Thursday, August 31, 2006

Muffin tops, salad dodgers and munters

With the new Chambers Dictionary released in a couple of weeks, there's an article in today's Guardian about some of the new (and not so new) words set to be included. What makes this article a bit more interesting than the usual spate of new words articles every time a dictionary comes out, is that it has a sociolinguistic spin at the end.

According to Dr Pia Pichler from Goldsmiths College, many of the new words betray a derogatory representation of women, far outnumbering the derogatory words for men. For those of you who have looked at Language and Representation in ENA1, the name Julia Stanley might ring bells. Her research in the 1970s suggested that the number of pejorative terms for women outweighed those for men by a factor of about 10 to 1. So for every "nobhead" there were ten "sluts", "hoes" and "mooses"...or something like that.

What this article seems to suggest is that this lexical over-representation is still evident: perhaps it's even increasing because of the huge amount of new words and phrases used to describe female bodies. So, the obsession with trying to look like an orange-skinned celebrity nonentity (like Jordan, Chantelle or those strange looking girls from Atomic Kitten) has led to all sorts of new words and phrases to describe processes of hair removal ("Brazilian"), breast enhancement ("tit tape") and skin colour ("permatan") but has also led to new terms for those women who don't make the grade or whose bodies don't fit the skinny, plastic template: "bingo wings" for wobbly bits on the underarm; "muffin tops" for those outpourings of flesh over the top of too-tight belts; "salad dodgers" for people who don't follow diets.

So years on from Julia Stanley's research, do we still have the same level of over-representation for terms used to describe women and their bodies? How do we find out? Well, don't rely on other people's research. Do what Julie Blake has always suggested on her Language Legend blog and DIY! With all sorts of new ways of researching language - using google to find out the popularity of certain new words, or using online corpora to analyse language use in written or spoken texts - you can find out if particular patterns exist. And then you can work out if it means women are still the target of the arsenal of nasty words, or if men are finding themselves the victims of new pejorative terms as well.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
EA4C - Language Investigation
ENA5 - Language Change
ENA6 - Language Debates

Black British English vs MLE

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