The Language of Stereotypes

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“Once you label me you negate me.”
Søren Kierkegaard

What We See

Most of us have an uncanny ability to stereotype. (Stereotype, incidentally, comes from the Greek word, “stereos,” meaning firm and “typos,” meaning impression.) We see people through a lens of personal experience, which allows us to categorize people quickly so as to make sense of our surroundings.  The problem, of course, is that stereotyping is a flawed definition system, and the belief that we hold, may or may not accurately reflect truth.  Here are some words that have been used to stereotype others.

“Drunk as a Fiddler” refers to the fiddler at wakes and weddings whose fee was paid for in liquor.  The fiddler would ensure that he was adequately compensated.“Dull as Dishwater” was originally “ditch water.”  Fishing in a ditch was anything but exciting. “Dead as a Doornail” refers to the door-knocker that is always being hit with the hammer.

“Happy as a Clam” comes from our belief that clams love to be left alone.  Clams are gathered only when the tide is out; hence, they would be exceedingly happy during high tide. “Mad as a March Hare” refers to the March mating season for hares, which apparently is when they all run around rather “mad.”

A generous man will give you “his shirt off his back.” This phrase dates back to when men wore only three pieces of clothing – coat, pants, and shirt.  A spendthrift, on the other hand, is one who “spends” the “thrift” or savings of another.

Have you ever considered how other people stereotype you?

“What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: “You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls”; if the answer is, “But I don’t,” there is no more to be said.” 
 Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?

Personal Brands

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“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Sally Lunn

Every marketing course will tell you that branding sells products, but few connect it to the original meaning of branding cattle with a hot iron. Whether we know it or not, we live our personal brands through our daily exchanges.  Some brands have lasted for centuries and have come to signify a universal meaning.

“Achilles’ heel” has come to mean a person’s vulnerable spot.  In Greek mythology, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, forgot to dip his heel in the River Styx.  Adam’s apple refers to the voice box of the throat, an allusion to the story of Adam and Eve.  It seems that a piece of the forbidden fruit lodged in Adam’s throat.   Swearing by Alexander’s beard was a reference to Alexander the Great’s dislike for beards.  He shaved and made certain that all followed his example. If anyone said, they “swore by Alexander’s beard,” they were not swearing by anything.

Fast forward a few hundred years, Calamity Jane came to exemplify respect.  Mrs. Martha Burke was her real name, but she became famous because of her ability to handle herself in dangerous situations.  Any man who provoked her invited calamity.

My personal favourite! Sally Lunn, who lived in the late eighteenth century, is known for her legendary enriched yeast breads associated with the town of Bath.  Her voice was heard throughout the streets, calling for people to buy her delicious wares.  She became famous and her name came to symbolize the best of things to eat.

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.” 
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations