Monday, 13 December 2010

The Classification of a Spade

I was gardening today. I turned some soil - used a fork. I trimmed the borders of the flowerbeds - used an edger. Then I dug in a new shrub - used a ... nope can't say it. It is now wrong to call a spade a spade; I just checked. The Howard League for Penal Reform have declared that calling someone who has committed a criminal offence, an "offender" is "insulting and demeaning".

Yes folks, Frances Crook, the ironically named head of said League maintains it is an "insulting" term which demeans individuals. Apparently it is "easy" for politicians to treat some sections of society as "other" and less than human. Quoi?

Yup, she goes on, "someone who commits an offence is not an offender, they are someone who has done something." Yup, that something is commit an offence, hence offender. Where is the sub-human treatment there?

Let's see what the dictionary says - "offender (noun): a person who is guilty of a crime" Cambridge Online Dictionary. Thought so.

She elaborates (as you might expect) "The action does not define the whole person. They may also do good things and they will certainly fit into other categories that can offer a different definition like parent or friend." OK, so let me get this right, if an action does not define the whole person, we can't use it. So, if the person who has committed an offence fathers a child, he is a father. But wait a second, that 16 1/2 seconds of coital joy doesn't define the whole person! What about the other things that he has done that define his life? He might want to be called a friend. Or perhaps he's rather proud of his criminal enterprises and thinks offender describes him quite nicely. He made a sandwich last week so perhaps he should be a chef. No, they are, of course, all wrong. According to Ms Crook, you may not use any descriptive noun based in the facts of a subject's life, unless you can find a word that describes everything they have ever done in all of their life. Otherwise it's insulting. Barking.

Ultimately Ms Crook seems to have an issue with the English language. It is no more insulting to call someone who commits an offence and offender than it is to call me a blogger or you an internet user. I'm not suggesting that every tag must stay with you all your life; when it comes to crime, if you commit one, you're a criminal. Go to prison, you're a prisoner. Come out, rehabilitated and you deserve a fresh start. So then neither of those tags apply - but that doesn't mean it was wrong to apply them before. If all people who had committed offences were called something rude or demeaning, she would have a point, but they are not, it's just the English language, so she does not.

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