By David Worboys •
Updated: 20 Jul 2023 • 10:10
We used to joke about women drivers and fat people but that was in a less sensitive and less enlightened age
In the days when a gay was known as a “poof” (or a “Nancy-boy”) and a psychiatric institution as the “looney-bin” (or the “nut-house”), there was not much political correctness. There would seem to have been little respect for those of us categorised as “different” from the majority. Minorities of all persuasions suffered abuse and were the subject of jokes, many of them in bad taste – and often cruel. The problem was that to most of us they (the jokes) were funny. And so they remained part of our culture.
We joked harmlessly about women drivers, mothers-in-law, fat people and toffs, but less innocently about black people, Jews, gays and those with physical or mental disabilities. Regrettably, beyond the jokes there was an element who really hated or despised these minorities – or anyone who was “different”.
The attitude to those with an intellectual disability or mental health issues (formerly “crackpots”) has advanced over the centuries. In the middle ages they were often caged and displayed in public if their antics were considered suitable for “entertainment”. Otherwise they might be confined, abused or even quietly exterminated.
By the nineteenth century supervised asylums were introduced, many of them with padded cells, which quickly became overcrowded. There was little attempt to understand the cause of the condition or propose any kind of treatment.
Nowadays, things are very different. Various forms of psychotherapy and medication are available and administered in accordance with the needs of the patient who, in a majority of cases, is cared for and respected.
The more refined word for the “loo” was the “lavatory”, rarely used now. Amusing but inaccurate alternatives were the “bog” or the “thunderbox”. Today´s “bathroom” is equally inaccurate unless the loo is accompanied by a bath – or, at least, a shower. It is a “restroom” only if it contains a bed or a sofa. Such euphemisms suggest embarrassment at the most natural of bodily rituals. I overheard this gem at a party in 1956: “I´m gaying to powder my nose”. “Well, make sure you pull the chain”.
In less conscientious times, an attractive woman was known, among dozens of other appreciative (but unwanted) labels, as a “nice bit of fluff”. If she were also “adventurous”, she would be known as a “floozie”. Not so bad, when you consider that nowadays the derogatory term of “airhead” seems to be acceptable.
There were also colourful words for parts of the body, bodily functions and sexual activity, most of them amusing but some of them crude. Many of these have become as obsolete as the first Motorola phones. Less offensive terms included “poker”, “honeypot”, “golden gate” and “shafting”.
Political correctness does pave the way to enlightened tolerance. We are all connected and should understand each other. It´s unfortunate that PC has gone so far over the top it is mocked. Unless illegal it is rarely taken seriously.
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