The boy likes pink. Also, red, blue and green, but not black or yellow – he’s quite definite about this*. When we bought him his first pair of gumboots, he chose pink ones, and fair enough. His mother was subsequently a little surprised when, on telling people this, some of them asked “ooh – is his Dad OK with that?” Because, you know, if a boy likes anything pink he might turn into a Gay or a Tranny or a werewolf or something, and a proper, red-blooded father should be constantly vigilant for signs of sexual non-conformity or lycanthropy in his issue.
I end up being unable to discuss my son’s drapery without thinking of vaginas
More recently we got new curtains for his bedroom; again he went for pink and I have to admit that this time I’m uncomfortable with his choice. Not, obviously, because it contravenes arbitrary gender stereotypes, but because I can’t use the phrase “pretty pink curtains” without sniggering, and eventually he’s going to ask why.
It’s a fact about the evolution of language that if a word acquires a meaning that is rude or controversial, that meaning eventually comes to trump any other meanings it might have. We’ve seen it happen with “gay”, but before that there were others like “prophylactic” (formerly a generic term for any preventative), “girth” (which, as The Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia put it, might as well be defined “distance across (your knob)”) or “ejaculate”, which was once used to denote any explosive issue, physical or verbal:
Eventually, what was originally a euphemism is no longer euphemistic, since it’s associated only with the dodgy topic it was formerly obliquely referencing.** As time goes by, more and more words and phrases become euphemisms (largely in response to the loss of the old euphemisms – there’s a vicious cycle operating here), and I end up being unable to discuss my son’s drapery without thinking of vaginas.
It’s only going to get worse – this was made clear at a family gathering the other weekend, where a bunch of toys and children’s books had been laid out for the kiddies. Among them was this book, which, if you’re around my age, you almost certainly read as a child. (As I recall, it was the one they gave away for nothing to get you to buy the rest of the series, so every family owned a copy of that one and none of the others…)
It’s a heart-warming tale of perseverance, as we watch a determined cartoon Louis Pasteur coming up with a vaccine for rabies and curing a stricken German youngster***. Pitched to children, it dumbs down the science, so that the vaccine is portrayed as being made of magical army men who battle the nasty rabies bugs – all well and good until you get to the part where Pasteur is talking to young Joey about his upcoming treatment:
Joey had been put into bed. When he heard Louis Pasteur say this, he rose up a little. “Dr Pasteur”, he said, “do you mean your Magical Soldiers will be inside of me?”
“Yes”, said Louis Pasteur.
Joey looked puzzled. “But how will they get there?”
“Very easily”, said Louis Pasteur. “My Magical Soldiers can march through long needles and into little boys.”
Fortunately, the boy is still too young to have picked up on my suppressed giggling and the eyebrow-waggling looks I was giving my wife while reading this to him. Now, maybe I’m just using my dated knowledge of Linguistics to justify having a dirty and puerile mind, but
Actually, I don’t have an alternative. As you were.
*Since I started writing this he’s changed his mind on black and yellow. He is three.
**Things can get awkward when the rude meaning is still a bit obscure – the other day I was talking with a jazz-enthusiast workmate about how much he “loves good scat”. My face couldn’t have been straighter if I’d ironed it.
***If there were any poetry in the world, the story would have ended with “… and that little boy’s name was… Adolph Hitler.” Sadly, no.