Aussie Life

Aussie Language

3 April 2021

9:00 AM

3 April 2021

9:00 AM

The Oxford English Dictionary is currently asking ‘how and why sexist terms are recorded in the dictionary and what this language reveals about the world around us?’. The three examples they gave when announcing this are ‘bitch’, ‘bint’ and ‘maid’. We have all heard the first of these used as an abusive term so that makes sense. The other two puzzled me. It turns out that ‘bint’ comes from an Arabic word meaning ‘daughter’—and during both world wars, British soldiers serving in the Middle East came across it and used it as a label for a ‘girl, woman or girlfriend’—and, the Oxford adds, ‘usually derogatory’. The original meaning of ‘maid’ (from the 13th century) is ‘unmarried woman’ or ‘virgin.’ (Which is why Robin Hood’s girlfriend is called ‘Maid Marian’.) Only in South Africa (and there, only in the second half of the 20th century) did ‘maid’ become a derogatory and offensive label for a young woman. Is it just me who thinks the Oxford is looking too hard to find ‘sexist’ terms so it can beat itself up?

When did ‘nursing homes’ become ‘care homes’? The expression ‘nursing home’ was well established in Britain by about 1880, but it often meant just a small, private hospital — rather than a place that specialised in providing accommodation and health care for the elderly. Starting in the 17th century the institutions that provided such accommodation and meals were called ‘poorhouses’ — but they covered anyone below the poverty line, not just the old. It was after WWII that the expression ‘nursing home’ came to be applied to places for the elderly who were sick and/or poor. It was in America, starting in 1959, that these institutions began to be called ‘care homes’. My guess is that when the Royal Commission into Aged Care revealed how little real ‘nursing’ was going on in some ‘nursing homes’ that the industry did a quick sideways shuffle and decided they were now ‘care homes’. For many years politicians have been playing the game of ‘change the name, change the perception’. Since it’s worked so well for them, clearly anyone can play!

‘Binge’ has become one of the trending words of the early 21st century. It was first recorded in 1854, meaning ‘a heavy drinking bout’. That didn’t change until the 1990s when it was extended to cover both drugs and overeating. Now ‘binge’ has gone on to broaden its meaning to any and every indulgence, becoming far more common over the past ten years. It’s possible these days to ‘binge view’ a complete series on Netflix. Which is why (according to a new survey by the Menzies Centre) recipients of JobSeeker should not ‘binge’ their handouts on cigarettes, Netflix or restaurant meals but use the money only on essentials. Among the essentials voters approved of are mobile phone bills, car rego, televisions, laptops, mortgages, childcare and a home internet connection. Considering the core meaning of ‘binge’ it’s interesting to note what most Australians now see as essential and what still counts as self-indulgence.

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