This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Hit or Miss: a rant.

The educational top dogs have been getting outraged again.


Jennifer Coates, emeritus professor of English language and linguistics at Roehampton University, believes that the words Sir and Miss should be abolished in schools.

'It’s a depressing example of how women are given low status and men, no matter how young or new in the job they are, are given high status,' she said. 'Sir is a knight. There weren’t women knights, but ‘Miss’ is ridiculous: it doesn’t match ‘Sir’ at all. It’s just one of the names you can call an unmarried woman.'

Oh dear. Where do we start? Perhaps with the fact that Sir isn't the way you speak to a knight. Sir Wayne, or Sir Boris, or Sir Kevin, yes, but Sir by itself is, and has been for hundreds of years, a formal way of addressing almost any man.

Sir isn't even necessarily a term of respect. A policeman will say Sir when he arrests a man for being drunk and disorderly; a sommelier will say Sir even when he's asked for a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau 2010; a teacher may even say Sir when addressing a student (that's probably a sign that the teacher is so full of contempt for the said student that he or she cannot bring himself to say the student's name).

“It’s old-fashioned and it embodies the massive status disparity and sexism of former years,” said Robin Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, talking again about Miss and Sir. 

Really? And what's low-status about being an umarried woman, may I ask?

In any case, if you're going to call upon the history of the word Sir to justify your argument, then how about doing the same with the word Miss?

Because when you do that, I'm afraid that the whole fuss really does begin to look extremely stupid.

Word To Use Today: Miss. This word appeared in the 1600s, as a shortened form of Mistress. Before that the word comes from the Old English magister, which means...

...hands up if you know the answer...


Even some professors of linguistics don't know that, you know.

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