Sunday, 5 December 2010

sex talk

Last Christmas I was given a little book called She Literally Exploded by two Torygraph journalists (Christopher Howse and Richard Preston) who dislike certain modern phrases and usages.  Sometimes it's quite funny, sometimes ridiculous and sometimes interesting.
The compilers dislike the word 'homophobic' because:

"the prefix homo- means not 'homosexual' but 'the same'.  So homophobes ought to hate or fear those the same as themselves. In general they hate or fear those who are different." (p.55)

The OED concurs in so far that 'hom-' means 'the same' when that prefix is followed by vowel. However, it's unsurprisingly more nuanced than The Torygraph's journalists present.
The OED describes a homophobe as 'a homophobic person' which is someone who 'pertains to or is characterized by, or exhibits homophobia; hostile towards homosexuals' (paraphrased by me).  Look up 'homophobia' (n.1) in the OED, and the prefix 'hom-' represents 'man'.  That is because in its earliest sense (c.1920) 'homophobia' is, literally, 'a fear or aversion to men'. 
'Homophobia' (n.2), however, is defined as a 'fear or hatred of homosexuals', and that is because the prefix 'homo-' is used, in this instance, as a contraction of 'homosexual'. 'Homosexual', in turn, uses 'hom-' to mean 'the same' (hom- + vowel) and is not specific to man or woman.
The way the OED treats the two 'homophobias' is significant because they are listed as two different headwords with two distinct definitions rather than the same word with two different senses.  I appreciate that homonyms have the potential to cause difficulties but Christopher Howse's blog on The Torygraph's website claims he writes about the world's faiths, especially Christianity. He also comments frequently and blogs on the uses and abuses of the English language'.  Now you might very well think that someone who writes on religion might be well suited to prescribing the meaning of homophobia but I couldn't possibly comment, (FU).