Newcastle City Council, in a fit of self-loathing has banned using Nothumbrian dialects.
Without offering any viable alternatives, terms such as “pet”, “hinney”, “darling” and “bit o’crumpet” have all been stricken from the local lexicon.
The Council issued the decree, saying that such terms were “patronising”, “sexist” and “insulting”. While the more seasoned travellers among us might shake our knowing heads at trying to get a Northumbrian to speak properly, what chills the marrow is the idea that traditional terms of endearment and address are to be outlawed so as not to cause offence.
I make a reall effort to address every woman I meet, and many men for that matter, as “darling”, “dear” or “gibbering half-wit”. I am not trying to patronise them, I am showing a genuine affection for the person to whom I am speaking. The vocabulary we use communicates our personality, upbringing and ideas, the words we choose are a fundamental way in which project ourselves.
Now I realise that there are certain rules of language to which we all conform, there are words I would not say in front of ladies, words I would only say in front of ladies, and some I would never say at all.
But these rules, like all others, are made to be broken. As much as language defines us by the words we choose to use, so we are defined by those we choose not to use. If a woman (why not a woman?) chooses to use certain words, I choose to leave the room. This is how it is supposed to work.
Presumably, at the very least, these patronising Newcastle-ites are imitating those who used the words before them, people they admire and wish to take after – every Geordie ever to live as I understand it. Presumably they use the words they do for a reason.
Now maybe some women feel that the word “hinney” is a tyrannical lash of oppression from the great patristic phallus, an assault on their aural liberty which shall not be borne. But what gives this tiny minority the power to dictate to an entire city?
More importantly, where can I get some of this power? There are all kinds of things that offend me that I would like Councils up and down the Three Kingdoms to ban. The phrase “innit” offends me. Being addressed as “mate” by women offends me; I don’t socialise with women and am never ‘matey’ with ladies. Welsh accents offend me, Islam offends me. I could go on.
What continues to confuse me is not that we are ruled by a minority. It was ever thus. This country used to be justifiably proud of the quality of its ruling minority, now it seems the most shrill, irrational and dictatorial are in control.