Friday, 7 October 2011

Canola, it's like rape.

    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.
    This word cloud shows the top 50 collocates for 'rape'. I have removed a few 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'. 


  1. This is symptomatic of a lazy population I fear Jenny. Traditionally I have always thought of the archaic description given for the word 'rape', that is,
    'The act of seizing and carrying off by force'. Not only does that description refer to the act and it's implementation it also infers a psychological impact too as far as I am concerned. Something done without consent? No, not just anything done without consent but specifically a physical act, a sexual imposition.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. Slightly off the post's theme but...
    True story.
    About 15 years ago I was waiting for a nightbus to stavanger from stockholm, and started talking to a canadian guy.His farming family in saskatchewan came originally from sweden, and he'd been visiting long lost relatives.
    The oddest thing that happened to him was at the first 'family' gathering he attended. One person asked him what his family in canada did and he replied that they were canola farmers.
    Dead silence.
    Thats how he found out that 'canola' sounds very similar to a swedish word for f**k.

  3. The more I read blogs and opinions the more I become aware of the possibilities of misusing a word. Bad enough I have a problem expressing myself in general now I have to add this 'be careful' thought prior to speaking or writing. I'm not complaining, just saying. I can see myself saying "this is the worst thing that could have happened to me, just like rape". That would not be considered misuse, right, even if I don't know what rape feels like.

  4. I've been raped. Nothing compares to the awfulness. The trivial use of the word serves to trivialise the suffering of rape survivors.

    Thank you, Jenny.

    Ellena, part of good writing is to use words consciously and correctly. ANY use of the word rape for anything but rape is not OK. Find another word. There are lots of them out there.

  5. I can't really add anything to that.

  6. @Shirly Anne. The sad truth is that it extends FAR beyond, "a physical act, a sexual imposition".