WAR ON A WORD


Since he retired from the leadership of the Army, our esteemed “Australian of the Year” General David Morrison has shifted his theatre of operations from the defence of the nation to the defence of “diversity”. His new enemy is “discrimination” in all its hydra-headed forms. With the gallant General on watch, toilers in the field of gender redefinition, multicultural “inclusion” and the rest of the ever shifting fixations of the Left can surely sleep easier in their beds.

In the course of his campaigning General Morrison recently issued the hold-the-front-page announcement that he is giving up using the word “guys”. He didn’t seem to have a very clear idea of why, to judge by his waffly explanation, except that he thinks he’s striking a blow against “exclusion” of some sort. "Exclusive language, gender-based language or inappropriate language, has as much a deleterious or disadvantaged effect as something where you're saying something blatantly inappropriate to another human being," he burbled into an ABC microphone, before declaring that he himself is trying to give up saying “guys” and has removed the word “from my lexicon as best I can.” (Surely it can’t be that hard. How long has he been saying it? “Guys” in its present sense only became widespread in Australia a decade ago.) One pictures the General telling himself over and over again: “I must not say guys, I mean that word,” perhaps giving himself a little punishment every time the proscribed noun slips out. You can hear him asking his wife, “Who are those guys on Australian Story, Gayle – oops” (self-inflicted pinch) “those persons?” as they enjoy the national broadcaster together on one of their evenings when he is not out at some right-on function lecturing us non-Australians of the Year on the benefits of diversity. As he told the assembled worthies of “Diversity Council Australia”, the “workplace diversity advisor” of which he is chairman, sorry, chair, when launching a video guide to approved non-exclusive speech (the selfsame gathering where he revealed the pruning of his lexicon): “… it's a proven fact that more inclusive [and] more diverse workforces create real diversity of thinking and are more productive, more effective."

This sounds more like an economic than a social justice argument but whatever it’s supposed to be or mean it illustrates that as a verbiage generator this very model of a modern Lieutenant General is gold-plated. And of course the Left loves verbiage. Usually though it doesn’t love generals and caricatures them in Dr Strangelove fashion as sinister manipulators of the industrial-fascist war machine itching to nuke someone. General Morrison is clearly an exception. The Aussie Left adores him (otherwise he wouldn’t be Australian of the Year): at the ABC he is said to be regarded as “a great bloke”. And, like a man running to catch a bus, he has exerted himself since retiring from the armed forces to climb on board the fast-moving bandwagon of the anti-discrimination industry with its eclectic repertoire of obsessions. He has learned to talk the talk. While opposing the use of “guys”, he told reporters, he was “not trying to become the ‘language police’.” This is pure Leftist double-speak, since it is perfectly obvious that he is.

General Morrison must know full well that while “guy” in the singular is male, in the plural it is not “gender-based” but super-inclusive. It is what waiters call you in restaurants whether you’re a mixed group or not. I’ve heard mothers summon their children with it – “Come on guys, time to go” – and in domestic situations it can even include the cat or budgie, like those “My Family” figures you see on cars. In Safe Schools classrooms it would certainly be prescribed instead of “Boys and Girls”, which as we all know is conducive to bullying and not conducive to a required fluidity of identity. It has replaced “Ladies and Gentlemen” in addressing the audience at less formal public occasions and may well have found its way into welcomes to country (“You whitefellas invade our land, but on this occasion, guys, for the opening of the new CSIRO facility, make yourselves at home. That will be $500”).

In fact, it is the very inclusiveness of “guys” that is the real reason for the opposition to it. Feminist influence is never far away from any lobby group with “diversity” in its title and feminists hate being included in a masculine word. Look how they’ve managed to get “his” as a collective pronoun (“each citizen must do his duty”) effectively banned in favour of the clumsy “their”. Similarly, says the Diversity Council, women feel “excluded” when they are bracketed with men as “guys”. This is nonsense. Women, particularly younger women, use the term among their friends of either sex every day. No, the ones who don’t like it are not women in general but the coven of feminists self-appointed to speak on their behalf, who have now found a champion in what would once have been considered the unlikely person of a retired army general.

Yet there is a reason for objecting to “guys” and a number of other words and it has nothing to do with the General’s. “Guys” is a self-conscious copying of American usage not found in traditional Australian (or British) speech. There is an irony here. Leftist writers and educators are usually to be heard bemoaning the displacement of elements of Australian culture by American “imports” but they have done nothing to impede the Americanisation of ordinary speech. Apart from its infatuation with Obama or Sanders, the Left loathes America and yet it is perfectly observable that it adopts American speech habits just the same as everyone else. The list of these has been getting longer for years, from back in the days when universities acquired “campuses”.  Football crowds no longer exhort their teams to victory with the demotic “Carn ..!” but yell the American “Go!” “Your” ABC regularly employs American-use transitives such as protest a decision or appeal a judicial sentence (the latter invariably symbolised on television news by an image of a gavel as used in American but not Australian courts). “Railway station” has given way to “train station” even in official transport notices. “Guy” itself, in the singular, has replaced “bloke” and the posher “chap”. And so on.

I know that language must evolve and that no particular period has a monopoly of “correct” usage and, yes, just think of the cultural enrichment new usages bring, but even so is it not strange that these days we are all for the preservation of traditional “culture” except when it’s our own? Though many people seem neither to notice nor to care, you might expect the usually very vocal group for whom the thought of, say, Aboriginal culture disappearing under the weight of national homogeneity is tantamount to genocide to leap to the defence of threatened linguistic elements of Australian speech. Current indications are that you will expect in vain, probably because the generations of Australians who didn’t say “guys” don’t fit the Leftist paradigm of victimhood.

So here’s a task worthy of an Australian of the Year. Throw away the Diversity Council’s grievance manual “Building Inclusion through the power of language”, tell them to find another “chair” and seek to build national inclusion through encouraging us to stick to the language we inherited. By all means give up “guys” but give up some other words and constructions too, before we are completely absorbed under the onslaught of TV and Hollywood into one international wodge of speakers of globalised English with hardly even our accents to distinguish us. You don’t need to be a language policeman. Just set an example.

8 June 2016