Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pejoration: for women, things just get worse

This is just a snippet from a much longer article in The Guardian about a linguisitic term I hadn't heard before: "pejoration". It's related to the more familiar word pejorative, but I didn't think such a term could be verb-ated.  I HAD however thought about some of these words and why they never seemed to match up to their male equivalent. (NOTE: this term isn't to be confused with peroration, which is oratory, or perforation, which is . .  perforatory.)

The denigration of half of the population has embedded itself in the language in ways you may not even be aware of. Often this takes the form of “pejoration”: when the meaning of the word “gets worse” over time. Linguists have long observed that words referring to women undergo this process more often than those referring to men. Here are eight examples:


The female equivalent of “master”, and thus, “a woman having control or authority” – in particular one who employs servants or attendants. It came into English with this meaning from French after the Norman conquest. From the 17th century onwards, it was used to mean “a woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship”.


This once neutral term meant the female head of a household. Hussy is a contraction of 13th-century husewif – a word cognate with modern “housewife”. From the 17th century onwards, however, it began to mean “a disreputable woman of improper behaviour”. That’s now its only meaning.


The female equivalent of “sir”, a woman of high rank, is still used in formal contexts as a mode of address. From the late 18th century it was also used to mean “a conceited or precocious girl or young woman; a hussy, a minx”, alternatively, a kept mistress or prostitute, and finally, from the late 19th century, the female manager of a brothel.


From the 15th century onwards, “a woman who holds or exercises authority over a place, institution, or group of people”. Compare it with “governor”. Over time it drastically narrowed in scope and fell in status, coming to mean “a woman responsible for the care, supervision, or direction of a person, typically a child or young lady”.


This occupational term originally meant simply someone, usually a woman but possibly a man, who spun yarn or thread. Since a woman without a husband might have to rely on spinning as a source of income, the term became associated with unmarried women, eventually becoming the legal way to refer to one. The more loaded use of it to refer to “a woman still unmarried; esp. one beyond the usual age for marriage, an old maid” begins in the early 18th century.


One of the most dramatic shifts in meaning, from the female equivalent of “courtier” – someone who attends the court of a monarch – to a form of prostitute, which is now its only meaning.


A 13th-century word meaning a female infant or a young unmarried woman quickly acquired negative connotations: from the late 14th century, in Langland and Chaucer it is used to mean “a wanton woman; a mistress”.


Collins dictionary says that this is a 19th-century contraction of “sweetheart”, a term of endearment, particularly to women. From 1887, however, it is attested as meaning “a female of immoral character; a prostitute”.

Thinking about the male equivalents of some of these words throws their sexism into sharp relief. Master for mistress; sir for madam; governor for governess; bachelor for spinster; courtier for courtesan – whereas the male list speaks of power and high status, the female list has a very different set of connotations. These are of either subordinate status or sexual service to men. The crucial thing to remember is that at one time, they were simply equivalents.

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The Canadian Identity: is there anything left of it?

(Actual Amazon reviews of Red Rose tea, which recently came out with a "new and improved" version. All of them gave it one star.)

Why every company feels the need to reinvent a perfectly good product defies me. This "Our best ever" is Red Rose's version of "New Coke". Basically this new "renewable plant material" bag is an excuse to use 10% less tea per bag, which is significant enough to mean that the cup of tea that you've come to love, now tastes like Weasel P!$... With any luck after the initial sales bump from people like me buying up all of the old stock that I can find, they will fix this blunder., and focus on advertising meaningful metrics such as no pesticides found in 3rd party testing, etc.

I have been drinking Red Rose tea for decades. I would occasionally purchase another brand, but always came back to Red Rose because it WAS superior. If I could give the new, supposedly improved tea a minus instead of one star I would. I purchased 3 boxes, my usual purchase at one time. I had to throw out more than half the bags. Not only is there less tea in the bag, which I was aware of, the bag material is terribly thin and flimsy. Most of the bags were broken and the ones that weren't broken opened when hot water was poured over them. If I wanted loose tea I would have purchased loose tea. One of the new tea bags does not make a decent cup of tea, two bags are required and hopefully they don't break. I have had to strain more cups of tea in the last months than I have in my entire life.

I have been a Red Rose tea drinker for years, and I have to say that the new bags from 100% renewable plant material are terrible, in my opinion. I used them for the first time this weekend at an event where we were making large pots of tea (4 bags/pot) and every pot we made had tea leaves in it because one of the bags would come apart at the edges. The previous gauze bags were sturdier.

I'm totally bummed by this new product. Having tried a few cups of the new tea -- adding additional straining for broken bags -- I just tossed my large box of unused tea bags into the compost. The taste is simply not right and who wants to strain tea bags??? I've been drinking tea for over 40 years and I am going to try another brand or maybe some coffee.

"Our best ever"??? I think not. This tea used to be a staple item every morning. Now, I've been forced to change to another brand. You tried to cut costs. You changed the taste. You failed.

Awful - I contacted Red Rose and they said not only did they change their bags but the actual tea leaves! Not the same. I tried Salada, while it's not bad, you have to leave it soaking for a long time to get any taste. Red Rose sent me a coupon for a free purchase which I have not yet used cause I don't know if I want to keep drinking either of their teas (Salada/Red Rose). If anyone from Red Rose reads this, change it back. If anyone here leaving a review has found an alternative that tastes good (Tetley is not an option) please write the name in your comments.

Absolutely TERRIBLE tea!!! I've been drinking this tea for 40 years, but their "new and improved" Orange Pekoe tea is weak and tasteless. Where is the flavour? This tea was good until recently, now I recommend you buy another brand, but not Tetley, it's even worse.

These new tea bags are as foul as the language they evoke. I suggest everyone buy Tetley and add your own rooibos (pronounced royboss) tea. See for yourself if it doesn't compare well with the late Red Rose itself.

A big fat FAIL to Red Rose and their "new and improved taste"!

OK, that's a lot of comments, but there IS a point to all this.

In the past year or so, I kept noticing there was something "off" about my tea, I couldn't taste anything any more, and there was no body to it. It never got any darker in colour even if you brewed it for 20 minutes. Using two tea bags made no difference at all, and there seemed to be far less tea in them. Even that heavenly smell was different.

This is no small matter.  I was weaned on Red Rose. My son wanted some in his milk when he was six. Now it tastes like dishwater, like nothing. 

You must understand that Red Rose tea is a huge part of Canadian identity, like the homey, grungy old Zellers stores which were also taken away from us (to be replaced by Target, which bombed miserably within a year).

Red Rose is not just a Canadian tradition but an institution, and well do I remember those dark-orange cups of fiercely strong brew that my Granny used to drink out of a saucer. The tannin got on your teeth and made them all gritchy, and your throat made that constricting noise when you swallowed. It was wonderful stuff, bracing, and the quality pretty much held until the last year or so, when - oh God - they came out with "our best ever!"

This is always a euphemism for "we're cutting corners and raising the price". I kept dismissing it or wanting it not to be true, then today I went on and found all these one-star reviews, and I agree with all of them. This tea is now atrocious, and there is no excuse for such a steep decline in a product we used to count on. 

I have a theory about this. Red Rose  isn't making any money for whichever massive conglomerate owns it (I've lost track because big fish are constantly being swallowed up by bigger fish). They see their fan base as little old ladies who are dying off. This is largely true: their diehard fans ARE older and are used to the stout-hearted tea of old, the bags of which you could actually use more than once. And then there were those little ceramic figurines: oh God, how I wish I had kept at least one of them!

Maybe they think "new and improved"/"our best ever" will attract consumers of less than a hundred, but I doubt it. It's a traditional product for traditional people, meaning soon it will likely just be discontinued. The search is on for something drinkable, and I am going to start with bulk tea bags at Superstore or Save-on-Foods. No kidding, it might be better. The no-name coffee is actually quite good: we switched when Nabob "improved" their blend. 

Slowly and steadily, small pleasures are being withdrawn from my life. This reminds me of the duck park where we used to walk three or four times a week, our quiet little haven teeming with wildlife. It's now being ripped apart by steamshovels and paved over for an amphiteatre. My lifelong favorite tea, the ONLY tea I would drink, has been taken away from me, rendered washy and tasteless. It's not the same stuff! We're Canadians and you don't fuck with our Red Rose tea, do you hear me? Do you? . . . Is anybody listening?

POST-BLOG BREWINGS. This is a review of "new" Red Rose tea that I stumbled upon today. We had a nice Facebook conversation about it.

Steve Cormier reviewed Red Rose Tea — 1 star

I would rate the new Red Rose a minus 5 if it were possible. I find it rather humorous reading some of these replies and reviews regarding the quality of the tea as of late. I suppose it's fair to assume that some people have yet to experience the taste of the “New and Improved” tea bags so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Claiming that this new product you guys are trying to pass off as Red Rose still tastes the same is a load of rubbish. It's resembles nothing of the quality that once was Red Rose and anyone who claims that they've been drinking Red Rose for a long time and still likes the taste of the new tea has no business reviewing the product or has no knowledge of what a good cup of tea should taste like. Or they're simply paid to post positive comments and reviews on social networking sites in an attempt to elude customers. But the fact remains. The tea tastes different, it tastes awful. I now refer to it as dishwater tea. Growing up Red Rose was a household name. It's was almost just another way of saying tea. My parents, grandparents and other friends and family members consumed it daily. For me it was a coffee in the morning then on to Red Rose for the rest of the day. Drinking several pots throughout the day. So I would know thing or two about how it should taste after drinking it for 30 plus years. As far as my mother and father are concerned its more like 60 years.

Every time I'm in the tea/coffee isle in my local grocery store I talk to other customers about the changes to Red Rose and every single person I talk to has the same feelings about this once great product. “It's not the same... It's different!.. It doesn't taste as good!” In my mind it's fairly obvious what the masterminds at Unilever have done to destroy the taste of what used to be the best cup of tea in Canada, you've sacrificed quality for profits. This is no longer a Canadian brand as it is owned by Unilever and that lot has no loyalty to anything but profits. The teabags break apart in the tea pot and after it steeps. It no longer has the rich, robust flavor, nor color that it once had. So sadly after drinking the product for generations my family has switched and will not be coming back. I'm quite certain that there is a great many other tea drinkers who feel the same way as my family does. I can see it in the grocery store every time I'm there cause the price of Red Rose is going down and it's on sale more often now then it used to be. Obviously no one wants your tea anymore. Or at least not anyone who drinks a lot of tea and knows what a good cup of tea is supposed to taste like. Thank you Unilever for taking Canada's favorite tea and flushing it down the pot.

POST-POST. Today I took a look in my cupboard and saw a very large box of Red Rose tea bags. I decided to do a little investigative reporting, took a tea bag out and really looked at it for the first time.

I had noticed already that they were much lighter than before, and seemed to contain very little tea. The bag was strange-looking, felt slick,  and seemed impermeable, almost like plastic. It's made of some sort of politically-correct fibre now, but it looks like insulation of some kind.

When I cut it open, I jumped. Literally jumped. There's no TEA in there! Instead there is a fine, blackish powder. Not a tea leaf in sight. It was completely shocking.

This is no longer tea, but most people won't unseal a bag to find that out. I tried to pretend it was the same, though I wondered over and over again why I wasn't getting any TEA out of these things, kept adding bags and brewing it longer and longer, to no avail.

Frustrated at the number of tea bags I had left, I decided to try a bold experiment. I cut open three bags of black powder and emptied them into my small (one-mug) teapot. I filled it 2/3 full with boiling water, and let it sit for FIFTEEN minutes. Would this be a drinkable-enough brew to use up the 85 or so Red Rose tea bags I had left?

I had to strain it through a sieve, as I didn't have a tea strainer. But it didn't matter. The "tea leaves" in the hot water poured out bizarrely, like very wet sand, and heaped up in a brown pile that looked like - I have to say this - dog shit. It had a little point on the top and everything.

I am sorry to say that there is still no taste to this stuff. It brewed darker, but there is still no tea aroma, and no discernible flavour.

Red Rose tea. . . is bad tea.

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Let's Talk: today and every day

Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself. 

It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.

It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?

So the name itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. "Mentally ill" is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.

There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."

Note they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a bit better about ourselves for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.

I hate stigma. I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away. 

"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat" thing (hey, who said I looked fat? Who brought the subject up?). Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is spiritually stingy and only calls attention to the stigma.  

So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"?  Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the 'poor soul" attitude that prevails?

But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, but then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.

From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior". 

One reinforced the other. The movement gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology. That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.

Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark.  I once read something in a memoir that had a profound effect on me: "Mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition." This isn't a separate species. Don't treat it as such. It's you, times ten. It's me, in a magnifying mirror. Such projections of humanity at its finest and most problematic might just teach us something truly valuable. Why don't we want to look?

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Such a douche


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