The potency of words

I’m not easily roused to anger, but a phrase in an article in one of Australia’s leading newspapers did it. Like millions of others, I am in the grip of Matildas fever, and the article captured the drama and mood of the team’s loss to England in the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. My grandsons were there, immersed in the rollercoaster of emotions among 75,784 frantic fans.

Sport journalist Will Swanton reflected on what the Matildas have done for our country – ‘they’ve won hearts, blown minds and sparked a national love affair’ for what is called ‘the beautiful game’.  The theme of gratitude threaded through the piece sprang from a brief encounter he had entering Stadium Australia.

‘One old dear saw my accreditation pass and asked if I might talk to (Sam) Kerr after the game’, Swanton wrote.  He told her he might, and the person – no doubt a woman – asked him, “Can you tell her something? Win or lose, tell her we all say … thanks.”

No prizes for picking the phrase that stirred me up. So much so that I even wrote a comment, something I’ve never done before in an online newspaper. Under my husband’s pen-name, I made sure it was carefully crafted.

I wondered to myself, though, couldn’t the writer have thought for a few more seconds and captured even one telling detail about this person – rather than grab a demeaning stereotype, the first that came to mind? I imagine her face filled with joy just to be there among the fans, every inch of her slight body bedecked in green and gold.

It’s confronting, as an older person, realizing that this might be how others think of me, an ‘old dear’. My husband says, ‘Move on’, but why do I care? Because the insult gives me the tiniest smidgeon of a taste of what it must be like for those in our society who suffer these barbs every day.

The morning of the semi-final, I had coffee with a friend. As I was preparing to get on my mobility scooter, one of the café staff hurried out, extending my mobile phone. She smiled, and I thanked her profusely. Was I just a forgetful ‘old dear’ to her?

I continued to my specialist appointment nearby, a heritage cottage with a couple of steps at the entrance. As I awkwardly manoeuvred my walker up them, a young man in his black waitstaff apron dashed across the quiet street and offered to help me. I hope I wasn’t an ‘old dear’ to him; perhaps I reminded him of his grandma. I wished I’d thanked him more generously.

My suburb Hamilton is not an upmarket one; it has its share of homelessness, poverty and drug use. But it is a caring community, and for this, I am grateful. And while I’m about it, for the Matildas – we all say thanks.

The potency of words »

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4 Responses

  1. An old dear, indeed, Ruth! I had a similar conversation today with a friend in her mid-80s. Her daughter-in-law was livid on her behalf when a shop assistant called my friend darling. Or the person at the register in the hardware shop called me darl. Just too familiar, and belittling!
    Thank you, Ruth.

    1. Cecile, I think people who use ‘darl’ etc are showing their age – a bit like ‘dear’. You’d never hear a Gen Z use these words, thankfully. They’re most of the cafe staffers.

  2. Touché Ruth-yes similarly with me in the local IGA where I food shop every week. With a couple of heavy bags in the trolley, the youngsters ( whose parents and possibly grandparents I have taught in years gone by) bend across the counter and empathetically enquire if I would like some assistance with my load! One especially handsome dude with beautiful genuine black hair even followed me out to the street with my trolley,pushed it onto the road and across said road ,lifted my car boot and unloaded my trolley , closed my boot and pushed empty trolley back to IGA! He appeared very satisfied that he had helped ‘the old Dear’ with her shopping and was quite chuffed that she then asked him what he was planning for the weekend!

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