August 21, 2009

There is a phenomenon known as sensitisation whereby a person who has previously had no problem with, say, eating shellfish suddenly experiences a severe allergic reaction to it. The same thing is happening to me, but with a word rather than anything I eat. The word is “massive”. I hear it all the time, almost always used inappropriately. Listening to radio news this morning, I learned how a former senior politician had suffered a massive heart attack, there are massive fires putting residences at risk, there is massive relief now that the massive transport strike is over. Between the news and the weather came a commercial for Cape Union Mart where, apparently, massive savings are to be had, then we were informed of a massive cold front due to make landfall tomorrow. Is this a “fad” word that has just come into vogue and is being flogged to death, or has it always been so misused and I have only recently started to notice it? I have news for any media person who reads this: massive does not mean big. Look it up.


Caster Semenya winning the 800m Gold Medal in Berlin

Caster Semenya winning the 800m Gold Medal in Berlin

The controversy over poor Caster Semenya’s sex has shone the spotlight on an elephant (well, perhaps not an elephant, but at least a medium-sized rhino) in the room. Caster is an eighteen year old South African athlete who won the world championship gold medal for the womens 800m yesterday. She has a deep voice, some facial hair and a well-developed musculature, so she is being accused of not being a proper woman by some, others baldly state that she is a man. This, of course, is nonsense. The fact of the matter is that the media confuse sex and gender. What is at issue here is Caster’s sex, not her gender. She may exhibit some masculine attributes, but her sex is female and she is therefore eligible to compete as a woman. Take a look at the accompanying photo. I, for one, would not like to meet any of these women in a dark alley, but that does not alter the fact that they are, nonetheless, women. Caster’s mom, Dorkus, is even more masculine than her daughter; in fact she makes Arnold Schwartzenegger look slightly pansyish. Sex is a binary variable, either male or female, gender is more a continuum, a mixture of masculine and feminine attributes. The media confuse these two things because they are so coy they blush to their roots even to think about sex, much less say the actual word.


Talking about binary variables: either something is unique (one of a kind) or it isn’t. Please, please stop saying that so-and-so is “very unique”, it makes no sense because it is nonsense. Have you ever heard of anyone being “slightly dead”?

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.