various theories about the word "pom" - some arguing that it's from Prisoner Of Her Majesty and others that it's short for the fruit pomegranate and describes the bright red colour pasty white Brits turn when they get sunburnt - but most agree that if it's an insult it's hardly as bad as "paki" or "wog".

So what makes a word offensive? An anti-racist saying from some twenty years ago was "power + prejudice = racism". If you have no power in society, you might be prejudiced in your attitudes, but it's only when you've got the power to apply that prejudice that it truly becomes racism. It's a partially persuasive argument and one that might explain why terms like "honky", "cracker" and "gora" don't really carry the same power as terms like "paki", "nigger" and "jewboy".

But is it the whole story? Perhaps the most offensive words have a history that develops like a snowball effect, which means that they pick up more and more negative associations over time and just keep getting worse. Maybe some of these words are linked to such barbaric times in history that their meanings are forever unpleasant.

While you're pondering that, take a look at the range of imaginative and descriptive terms applied to white British people by their friends around the world.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

No comments: