The English language is rich in words that allow for nuance, subtlety, shades of meaning and ambiguity. One of these words is ‘Respect’.
- In Australia it has been attached to the fight against domestic violence: the hotline for victims is 1800 737 732, or 1800 RESPECT (I suppose the T is redundant).
- Children are supposed to respect their parents and teachers.
- In traditional societies, old people are automatically respected irrespective of their personal qualities.
- After centuries of humiliation China is demanding respect from other countries, while doing all in its power to be undeserving of it.
- In the Britain that I grew up in it was a middle class aspiration to be respectable.
- As a boy I was taught to raise my cap to a woman as a mark of respect, even if I had no knowledge of the woman’s character.
- We are all enjoined to show respect for the dead; to respect other people’s opinions and beliefs, however much we may disagree with them; and to respect the sanctity of a holy place.
- But we also use phrases like “with respect to” meaning “in relation to” or “having regard to.”
- And a sentence that begins “With all due respect” always ends with criticism or an insult.
I had a quick look at my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus (Old Boys’ Public Speaking Prize, 1962) and found ‘Respect’ listed under the following headings: Deference, Fame, Salutation, Observe and Reference. ‘Respectable’ scored mentions under Repute, Upright and Tolerable.
According to the Bible (Acts 10.34) the apostle Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” This was explained to my RI class to mean that God pays no heed to a person’s status – confusing to a classroom of boys who were forced to show respect to teachers merely because they were teachers.
All this is meant to demonstrate that one should never assume an understanding of what someone means simply from the words they employ. I might even say that words are increasingly being used to distort and blur meaning.
I say, what a great segue to a reminder to start hunting your nomination for the 2022 Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel! Deadline: 10 January.