05 January, 2012

The Hysteria Hysteria

Using etymology as an argument of convenience...

The story so far:
The latest issue of The King’s Tribune features some very interesting, if challenging articles from Justin Shaw and Ben Pobjie on the place of pornography in modern society.

This caused an almighty twitstorm, centred around the use in the articles of one particular word: “Hysterical.”
There are some excellent posts on the substance of the debate HERE, HERE and HERE and I have little to add to any of them.

My only observation is that it seems to be an argument of convenience to hone in on that one word and cite it as evidence of misogyny.  The word was originally used to mean (and I’m paraphrasing here) a woman’s ladybits causing her to go all funny.  (Disclosure: I learnt this about twelve hours ago)

Misogynist?  Absolutely!  IF used in that context.
However, you don’t have to be a professor of linguistics to see that Justin Shaw was using the word in its modern meaning of over-the-top, exaggerated, hyperbole.  Another modern definition of the word is to mean extremely funny, but that’s clearly not Shaw’s intended use.

If you’re going to pick apart the arcane origins of words and insist on classical definitions, you must be consistent about it.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Bastard” (a child of unmarried parents, sometimes called ‘illegitimate’ as if it’s the child’s fault and something to be ashamed of) as a term of abuse.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Gay” (it used to mean “happy,” don’tcha know!) to describe someone who is homosexual.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Bugger” (a verb, to sodomise, that is, to penetrate the anus with the erect penis as Gail Dines would probably describe it) as a general exclamation of dissatisfaction with something that has just occurred.  Or to describe a lovable rogue.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Terrific” (which is to “terror,” as “horrific,” is to “horror”) to describe something that is very good.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Fantastic” (meaning “of fantasy”) to describe something that is clearly real.

Remember this the next time you use the word “Incredible” (meaning lacking credibility) to describe something you might also regard as fantastic or terrific.


  1. That's terrific! (Now do I mean that in the original, or the modern sense?) Let's clarify. Good work.

  2. I guess it was the combination of both articles that released the hounds. a little "broken record" for my tastes. Didn't ring any bells. And sorry,Pobjie, this one is not one of your best. Yes CD and MTR are weird and extreme, but why are you still harping on about it?
    Why does it touch your nerves such that you're still bawling about it months later?
    a couple of other things are maybe more deserving of your talents?
    Nice blog billablog.

  3. Thank you.

    I'd like to make it clear that I have no contact with Messrs Shaw or Pobjie. Presumably Justin has read this piece since he retweeted the link. I'd be surprised if Ben has seen it at all. His Bob Ellis post is pure gold though.