You can’t say that! Here’s how to get it right… 67



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I’ll never forget the shock I felt one Christmas Day as my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents sang along with great gusto to the Charlie Drake classic, My boomerang won’t come back.

It was the early 90s and my teenage sisters and I were horrified by the lyrics, which include: “I’ve waved the thing all over the place/practised till I was black in the face/I’m a big disgrace to the Aborigine race/My boomerang won’t come back!”

Reflecting on this moment, my mother – who is usually a denizen of diplomacy – says it wasn’t until she saw the looks on our faces that she even realised the song was culturally insensitive (to put it lightly).

This has us thinking. What are some other things you just can’t say these days?

There are the obvious ones, like my Nanna calling her nurses “darkies” (to their faces) or another gentlemanly bloke I know who likes to compliment women on having a “nice chassis”, plus many more colourful phrases we all agree are best locked up in the annals of history.

But there are still some grey areas and today we want shine some light in those corners – not because we want you all to drown in political correctness but because your grandchildren and any other young people you have a relationship have grown up speaking a very different language and it’s important to stay on their level.

Daryl Somers got it wrong in the Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion in 2009. He was left with a very red face when a bunch of blokes completely offended guest judge Harry Connick Jnr by painting their faces black and singing Michael Jackson songs. The Jackson Jive had appeared on the show 20 years earlier and no one batted an eyelid. Two decades later, what was funny once simply was no more, and the Aussie TV show was widely criticised at home and abroad.

So how can you tread lightly without going crazy about being “PC”?

Start by taking some tips from Monash University, which has a very clear guide to the new age of “inclusive language” on its website:

“Use language that reflects Australia’s diversity without stereotyping groups of people on the basis of their race, age, ability, gender, religion, culture, appearance or dress code. Not all students from China work hard, and not all skinheads are thugs”.

Here are some more tips from Monash Uni:

  • When talking about Indigenous Australians, “islanders”, “natives”, “blacks” and “Aborigines” are all out.
  • Steer clear of calling adult women “girls” and stick to gender-neutral phrases: “workforce instead of manpower; artificial instead of manmade; police officer instead of policeman; cleaner instead of cleaning lady”.
  • “Remember that sexuality is not a given, so don’t make assumptions. Prefer ‘partner’ to ‘husband/wife’, unless you are sure.”
  • Say “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, about whom the Monash guide is blunt: “Do not adopt sympathetic or sycophantic language when talking about people with disabilities. They may not want sympathy, and they may not feel particularly heroic”.

So next time you’re choosing an ice-cream flavour with your little ones, remember it’s “eeni meeni mini mo, catch a TIGER by the toe”. Confusingly, Enid Blyton books and golliwog dolls are back in fashion, despite a brief period of being out in the cold.

Do you make an effort to keep up with the PC police or do you stick to your guns? And have you ever said something that shocked your kids or grandkids?

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. My grandchildren pick me up when I say someone is ‘stupid’, apparently that is a rude word these days. I don’t understand why?

    1 REPLY
    • To say someone is stupid is applying a label that might stick and cause emotional and developmental damage. Maybe sometimes I say or do stupid things, but that doesn’t make me generally stupid.

  2. I stick to my guns why should we lose the way we were bought up the old sayings and slang I make a point of saying these things to keep the memory of my dad alive it doesn’t hurt and the true australian is dying please don’t let our heritage die

    2 REPLY
    • The problem is, it does hurt, just not you and yours. The fact that we don’t feel the hurt or humiliation felt by another, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. And to keep something hurtful alive because it was a tradition, or done by your good old Dad, is simply ignorant bloody mindedness. The old adage about words never hurting is simply not true.

      1 REPLY
    • Yes words can be very hurtful. So the next time I hear a black man asking what colour are maggots then say oh that’s right their white I will refer him to you shall I and you can then give him a lesson in political correctness.

  3. Political correctness is so stunting and stilted ! I why is nobody offended by the relentless use of the word F$&@K ?

    1 REPLY
    • I I could not agree more with you, we are losing all sense of decorum, it seems that it’s okay to say and write anything you want as long as it doesn’t upset the pc brigade.

  4. Rather than calling it “Political Correctness” I would rather hear it called “Human Sensitivity” because it helps me to temper the part of my conversation that might be offending people, and I love people too much to go around offending them. That said, my guilty secret is that at the age of 59 I walked into a doll and puppet shop interstate and fell in love with a beautiful Golliwog Doll – she quietly and without fanfare found her way to my home where she adorns my bed, alongside Sandy, the 55 year old teddy bear of my childhood.

    2 REPLY
    • You know Liz.
      People get OFFENDED too easily these days..
      My Gosh, I can’t believe how thin skinned and ridiculous people have become…
      I can’t believe how far it’s gone..
      Ba ba Rainbow ridiculous is that..
      Calling an Aboriginal an Aboriginal is like calling Australians… ,Australians…! They are Aboriginals ..this is rubbish…

      1 REPLY
      • Completely agree with you Helen, it is just getting out of hand – people will be afraid to speak soon, I bet most of what is said people do not take any notice of until someone points it out, I just wish they would stop using such awful swear words (like the F word) nobody ever says anything about that, but I find it most offensive.

    • Helen you are right and up here in the NT it is the white fella who is called all the names under the sun. We are allowed to be sworn at and yelled at and if you answer back you are a racist.

  5. We were at a social night at a retirement village a few years ago …songs being sung…words up on a screen when the well-known Negro spiritual, Swanee River, came up! “way down upon the Swanee River,…where the darkies are gay!” and the oldies just kept on singing! Lol .

    2 REPLY
    • lol good on them. It all lost me when children were told they had to sing baa baa rainbow sheep.

    • No way i will teach my gran children to sing Baa Baa rainbow sheep i lived on a farm and we had black sheep so they are real

  6. Total rubbish…thin skinned …political Correctness is rubbish…it has gone too far…I’m not changing…if they don’t like it ..bugger off…

  7. You can sing and say what you like in your own home . Thats freedom of speech we are supposed to enjoy . What our soldiers fought for , to give us freedom of speech . Well we don’t have that anymore thanks to immigration and governments giving more rights to immigrants than Australians .
    Migration is good , but only if they are coming here to enjoy our way of life .
    Unfortunately , that’s not the case , our lives have changed , not theirs . and i will never understand that . Because if YOU go to their country , you do it their way as well. So Aussies have no rights any where it appears .

    3 REPLY

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