A reliable source informs me that at a university not far from here the language commission has decreed that the word pygmy is no longer acceptable. The preferred term is; “ little people of the rainforest”.
This begs lots of questions: leaving aside historical Greek references to races of dwarves, anthropologists apparently use the term to describe people with an average adult height of less than 150 cm or 5 feet.
Such people are found in equatorial Africa, Asia, and South America but I wasn’t aware of a population around Manchester.
Apart from that, and recognising that we are all part of the global village, has the university gone far enough?
Surely the word “little” could be considered size-ist ie discriminating against people who are big. You would probably have the same problem with small ie not large.
If the concern is that pygmy is sometimes used in a pejorative way, for example to describe academics as “intellectual pygmies“, isn’t “little people” condescending? Perhaps “people of diminutive stature” might be more acceptable. After all we associate diminutive with pet names amongst friends and families.
And what do we call pygmy goats and pygmy shrews now? Even though universities are struggling with budget cuts and redundancies, I feel there is more work to be done here by the language commission (although Rome burning and Nero spring to mind).
First posted 16 May 2010