Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me; when your’re dead and in your grave you’ll suffer what you called me.
That takes me back to the playground but it was a serious issue which reminded me of the schoolyard rhyme – whether or not it’s appropriate to use the term “gang rape” as an analogy for attack by words.
A post by Chris Trotter in which he used gang rape as a metaphor for the media coverage of Winston Peters led to an eloquent post by ex-expat and several heart felt comments at The Hand Mirror.
Today Deborah Coddington also used the expression:
… those bandwagon jumpers who used the article to excuse their media equivalent of gang rape.
The Dim Post picked up on that and said:
A new cliche is trying to force its way into our political discourse. Now, as my readers know, I’m not in favor of hysterical hyperbole at the best of times. . . – but cheerfully throwing accusations of gang-rape around really is a bit beyond the pale and should be reserved for those who really are demonstrably guilty of this hideous crime.
I’m not going to go in to the difference between verbal, psychological and emotional abuse which are all serious matters and rape, gang or otherwise; nor am I going to discuss why employing the term rape in this way is offensive because I don’t think I can add anything to what the ex-expat has already said so well.
I’m going to confine myself to language and the point that a metaphor should not get in the way of what it is being used to express and the term gang-rape does. It offends and upsets people so that it obscures and distracts from the point being made.
To illustrate this look at this sentence by Karl du Fresne:
I squirmed at the brutal mauling Coddington got from people who were plainly unaware that she was present.
Gang rape versus brutal mauling – the first becomes the talking point, the second expresses clearly the strength of the attack without distracting from it.
If the purpose is for the writer to get attention then hyperbolic metaphors work. If the purpose is to add colour and clarity to a piece then it is better to employ a less offensive, less emotive but far more apt and effective turn of phrase.