My eye was caught earlier this week by a piece at the UK feminist blog, The F-word: 'Things that are not like rape'. It examines the use of the word 'rape', and how it is experiencing something of a linguistic shift in some quarters, being used to express mild annoyance. I agree with the author of the piece: such use devalues the word and desensitises us as to its meaning. Given the serious nature of the word, that is not acceptable.
The examples given make the point admirably. No, you are not being raped if you attend a photoshoot, or if your online video service increases its prices.
Of course, the problem is that to the people using the word it is just that, a word. They have never been raped, known a rape victim or even been a rapist. It's not as if I fit in any of those groups either, but one might hope that anyone with half a brain would be able to appreciate the serious nature of rape and STFU before using the word in that way.
So how does one communicate the level of transgression inherent in the misuse of the word 'rape'? Time to examine in detail its use in the language.
Regular readers of this blog might remember a piece I wrote a couple of months ago examining the use of 'tranny' when compared to the N-word. In it I used corpus analysis, the science of examining huge bodies of text to find answers to linguistic questions, to examine the collocates of each word: those words which most often appear alongside it.
stop words and one word relating to a secondary sense of the word, but otherwise they are exactly as they rolled out of the computer.
'Murder', 'assault', 'kill', 'torture', 'abuse', 'violence', 'beat'. It tells the story pretty clearly, doesn't it. And it identifies the victims too: 'woman', 'girl', 'child', 'daughter'.
I don't see anything about photo shoots there, Mr. Depp.
The title of this piece refers to one of the very few acceptable uses of 'rape' in another sense. In the UK, the agricultural crop the Americans call 'Canola' is referred to as 'Oilseed rape'. Its bright yellow flowers are a familiar sight in the fields near where I grew up. The word I mentioned removing from the word cloud above was thus 'oilseed'.