This week I have been thoroughly entertained by
that a number of Lesbians (that is,
inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos) are pissed
off at lesbians (that is... well, lesbians) for stealing
their demonym. So much so that they're prepared to go to
court over it, in an effort to stop the use of the word
'lesbian' to describe what it's described for over a
There are so many things about this that are funny.
There's the islanders' staunch denials that they're
motivated by homophobia, while at the same time dredging
up a load of long-discredited bullcrap about how Sappho
wasn't gay anyway and supposedly committed suicide for
the love of a man. This was a common story in days gone
by, although it's generally dismissed by modern
historians... but it's interesting to see concerned
Christians putting it forward in an effort to save the
reputation of their island's most famous resident.
Because being gay is a sin... but, uh, suicide is fine,
It amuses me further because this is Ancient Greece
we're talking about. Some of the stuff the Ancient
Greeks got up to would have made Sappho look like a nun
in comparison. Plato advocated some decidedly dubious
practices (you know the ones I'm talking about... and I
won't name them here because the resultant Google hits
would only depress me) and he remains a hero of
philosophy, and yet Sappho's sexuality has always put
her under a cloud.
It amuses me to hear the anti-lesbian Lesbians argue
that Sappho's relationships with women were "platonic"
when Sappho lived two hundred years before Plato was
even born. I dunno, the linguistic irony just
Most of all, it amuses me to see any effort by a
special-interest group to change the way language is
used. McDonalds tried it with the
: As you're probably aware, "McJob"
is slang for, well, a crappy job. After it started
appearing in dictionaries, McDonalds threw a hissy fit
and complained to said dictionaries, insisting that
their jobs weren't actually that crappy. This effort
only succeeded in proving that the people in charge of
McDonalds don't really understand what a dictionary is
for: it records language as it is used, not as someone
would like it to be used. If you fill a dictionary with
what you think words ought
to mean rather than what people actually use
them for, then you've created a document that's no use
to anybody. Similarly futile are the efforts of the
to stop English loanwords from
seeping into French. Language changes naturally, and you
can't legislate against it: it's never worked and it
never will. You might wonder if it's possible for a
collection of such clearly learned men and women to be
so dense... although I've spent enough time at various
universities to confirm that it is.
Even if these linguistic fundamentalists do score a
victory in the courts (which I'd say was highly
unlikely, but on the other hand I dunno how the Greek
courts work), their efforts are still doomed to failure.
No legal decision is ever going to stop people from
linking a particular word with the meaning they've
always associated it with. These guys should really take
a cue from the poets out there. It's probably quite hard
to use the Sapphic meter without eliciting adolescent
giggles, but you don't see them complaining. At least,
not to my knowledge. I'm pretty sure they haven't taken
the matter to court yet, anyway...
Fun Amazoness! fact: If you put the word "sapphic"
into a Google image search (don't do this at work, for
God's sake), the second non-pornographic result is
one of my comics. Thanks to
porn-seekers it's also the most-viewed comic on the
site. Although I've a feeling this page may yet take
over, since I've used the word "lesbian" about a hundred