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Etymology

Posted: | In: Seed Pearl

I always loved Kinder Surprise Eggs. Since 1974 those clever people at Ferrero have delighted us with yummy two-tone chocolate ova containing nearly impenetrable yellow plastic eggs, and inside that, fiddly little snap together toys.

I never worked out that 3-in-1 deal. They claimed that it was chocolate, surprise and toy; but although we knew we’d be getting the toy, there was no doubt that as the candy carapace contained one within, and so as far as I was concerned, it was a surprise toy, rather than a surprise and a toy.

Sometimes, the contents would utterly delight, but just as often, they would disappoint, although it didn’t really matter much; the gift was more of a bonus to the sublime taste of the cocoa shell, and in any event, they did not stand up to robust play for long, so it was best not to form too much of an attachment to the strange little plastic treat.

And now look at what those silly people at Ferrero have gone and done. They’ve topped the foil wrappers with pink and blue, containing gender specific toys; cars in the blue ones and dolls or bracelets in the pink ones.

I’m all for discovering the sex of a baby at the twenty week scan, but this is really taking the element of surprise way to far for my liking. Messing with my chocolate eggs feels like step very much in the wrong direction. Kinder – you have gone quite mad! How can you do this? It is an intrusion in the secret world of children’s hopes and dreams.

We like surprises. Cilla Black even had a show about it. We also like nosing about, and Lloyd Grossman had a show about that side of us too. I prefer surprise now, as at my grand old age, there seem to be so very few genuine ones left. I found out the sex of my first two babies at the twenty week stage, but with the third, I wanted to wait and see. People would see my bump; often irritatingly pat it and ask what I was having. I would smile and say brightly, “I’m having a *baby.”

At a breakfast I hosted last week, one of my guests revealed that at six years of age, he discovered an intense delight in playing with his friend’s sweetly fragrant My Little Pony. He understood well enough at the time, that it was quite unconventional.

How many children might slow down in the candy aisle of the supermarket, stop for a while at the selection of Kinder Eggs, and wish for a blue egg instead of a pink one, incubating secret and confusing desires for the other egg, and yet may have the choice made for them by their mother or father?

My Grandfather, taken from me sadly when I was only six years of age was a dear man. The things I remember about him was when he injected himself with insulin, his ability to eat an apple in its entirety, leaving only the stalk, and his visits to the Cash’n’Carry, where he used to pick up a bargain bag of toys, for 50p.

It was a clear bag, knotted at the top, and in it were contained all manner of bits and pieces. Plastic “safety” scissors, so safe, they didn’t actually cut anything, bouncy balls, and a selection of Cowboys and Indians – oops, sorry – Native Americans – oops sorry First Nation and Immigrant Americans.

Now don’t go thinking that I wish for a gender-neutral world; the sort promoted by nurseries in Sweden. They now have a non-specific pro-noun, and make every effort to bypass any reference made to maleness or femaleness. I may be completely wrong, but I thought that those tender young years are all about discovering identity, and although not necessarily sexual orientation, certainly understanding your own gender is a really important part of establishing who you are, in an extremely confusing world.

One couple have taken this so far, that no one but close family knows the gender of their child named “Pop.” Can that be altogether sensible?

There is some debate going on at the moment about whether or not it is offensive to address the female sex over eighteen or so as “Girls.” Some women find it demeaning, others find it sexist; however the majority of my friends say that they don’t really care.

I can perhaps see where calling someone “girl” can and often does create a particular hierarchical disadvantage, and of course I wouldn’t want that, but considering the constant and relentless pressure by the media to maintain youthful looks, I would have thought that being addressed as a junior version of woman would be the Holy Grail.

Imagine all the pop songs that would be no longer correct, if we had to reconsider that one little word. And what would happen to the description of a particular romantic interest? Calling someone womanfriend doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Apparently it is perfectly ok if we are in an all female group, and we choose to call ourselves “girls,” provided it is only to each other. But surely that kind of exclusivity is unacceptable, and at the very least, those sorts of double standards make me wince.

With a large Jewish following, and having suffered quite considerable anti-Semitic provocation, Tottenham Hotspur fans of all religions and ethnicity call themselves the Yid Army, and chant Yiddo at matches. Anywhere else, this sort of thing would be an offence, and they would be arrested.

Don’t even get me started with the “N” word. As long as you are black, it’s ok to use it with each other, but rightly, no one else is allowed to say it. These two examples perpetuate racism, and keep alive old and uncomfortable identities. If a particular word is offensive, the very group who would be offended by it shouldn’t use it. But both these groups claim they use these words as a sort of “Badge of Pride.” How very confusing.

Back in the ‘20s, New York gangster, Ben Siegal, better known as Bugsy, is reputed to have said, “We only kill each other.” So murder is perfectly ok, as long as you keep it within your own group. Shoot anyone outside, now that is entirely a different matter.

While mulling over the word “Girl” with the endlessly fascinating, far too clever for one person polymath Jonathon Xavier Coudrille, we both concluded it would be very sad if we had to call everyone something along the lines of simply “person.” He pointed out that instead of identifying someone, it actually renders them to the status of a “nobody” rather than a “somebody.”

The word “person” is originally French, and the direct translation is “nobody.” Following the conquest in 1066, the Norman ruling class would address important people by name, or their correct title, but if someone should need referring to and they were merely a commoner, they would be referred to as “person” in other words, “nobody.”

Another Norman word that has remained in use but has also slightly changed, is Homage, the pledging of allegiance in a Feudal ceremony. Of course it is now used as a way of paying respect to a fellow artist.

Yes, perhaps a little later I shall be rather appropriately girding my loins; while waiting for a flood of “loos” in response to this perforce short, but entirely enjoyable etymological romp.

Having wandered slightly off point, we ought to come back to the subject of gender, and how we identify ourselves. I like our differences, and I enjoy being a girl. That said, the best thing about having boys is the discovery of all sorts of toys I had never played with before, coming from an all girl family. Perhaps I exaggerate, and it is not the best thing; that is a little extreme, even for me. But the point is, I absolutely love Lego, and Scalextric and I really think it’s time soon for a remote control motorboat…

*Pinter Pause

 
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