Weegies, teuchters, neds and chavs: microaggressions and pejorative language in Scotland

You won’t read the slurs in this post again on the Village Aunties, unless it’s under very particular circumstances. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the following clause in the Village Aunties guidelines page, Take Heed:

Village aunties challenge language and actions that reinforce oppression.

Use of language on this blog that reinforces sexism, heterosexism, racism, transphobia, and class oppression (to give but a few examples) will not be tolerated. Not taking heed will get commenters summarily banned according to the sole discretion of the village aunties.

This includes such terminology as “ned”, “chav”, “pikey”, “white trash” and other insults regarding people’s position in the class structure. It also includes “teuchter”, “weegie”, “Gaelic mafia” and other terms (including sectarian slurs) used to insult people according to where they belong in Scotland’s cultural landscape. Exceptions will be made only for individual village aunties who rightfully claim a label for themselves, and for the use of words from Scots or other languages in the context of that language, as long as they are used non-pejoratively. For instance, self-identified ned feminists are more than welcome; as are posts written in Scots that use the word “teuchter” in its original sense.

Many readers may be shocked, puzzled or annoyed to read the second paragraph. The white people among us (which includes me) know we can’t use “the ‘N’ word” or “the ‘P’ word”. Most of us understand why. There are a range of words in between these almost universally acknowledged slurs, and general insults like the lovely Kiwi insult “ya egg”, where the degree of taboo, offense or potential hurt or exclusion are debated.

Many well-meaning people will have used some of the Village Aunties’ banned terms in daily life without realising they may be offensive, demeaning or hurtful to some. I certainly have in the past. This is not about shaming people. It’s about making the Village Aunties as comfortable a place as possible for the broadest diversity of people to come and discuss Scottish issues in a feminist context, and feminist issues in a Scottish context.

And with that in mind, it’s also about creating a space to discuss how we can move Scottish society toward being a less oppressive, exclusionary, or discriminatory place. Village aunties challenge ourselves and our culture to be better, without shaming, guilt-tripping or bullying.

Microaggression: A framework for understanding how we can be good allies to each other

I recently came across the concept of “microaggression“, which started out as a way of understanding and describing some of the more subtle ways that racism works in the daily lives of marginalised ethnic and racial groups.

I quickly grasped how that idea could be applied to my own experiences as a woman, a bisexual woman, a woman in a same-sex relationship, an immigrant to Scotland. Of course, others had got there long before me. Here is a good summary of the concept and why it’s important (the video is under 5 minutes long; transcript coming soon):

 

One of the great contributions of the feminist blog-o-sphere (and feminist ‘net in general) is in working out how we should treat each other online. Village Aunties aspires to the very best of this tradition of creating a good place for all to come.

So, it’s not just about noticing microaggressions against us but being mindful of how we may be perpetrating microaggressions against others who are different from ourselves. Hence the guideline.

Languages of Scotland, language in Scotland

There are many pejorative terms in use in Scotland, some of them native and some of them borrowed from England or the US.

The Village Aunties blog supports all Scotland’s languages: Scots in all its local dialects (including Glaswegian Scots), Doric, Gaelic, Scottish English, and any of the other languages that have developed here or taken root here more recently. Contributions are welcome in these languages.

How does that fit with banning the use of a fine Scots word like “teuchter”? Well, people posting in the relevant languages can certainly use such terms, as long as they are used in their original meanings and not as pejorative terms. But we ask that everyone consider the guidelines, and the issue of microaggressions, carefully before doing so.

‘Weegie’ as one contentious example

I’ve had and been witness to a number of arguments about the use of “weegie” to designate people or things Glaswegian. Some people (generally not born and bred Glaswegians in my experience) think it’s simply a harmless nickname like “Kiwi” for a New Zealander. Some Glaswegians think it’s OK as long as it’s being used in a friendly manner and not in an abusive way. Some people who live in Glasgow think it’s OK to “reclaim” it, despite the fact that, as far as I know, it was never claimed by Glaswegians in the first place. This last argument raises all the same issues and arguments about “reclaiming” words like “slut”. Who gets to use it, and how? Who decides?

The discussion over “weegie” also carries a class issue within it. The association of “weegie” with demeaning descriptions of working class or poor Glaswegians is strong, if not universal. This may affect who experiences hearing it as a microaggression, who as a fun joke. We’re taking the side of the former here at the Village Aunties. So, you are free to use whatever words you like in your own life but please don’t say “weegie” here.

‘Ned’ as an example of right-on class hatred

The fact that there’s a feature film that uses the term in its title doesn’t change the scathing, seething, sneering that usually infuses use of this term in daily life in Scotland. Not unlike the term “slumdog” as in “Slumdog Millionaire”, which is also pejorative and sparked protests in Mumbai.

I have to say I’ve never heard one word so commonly used as a term of abuse amongst so-called right-on people as “ned”. I wish I could find a self-identified ned feminist to post, but I’m a typical sheltered middle class person in Glasgow; I don’t actually know any neds, unless some of my friends are keeping themselves in the closet about it.

It’s very difficult to make any discussion space genuinely open to voices from across the social class spectrum in Scotland. Village aunties will do their best while working within this most pernicious and fundamental system of oppression and hierarchical domination. We’re making a feeble start by banning the use of “ned” and words like it, while knowing this is barely even pissing into the wind.

A word on gendered language

While we’re pissing into the wind, some of the inaugural village aunties are irritated by the encroaching Americanism of using “guys” to refer to groups which have girls or women in them. Your author today is a New Zealander, and hence has always lived with “guys” as gender neutral, however, the great Glaswegian comedian Limmy has the final word, so take heed about addressing women as “guys”:

 

I would also like to reduce referring to women as “girls” but feel I don’t even have any piss left to send into the wind.

A final word on microaggression and Village Aunties as a transgender ally blog

You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past 20 years to not know that the issue of supporting transgender people in their self-identified gender is one of the primary schismatic faultlines in feminism today. Village aunties is not a woman-only blog; people of all genders who are on board with our manifesto are welcome to post and comment here. And this goes much deeper than just an issue of words, even though the argument manifests sometimes as the question “What is a woman?”

However, I want to finish this post with a note about the effect of microaggressions on trans people, and affirm that there will be no such exclusion, oppression or hurtful behaviour on this blog.

Today as I was looking at the micoraggressions.com website for material for this post, the following item had been posted by a trans woman:

For once, I feel beautiful and free and comfortable in my own skin. I smile as I walk down the path along the creek near the center of town, delighting in the feel of a warm breeze through my skirt, my hair grazing against my bare shoulders.

A groups of three strong young men walks in the other direction, exuding confidence, looking as happy as I feel. As they pass, one greets me:

“Hey, *MAN*, how’s it goin’?”

He sneers and laughs. I’m a woman in my early 30’s, about a year into my gender transition (male to female, if that wasn’t obvious). I feel alone and scared, and I just want to get home so that I can cry. I pray I won’t be beaten or raped or murdered.

Microaggressions underlay and reinforce the threat of real violence that all of us face as a potentiality in our lives within this culture and political system.

Village aunties reject microsaggressions as perpetrators and as victims.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mhairi McAlpine
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 13:26:04

    I think this is quite a contentious issue. Language is culturally bound – for example the term “cunt” is used quite affectionately in Glasgow and West Central Scotland, whereas in England it is used as a heavy insult. “Weedgie” is also used quite affectionately – although as you illustrate in your article it has connotations of being working class and/or poor.

    This issue has caused some heat within the feminist blogsphere of late with the term “slut” and the reclaimation that some (but not all) of the proponent of Slutwalk support. Personally I have little issue with the word, although I know some find it deeply offensive, although clearly it depends on the context of use. I’m quite happy to self-identify with the “sluts”, and to be identified as such by others who also self identify in this way, although I am aware of its use as a pejoritive term by those who seek to control and moderate female sexuality.

    In discussing the term “slut”, I got myself into a level of hot water, when someone suggested that they would not use the term “slut”, just as they would not use the terms “niggers” or “poofs”, when I responded that I wouldnt use “nigger” or “poof” either, but that I left them to the niggers and the poofs, there was an exclaimation that I just did somewhat missing the point that some terms are only acceptable for use if you yourself identify with it.

    The one term that I do take great offence to is “feminazi”. I have no desire what so ever to identify with, or be identified with a racist, intolerent ideology, and it depresses me a number of feminists, particularly on twitter, embrace the term.

    I have no problem with being identified as poor, working class or sexually transgressive – calling me a cunt, a weedgie or a slut is water off a ducks back to me, but identifying me with a murderous ideology is way beyond the pale.

    Reply

    • Morag Eyrie
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 21:37:21

      Hi Mhairi, thanks to you for replying as well, and I’m glad you got the point in about “feminazi”.

      I get that among Glaswegians, and among some groups of friends or other groups, “weegie” may be fun or affectionate (like “kiwi” for me). But this is not universal. Glaswegians are, like Liverpudlians in England, much looked down upon and subject to really pernicious stereotypes, jokes and, I believe, some degree of discrimination.

      I’m asking people to think about the power of the words they use for others when they don’t know the people involved, which of necessity includes when putting stuff on the Internet. I’m asking people to think about the cumulative effect of these small pinpricks to the heart and mind, hence putting it in the framework of microaggressions.

      I remember 20 years ago, a friend of mine wore a hip t-shirt made from fabric with the words “slag slut bitch whore” printed on it over and over (i.e. not as a t-shirt message but as the design of the fabric). This was considered by many (including me) to be a cool, feminist statement at the time. The woman involved (and others of us who thought it was a fun statement), had never really been on the receiving end of those words in any serious, violent or discriminatory way. I heard later from a woman who had been at the meeting, who was in floods of tears alternating with spluttering rage. She had been sexually abused as a child, and had gone on to be a sex worker and drug addict in her teens and twenties. She was traumatised by seeing these words, which were so much a part of the damage she had suffered, emblazoned on someone else’s garment in a place she though of as safe.

      Older gay people, or Black people, or Pakistanis, who have been on the receiving end of “nigger” or “poof” at a time when those words could be accompanied by unchecked violence or exclusion from economic means, often have a different attitude to the reclaiming of those words. It is certainly not a settled issue in Black or Asian communities.

      I’m asking people who are *not* Glaswegian, or who are Glaswegian but haven’t had much reason to suffer for being Glaswegian, to consider that others may have a different experience from them, and that their experience of the word ‘weegie’ as a microaggression may be valid. And because I *do* think that their experience is valid, that’s why I don’t want the word used on this blog by anyone other than Glaswegians who are reclaiming it.

      Reply

  2. lyraliberty
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 20:59:52

    I don’t think your description of “weegie” is correct, it is a term East Coasters (usually Edinburgh and surrounding area) use to describe Glaswegians – it is not based on their wealth or their class it means Glaswegian!

    I think the issue of language is where the power lies within the words and language. Its a term I use regularly in fact I never use the word Glaswegian, this issue for me is that the “weegies” probably don’t even have a word for people for Edinburgh or am I wrong. The power doesn’t appear to be with Edinburgh people but with the weegies.

    For the record Mhairi I am so with you on the term Feminazi – it can only be used to offend

    Reply

    • Morag Eyrie
      Jul 17, 2011 @ 21:15:19

      Hi Ms Liberty! Thanks for your comment, glad folk are engaging with this issue.

      So my question is- does it concern you at all that some Glaswegians do find it a term that can make them feel excluded or put down when used by non-Glaswegians? Does that make you pause at all in using it around people who you don’t know personally (I appreciate that among friends or family it may be a completely affectionate term)? Would you, as a feminist, ask those people to just stop feeling what they are feeling about it?

      Also interested in your assertion that power is with people from Edinburgh not from Glaswegians. Clearly Glasgow is economically very far behind Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is the seat of political power in Scotland. It is typical that pejorative terms tend to be more common among the more powerful for the less powerful. So an example is: what is the equivalent term to “slut” (or any other woman-hating term) for describing men?

      Reply

  3. Mhairi McAlpine
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 22:16:06

    I think weedgie does have a class base to it, like scouser or geordie. It generally conjours up images of people with a distinctive accent, and possibly outlook to life which is working class, but I dont find it offensive in the slightest.

    As for what we call Edinburgh folk…I’m far too polite to put that on a public blog ;)

    Reply

  4. Morag Eyrie
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 22:35:55

    :-)

    Did I not overhear somewhere that you are a “Bairn”* Mhairi? (Hope *that’s* not offensive!).

    Anyway, I hope I haven’t implied that I think words referring to working class allegiances or attributes are inherently offensive!

    *http://www.falkirklocalhistorysociety.co.uk/home/index.php?id=72

    Reply

  5. Mhairi McAlpine
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 22:43:39

    Thats true – I am only an adoptive weedgie; a bairn by birth.

    Reply

  6. csbungo
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 09:49:10

    I have only ever heard ‘weegie’ used as a term of derision and it has stung every time. This recent example on twitter (15th July) typifies the usage I have encountered: “@scotbot Crikey, Paul McGann is looking old. Still, no older than the average 30 something Weegie. #thehour #stv #hardpaperround”.

    Reply

  7. lyraliberty
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 22:35:38

    So what do people in Glasgow call people from Edinburgh? There isn’t a word or term as far as I know, Edinburgh has little or no consequence to Glaswegians they don’t even have a rude word for people from Edinburgh or even a real, actual word. Whilst Edinburgh is the capital and has the Parlaiment and Scottish Government here, the people who use the term “weegie” are not high powered civil servants or bankers – it’s slang, well actually shortened from Glaswegian. Weegie doesn’t have another meaning. I would say @scotbot is a bit cheeky and that’s not very nice.

    Reply

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