Sunday, 16 March 2014

Language, meaning, campaigning and that Ig Nobel Prize

I'm writing this weeks blog full of a cold. I've a sore throat, headache, streaming nose, and I'm unable to sleep. I think there must be a bug going around as other colleagues in the School have gone down with similar problems. It’s that way sometimes, you get to the end of the week, ready to start the weekend full of relaxation and you’re suddenly laid up with a bug of one sort or the other – and last week felt like a long one to get through!

Monday I was into my 5th day of an Industrial Tribunal hearing. I gave evidence and was cross examined for over 4 hours on the day, an exhausting experience both, mentally and physically. Language and meaning was a constant point or argument and debate throughout the court case. The use of language and its meaning was also an issue on Tuesday when I had to present next year’s Operational Plan to the University Executive, although the experience wasn't anywhere near as adversarial as being a respondent in the court case!

I was also gently chastised for my choice of language and the meaning others gave to my words last week. Both rebukes were, on refection, justified. The first arose from something said in last week's blog, about moving furniture being a young man's job as far as I was concerned these days. I could have perhaps expressed myself better, perhaps choosing to use ‘a fit person’s job’. The second was on Twitter, where in a discussion about Facebook usage, I suggested that for some young people it might give rise to false perceptions of reality’. Perhaps different perceptions of reality’ might have been a better way of describing what I was meaning.

Of course over time the meaning of some of the words used to describe something will change – I can remember my children saying something was ‘bad’ meaning something was really ‘good’. I had a different language and meaning challenge last week. I was reading this poster which appeared amongst all the Student Union ‘Vote for Me’ election posters displayed everywhere. It was the use of the words ‘tits’ that I didn't like. Most dictionaries describe ‘tit’ as being an old English word of Germanic origin related to teat or nipple, a small bird, or a foolish person. It’s the plural ‘tits’ that is most commonly described as a form of vulgar slang, imported from the US in the early 20th century.

The campaign the poster relates to is entirely worthwhile. Aimed at the newspaper the Sun, it wants an end to Page 3 Girls. Featuring bare breasted women in a national newspaper for no other reason than the display of a naked woman perpetuates the notion of the sexual objectification of women, sexism, and inequality. The campaign is gathering a number of very high profile supporters and the petition had just fewer than 190,000 names this morning. 800,000 is the target. If you want to support go to 

I am going to resist making a link between supporting this campaign and the research of Jean-Denis Rouillon from the University of Besancon published last week. But if you are a woman aged between 18-35 you might want to read the report of his work here

…however, I couldn't resist noting the related story of the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize Winner Dr Elena Bodnar, President of the Trauma Risk Management Research Institute. The high impact journal Nature describes the Ig Nobel awards as 'awards that come with little cash, but much cachet – they reward those research projects that first make people laugh, and then make them think’.

Dr Bodnar, who started her career as a physician in the Ukraine during the Chernobyl nuclear accident invented the Emergency Bra. The Emergency Bra is a bra that becomes a face mask. Whilst it won’t protect you (and a friend) from Chernobyl radiation exposure or napalm, it can stop you breathing in harmful airborne particles as many people did in the aftermath of 9/11. The web site doesn't say anything about whether it can be used for those suffering a heavy head cold though 'Tak i 6yTN' as they say in the Ukraine.