We don't say that anymore, Chief!

Social Change is the third constant along with death and taxes. Things are going to change, that including social norms, values and language. However, the pace of social change is observably at a snail's pace over a long period of time.  Optimistically, the past few decades have come with change in terms of language that is appropriate and acceptable to use. We don’t say that anymore. That is social change unfolding.  A Stanford News article titled The Power of Language: How words shape people and culture, states that “studying how people use language – what words and phrases they unconsciously choose and combine – can help us better understand ourselves and why we behave the way we do”. I can think of many words and phrases that shape people in a way that is unproductive and bigoted and may even influence how they behave in a manner that is harmful. And those are the words that have been gradually getting pushback. It is indeed a sign of progress in the right direction. Marginalised groups are determining for themselves the language that is appropriate for those outside their communities to use in reference to them. Predictably, this form of social change has been met with resistance.


South Africa is a notably socially conservative nation and naturally a lot of phobias, racism and bigotry form part of the social fabric of the rainbow nation. Language is a major way that these social issues manifest. For example, the vernacular “S” derogatory word typically used to refer gay men is no longer tolerated in many spaces in South Africa. To quote Lizzo, it’s about damn time! In May of this year a listener on Radio 2000 sent a voice note which included the “S” word. The voice note unfortunately was not screened and weekday lunch time host David Mashabela played it, unknowingly. To his credit the Radio 2000 host affectionately known as King David, was quick to stop the voice note from progressing once he heard that word being used by the listener. He went on to state emphatically how that “S” word is not acceptable to be used. Further stating that we all have the responsibility to essentially do better about this. That was a decisive approach. And an example of a Radio Presenter taking the use of inclusive language as their responsibility instead of choosing to be avoidant. Granted broadcasting license conditions require such towing of the line. However, it was a noteworthy radio moment reflecting the gradual ongoing social change that leans toward progress were bigoted language is concerned.