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December 18, 2005

New Stereotyping Words for the English Language

The Metrosexual.jpg

Metro, Techno or Retro? Just what kind of Hetero are you anyway?

Greetings [insert appropriate term here]-Sexuals everywhere,

Don't you just love the way our language, by its very nature, seems designed to label, categorize and even stereotype on any given occasion? Perhaps that is a function of ALL language but that is a topic worthy of discussion in its own post.

Fellow-blogger Patricia Dean's entry from December 13th on ESL-SCHOOL entitled "ESL-It's Only Words," discusses the apparent openness of the English language's ability to both create new, "trendy" words and absorb them into mainstream usage. Without an institution like the French Academy, for example, this very organic and pop-culture attitude towards language-use shows no signs of letting up anytime in the near future. This fact incites excitement in some and frustration in others. Patricia writes that some of these words:

[ . . . ] are fairly ephemeral slang, others are rediscoveries of words that have gone out of fashion. Certain areas of activity seem to generate new words at a great rate: the Internet and new technology spawn numerous neologisms [ . . . ]

The entry mentioned sent me to a link from the Macmillan publishers [here] on the most commonly used "new" words of 2004 (I'm guessing that the 2005 list won't come out until it's officially over). Although the list is intended seemingly for a British audience, there is some overlap with American English, something quite appropriate with the recent cross-over success of many popular English-language television programs, etc.

The word that held my interest in particular was the newly-coined logoism "retrosexual," not to be confused with the now commonly seen-in-print "metrosexual." A write-up under the link to this word [here] explains that the 2003 creator of the word metrosexual came up with this one when asked for its antonym. According to Macmillan, "retrosexual" is defined as:

[ . . . ] a heterosexual male who spends as little money as possible on his personal appearance and lifestyle because he has very little interest in how he looks and what he wears [ . . . ]

This familiar description sounds, to me, much like the already-existing "concept" of masculinity for which the "retrosexual" identity was originally supposed to be in opposition. The necessity for creating a cutesy word like "metrosexual" seems justified enough if it satisfies a certain marketing demographic (or for whatever "real" reason it was coined), but why must we continue with the male stereotyping by creating such needless neologisms like "retrosexual?" Is it merely to avoid potentially non-PC expressions like "non-metrosexual," "anti-metrosexual," and "metrophobe" or did the retrosexual community at large suddenly stand up and demand respect, recognition and social equality with metrosexuals (something they seemingly did not enjoy before the phrase was coined)?

It seems to me that this kind of thinking opens up all kinds of political worms. For starters, the prefix signifier "retro" seems to imply something reminiscent of the past, as if the type of person now labeled retrosexual only existed in the past and, after some notable absence, has suddenly reappeared into society - nameless and without an identity. Thank you clever word-creation person for righteously restoring the dignity to closeted retrosexuals everywhere with your witty, and transparently negative connotation for this previously undesired "element" of society. Perhaps they won't notice that your old-fashioned "man of yesterday" is so not "with it" when compared to the obviously "hipper" metrosexual majority(?) By the way, our fictional man Austin Powers came from the past, his style is certainly "retro" but I wouldn't gather that his sense of personality fits into the retrosexual definition provided for us. Which "retro" period are we talking about exactly is what I'd like to know!

Well, this is my little word rant for the day. To say that these words apply only to men is another sexist argument that perhaps I should open up for comment in the "comments" section below. Some food for thought: the English word "metro" is a direct derivative from the word "metritis" which is Greek for uterus [Source: American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition]. Perhaps next time, we can take on the words "transmetrosexual," "cosmosexual" and other absurdities like "chocosexual." These didn't make the "list" for 2004, by the way.

So, enough with the retrophobic rhetoric. Looking forward to a good discussion on stereotyping words in the English language and, in particular, this "new" one that we are told is one of the most commonly used new words of 2004.

With best regards,

Lee

Posted by lhobbs at December 18, 2005 09:34 PM

Readers' Comments:

What I don't understand is why the word "sexual" has to be attached to the dang old words at all if it's all about being a man in the first place. I mean, are we supposed to come up with different words for women that express these so-called characteristics? Seems kind of of discriminatory if you ask me. Why leave out the women from this opportunity?

Posted by: PittsbughPete at December 25, 2005 08:41 PM

Lee,

While it is interesting that these terms only apply to men (eg. metrosexual), I don't see the need to get upset over this.

Words are here for us to use so that we can express ourselves easily. The more specific a word's definition may be, the easier it can be for us to communicate, right?

Words by their nature are classifying, rather than stereotyping. Stereotyping would suggest that we are placing judgement on certain people. Words, like metrosexual, are simply there to define a phenomenon. The way in which we use the word could then be considered as stereotyping.

If you were to compare the English language with the Chinese language, you'd realize that we have a long way to go with the development of our language. If you take family names, for example, you'll find that there is a different word for each position in the family. Your mother's mother is distinguished from your father's mother. Your older uncle goes by a different title than your younger uncle.

The more words there are in a language, the richer it is. If you place too much emphasis on fairness (eg. why isn't there a similar word for a female metrosexual?) then words will only lose their meanings.

Carol

Posted by: Carol at December 30, 2005 12:15 AM

Lee,

I guess the female version of a "Retrosexual" would be a "Gross Overbearing Fat Slobbering 300 pound Pig"

Gary

Posted by: Gary at January 3, 2006 08:41 AM

Gary,

Wonder if we will find your new term in Macmillan's chart for new words 2006...

For fun, here's the 2004 List listing retrosexual.

Johnny

Posted by: Johnny at January 4, 2006 04:21 AM

Lee,

The most stereotypical asapect of the English language is the use of the generic masculine. It automatically places men is a stronger position, thereby diminishing the value of women.

Men, can you imagine growing up with the pronoun 'she' and the term 'woman' being used in the same globall manner that 'he' and 'man' are used?

Honestly - think about it. And the way some men behave when a woman uses the female pronoun in place of the male, well, you'd think she'd just kicked him below the belt.

Alison

Posted by: AMB at January 6, 2006 05:40 AM

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