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September 23, 2013


Double-entendres: the problem with symbolic shortcuts

by quaesitor

This is not a particularly profound post (which, incidentally, is not to claim that regular posts on Q are either), but having just finished Sarah Lyall’s rather delightful (if affectionately acerbic) The Anglo-Files: A Field Guide to the British, I came across this amusing story from the Blair landslide of 1997 at which a record number of women (very patronisingly described at the time as Blair’s babes) were elected to Parliament.

The prevailing sense amongst the newcomers was astonishment at the absurdly archaic traditions still governing Westminster.

Blair & Women MPs 1997[But they were also] pleased at what already appeared to be signs of change. Claire Curtis-Thomas, a professional engineer and the new MP from Crosby in the northwest, was happy, for instance, to see a modern red ribbon tied to her hanger in the legislative coat room.

She was less happy several months later, when the subject unexpectedly came up. “In the tearoom, there was this sort of conversation,” she said, “and it went ‘This place is absolutely crap, it’s stuck in the Dark Ages,’ and I went, ‘Of course it’s not stuck in the Dark Ages… take, for example, our AIDS ribbon on the coat hangers in the Members’ cloakroom.’

And there was this absolute thunderous silence, and then somebody turned to me and said, ‘Claire, that’s for your sword.'” (p33)

We so often see what we want/expect/hope to see. The same goes for reading words as well, but in our ever more visual age, we need a little care. Symbols don’t always mean what we assume they mean. ‘Twas ever thus, of course. After all here are a few other symbols whose context determines meaning – to misconstrue could lead to situations that are unfortunate, to say the least.

As ever, context is king.

Here are a couple of others. Can you think of any more…?

double symbols - red ribbons  double symbols - rainbows  double symbols - swastika

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Júlio Reis
    Sep 23 2013

    Yes, that was very affirming of God to put an LGBT symbol in the sky right after that huge flood, wasn’t it? 😛


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