Aussie Life

Aussie Language

25 September 2021

9:00 AM

25 September 2021

9:00 AM

Just published is Testosterone: The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us by Harvard biologist Carole Hooven. She argues that ‘there are two sexes, male and female… one is shaped by high testosterone levels and the other is not’. This puts her out of step with the woke view of the world. And the problem, she says, shows up in words: ‘people in the mainstream media start backing away from certain terms they’re afraid people will find offensive’. My response is that being offended is a normal part of living in any human society, and it’s unreasonable to expect all people to be protected from all offence all of the time. We have to use language that tells the truth. Hooven herself is a liberal but still feels the need to defend scientific truth from ideology. She wants the words male and female to be used to designate biological reality—in which gender is determined by levels of testosterone. Do people make eggs or sperm in their bodies? she asks, ‘that’s how we know whether somebody is male or female’.

Given the struggle millions of Australians face coping with snap lockdowns, and increasingly severe lockdowns, the word ‘overwhelm’ springs to mind—and according to Helen Trinca writing in the Australian recently the whole lockdown experience has—for some people—become known as The Overwhelm. Linguistically the story starts with the word ‘whelm’ – an Old English word recorded from 1300 that meant to capsize—to be turned upside down. Then around a hundred years later, around 1400, this was expanded into ‘overwhelm’—with exactly same meaning. It appears to have been extended with these extra two syllables to stress what a life-changing, upsetting experience it was naming. But what about calling something The Overwhelm? The Oxford English Dictionary says it is okay to use ‘overwhelm’ as a noun as well as a verb—and it records examples of this being done from as long ago as 1596. In her article Helen Trinca says it makes sense for people to use this expression The Overwhelm for the tsunami of being knocked off your feet by repeated lockdowns. She says there can be burnout and frustration from repeated Zoom meetings, until the home-based worker can’t face another minute of screen time. And when you add in all the things not happening—restaurant meals, visits with friends, picnics, trips to the cinema, leisurely shopping and all the rest—it’s unsurprising that Covid has now overwhelmed many. Indeed, there is one factor alone which overwhelms—uncertainty brought on by ever-changing regulations, and the date for all this coming to an end being forever pushed back. Uncertainty alone can plunge us into The Overwhelm. And we will be stuck there until decisive leadership gets us out of it. Contact Kel at ozwords.com.au

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