The Nature of Discrimination

I was sitting in the theatre today waiting for the play to begin. (If you're interested it is a new play about The Kinks - great to hear their songs again, but the 'book' was weak.)

A few rows in front was a head with shoulder length hair, glossy, colour of iron filings, 60s flick-ups at the ends. If you don't know what those are you weren't around in the 60s. Every time the head moved the glossy hair danced. All very fine but the head was on the meaty shoulders of a middle-aged man in thick glasses and a black faux-leather jacket. Why did the hair, which should have looked so appealing, seem to me repellent on this man?

I turned for help to my companion, who is as much of a snoot as I am (see lower blogs and keep up there at the back). 'Is this prejudice on my part or good taste?' I asked. He sat for a moment in silence, and then said, 'You could say you are showing discrimination, which neatly covers both without directly saying which.'

We then had a discussion about whether to BE discriminating would imply the same, whereas to discriminate doesn't work both ways because in its prejudicial sense you would need to be discriiminating against something. I felt a blog coming on...

Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 01:46PM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Tourists Beware

Crossing Westminster Bridge, dodging tourists. A Scot in multi-tartan, cap, sporran and all the trimmings is playing on his bagpipes. Foreigners pause to have their photos taken next to him. As I pass a young woman (no idea where from) stoops to put some coins in an upturned battered hat on the pavement in front of him, then places herself by his side to be snapped by her friend. 'And where're you from?' asks the bagpiper in a strong east London accent. Joy!

Posted on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 07:48AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References


Last night I went to see a (very good) film. Of course, before it began there were the usual ads and trailers. One of these promised that the film it trailed would be 'totally unique'.  I was so distracted by this claim that I didn't take in what the name of this film was. What about slightly unique? Or relatively unique?

From this you can, indeed you should, conclude that I am what David Foster Wallace called a snoot (picky about language, bordering on pedantic) - and proud to be. I can be thrown off whatever course I am on when I hear someone say that something has been over-hyped or over-exaggerated. Words matter, and thinking about what they mean matters too. If we don't think about words we may end up at the wrong end of oppression - if, that is, there is a right one.

Am I overdoing it? I don't think so. Yes, okay, misusing the odd word when it's more or less clear what you want to say is no sin or crime or anything deserving punishment. But in the long run punishment might be what we get. Governments and demagogues who would like to be government rely on lack of attention to language.

As English-speakers we are lucky and relatively protected. But beware. In the 80s I produced a series of radio programmes about writers and politics. One of the contributors was Arthur Miller who was very exercised by what was happening at the time in still-communist still-Czechoslovakia. Czech and Slovak are minority languages: only Czechs and Slovaks speak them. If their government takes the language over, he said, and make words mean what the authorities want - as was indeed the case - while at the same picking off the few guardians of the language,the serious writers, then there was no longer a medium for expressing anything other than the government's version of the truth. English-speakers are rescued by each other - in India and Barbados, Canada and New Zealand, London and New York and Lagos. Something fresh will always come through.

But. When we don't pay attention to the nonsense all corporations now perpetrate in place of language - and I mean ALL big business, ALL large institutions including to my sorrow the BBC, we end up accepting euphemisms like collateral damage and extraordinary rendition as normal vocabulary. Or perhaps it's the final solution. We may not as individuals have done the damaging or rendering but having yielded the descriptions of them to mendacious government we are nonetheless responsible. All because we started by letting 'totally unique' pass us by. 

Don't lets ever say to ourselves or anyone else, Oh, it's just a form of words, a manner of speaking. No, it isn't. It's a failure to think. Set aside a lot of time (you will need it); then read David Foster Wallace who coined the word snoot (I think). He was brought up to be one. He is dead. But before he committed suicide he was an extraordinary writer.

By the way, I recommend the film I did see. "The Past", a French language Iranian-directed little masterpiece by Asghar Farhadi who was also responsible for the incomparable "A Separation".

Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 04:04AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

The Name to Fit

At the corner of my street I have just passed a tallish, thin young man with mousy hair and a sparse beard. He had a...I'm not sure what to call it, a tiny fluffy pug-type of dog on a lead. About nine inches long. Another man came by in the opposite direction with an equally small something else on a lead. The fluffy pug thing set up a furious barking (although in its case there should be a better word) and but for the constraining lead would have attempted a vicious assault.

'Gatsby!' reproved his man, pulling him away.


Posted on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 09:34AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment

Sunday Incidentals

Holloway Road, Sunday morning. A few mintes to eleven. The pavement already busy with shoppers. I pass a young woman crouching in front of a plate glass window, very still, engrossed by something. What could it be. I look at the window. There, resplendent, is a pair of very high-heeled red summer sling-back sandals, and the young women seems to be worshipping them. Why does she like them so much? Are they terribly out of her budget to keep her transfixed - unable to leave them, unable to reject them?

Then I hear something. The metal grate that covers the great doors when the shops are shut is sliding heavily upwards. The crouching girl has her finger on a button near ground level...

Later: on a 214 bus in Camden Town. Four ten year old boys (I know they are ten from clues they drop, but no matter) coming home (where is home?) from some sporting activity (they have trainers on and sporty trousers with the Nike logo and one of them is carrying a tube of something like shuttlecocks but I can't see well enough without prying - I am already prying). Good looking kids; one has a wide face with clear skin and lots of freckles; the second, next to him is called Janis (looks Greek) and obviously popular since the others are constantly trying to get his attention; the third looks like the ginger-headed character from the Harry Potter films (I can't remember either the actor's name not the chappie he plays), and the last has his back to me so I can't tell you what he looks like but probably quite presentable too.

As I sit down behind them Janis is saying, 'Guess what! The second-richest kid in my class comes to school in a Toyota Prius!' They look incredulous  - those whose faces I can see. But then he explains. 'But his other cars are an Aston Martin and a Bentley, and stuff.' What a relief.

Posted on Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 07:18AM by Registered CommenterZina Rohan | CommentsPost a Comment