The wussiness about words seems to be catching

English language needs to take a step back

If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to have the word ‘gay’ back.

Well, not “back” in a snarly Archie Bunker sense — but I’d appreciate if we could all agree to at least share the word again.

I grew up in an age when ‘gay’ was a simple adjective that meant cheerful, merry, jovial, sprightly or blithe and carried no sexual connotations. Our hearts were young and gay.  A night on the town was having ‘a gay old time’.  

Our grandparents regaled us with tales from The Gay Nineties. We could sing the lyrics “but I feel so gay, in a melancholy way…” — without a trace of irony or a leer of double entendre.

Elderly straight pensioners would cackle into their beers and call each other ‘gay old dogs’.  I had an uncle who was fond of romancing the ladies.  My mother tsk-tsked and called him ‘a gay blade’.

I don’t know what a gay blade would be nowadays — a bisexual hockey player, probably.

Sometime around the middle of the last century, ‘gay’ became sexual and exclusive. I still miss the other kinds of gay we used to have.

While we’re at it, I’d like to rehabilitate the word ‘beaver’ before its original sense is lost to us forever.

When I was a kid the word referred to a doughty little rodent with buck teeth and a pancake tail that liked to build dams in the hinterland. We loved the beaver. True, we turned him into hats for European fops, but we loved him too. We put him on heraldic charts and statuary.   We honoured him on flags and postage stamps. There are four beavers on the Hudson Bay Company Coat of Arms and a big fat shiny one squats on the back of every Canadian nickel in our pockets. We even named Canada’s oldest history magazine in honour of the noble beast.

For a while.

Then, last winter the folks who ran The Beaver magazine out of Winnipeg announced that they were changing the title.  Deborah Morrison, publisher of the magazine said in a press conference, “Unfortunately, sometimes words take on an identity that wasn’t intended in 1920, when (The Beaver) was all about the fur trade.”

She had a point. Ninety years after the first issue, market research was showing that most women and people in general who were under 45 reacted negatively to the name of the magazine. Not only that, but e-mail spam filters were increasingly blocking any messages — even The Beaver’s own e-newsletter.

The Beaver’s new name?  

Canada’s History.

Yeah, that should fly off the magazine rack.

I wish the brains trust behind The Beaver had displayed the spunkiness of their namesake and stood up for their original name, but they didn’t.

And this wussiness about words seems to be catching.  

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has just published a new translation of the Bible. 

The latest edition of the New American Bible jettisons the words ‘booty’ and ‘virgin’ from the Biblical text. ‘Virgin’ becomes ‘young woman’ while ‘booty’ is replaced by ‘spoils’ — presumably because young people can’t hear the word ‘booty’ without being moved to shake theirs.

All is not lost. At least the citizens of Fort Wayne, Indiana have what it takes when it comes to recognizing and celebrating a strong name and sharing it with history. The city fathers of Fort Wayne ran an online plebiscite asking the citizens to come up with the best name for the city’s brand new government centre.

The vote was overwhelming.  Thousands upon thousands of citizens made it clear that the building should commemorate the name of a much-loved former mayor of Fort Wayne.

It remains to be seen if the city fathers have the, um, gonads to accept the wish of the citizenry and name the centre The Harry Baals Civic Center.


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