Re: watchdog.

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Thu, 8 Feb 1996 13:39:49 -0500

If you read my original post on the use of "watchdog," I never said it
was a sexist term, but objected to its use as applied to me, since I
don't consider myself a watchdog. And I must say I'm surprised that you,
Robert Thornton, are indulging in the silly semantics of the usual silly,
and in this case, deliberately dense, baiters, who are coming out of the
woodwork as American politics get more reactionary. Talk about using
valuable space on this list! Ruby Rohrlich

On Thu, 8 Feb 1996, Robert Thornton wrote:

> I can't resist. For those who find this sort of salon chatter
> undignified, apologies. But "'watchdog' is sexist "? What fun!
> This is a lovely example of how the English and the
> Americans are separated by a common language. (I was born in the
> States, and went to university there, but have lived in the
> 'British- English sphere', in India and Africa, since age 12.) In
> British English, 'dog' is opposed to 'bitch' as 'bull' is to 'cow',
> 'stallion' is to 'mare' or 'hen' is to 'cock' (though the Americans
> say 'rooster', and 'cock' is regarded as 'rude'). 'Dog' is also
> used as the generic term for dogs and bitches in British English,
> however, much as 'man' *was* used in (common) English for men and
> women (... and yes, I know, Ruby, this is a sore point with you! but
> will you accept the historical argument? -- I am using '*was*'
> rather than 'is' in the previous sentence. Thanks.) The use of
> 'bitch' and 'cock' in common 'polite' American conversation has
> disappeared. In the States both male and female are called without
> distinction 'dogs', while in Britain the distinction is commonly
> made. The greater attention to the breed and sex that is more common
> n Britain may reflect the cultural characteristics
> of a hiererarchical class society -- what Bourdieu would call
> 'distinction'. These distinction are not needed in American society.
> This seems to me a nice case of semantic shift
> and loss of some semantic distinctions in a American English as a
> consequence of an historical drift from British English. As a
> hypothesis, I would guess that the cultural 'loss' of these words in
> American English is the consequence of a perivous round of cultural
> cleansing, American style. The British, being great fanciers of the
> canine species do not quail (excuse the mixed animal metaphor here)
> at calling a bitch a bitch. It seems
> to me that the general puritainism that still characterises American
> culture -- and which is evident in *some* varieties American
> feminism -- construed words like 'cock' and 'bitch' as rude, and
> eliminated them through a process of social pressure and
> 'watchdogging' (sorry, Ruby ... it just seems to fit here.) This
> would make an interesting piece of cultural history, assuming that my
> hypothesis would hold up under more rigorous scrutiny.
> Or shall we say, watchbitching? (this also works for me...
> how about you?)
> Life's a dog.
> Cheers, all.
> ===========Robert Thornton, Department of Social Anthropology======
> University of the Witwatersrand, PO Wits, 2050 Johannesburg
> South Africa
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