Saturday, 26 October 2013

Words and Phrases, a Continuing Series

Listening to an episode of BBC Radio Three's Arts and Ideas that dealt with an exhibition of George Grosz's work, I was struck by the use of the phrase 'sex industry', in the context of the Weimar Berlin:

I think the phrase tries to make a pretty sordid set of situations sound organised and rational, as if somewhere all the time there'd been a CEO and a board, who'd worked out marketing strategies and presided over promotion rounds and appeal tribunals. It also seems to me to be priggish and euphemistic. The buying and selling of sexual favours is not a branch of the manufacturing sector, even if it does demand hard work from its participants


  1. There's a really frightening trend, lately, of arguing by casual attitude. People are pushing agendas by acting as if the abnormal is normal. They don't argue in defense of a position, but simply speak about it as if it is an accepted condition. It seems insidious to me. As you say, this is not just some industry; it is a sordid enterprise. Talk avout it long enough as if it is totally normal, and, one day, kids will grow up to see "the sex industry" as nothing more than a business. Insidious mission accomplished.

  2. I have a vague memory that in the early eighties or so some voluble, articulate women who were 'sex industry workers' claimed that they did the job because they really wanted to pursue a career in that area and argued that they wanted to be given the dignity of recognition that it was a valid way to work. I suspect it was thus that 'sex industry' was born as a commonly used phrase. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of those women's argument, the problem I have is that it would be absurd, wrong and Orwellian to extend the use of the phrase to all the many situations, past and present, when women have engaged in prostitution simply because they have no other way of earning a living or because they have been coerced by men who are stronger than they are. It's important not to get rid of something bad by giving it a nice name - the most dangerous way to misuse language.