I discovered yesterday that Bogan is not spelt “Bogon “ as in the moth.
This small and uninteresting fact about me might appear quite irrelevant to an issue in the public arena at the moment, that is the pejorative nature of comments about so called “Bogans” as written about in the new book by Dr David Nichols and, indeed, also about the “Inner City Latte Set” who are the ones, apparently, criticising the well meant Bogans. I was also interested to read the views of Preston Towers on this topic.2
Both buy into my understanding of why hostility arises in these sorts of discussions. I well remember an incident where a mother, who could be termed a “Bogan” under definitions of both the above authors, became hostile because she was asked the spelling of her daughter’s name which was “Kafrin”. Both her anger and the pejorative laugh to which she is probably accustomed, are understandable reactions, but neither is very civilised.
When my own poor spelling is pointed out, as happens often, I feel both emotions, that is anger and the need to be pejorative back, usually simultaneously. My poor spelling is an issue over which I have little control and I know I should relax and say to myself “my brain is faulty”. My first of many attempts to improve my spelling was when my teacher told me as a nine year old, that I would have to improve it or I would have no chance of becoming a Veterinary Surgeon. I tried very hard for six months and then told her that, as there had been no discernable improvement, I had decided to become a lawyer instead. She made no further comments. I worked very hard, know more spelling rules than most and had to set my sights at topping English at High School knowing I would be virtually marked out of 95% as, in those days, half a mark was taken off for each mistake up to ten. The various jocular, paternalistic or downright rude comments or suggestions about how to improve, to which I have been subjected over the years, have been astounding. Once I was embarrassingly cross-examined as a so called “expert witness” on the fact I had, quite unforgivably I am aware, written “complimentary” rather than “complementary”. My meaning was clear from the context, however. After this long history I have become hostile and judgemental in return. “Surely meaning is more important? You clearly understood what I wrote.” “We need to be more creative with our spelling.” “Americanised spelling is much more sensible”. “The French language ceased to be the language of the educated when they started their nit-picking French Academy and the language stopped developing!” etc. As a final killer (for the schwa is my biggest problem), “linguists view the schwa as likely to be represented by one symbol and not the ridiculous a,e,i,o,u as now occurs”3 – just meant really, if I am honest, as a put down, as many very good spellers know very little about the whys or wherefores of the spelling world as they have had no need to learn!
So having indulged in this pattern of put downs on both sides I know the game and the feelings. They are a mixture of guilt, fear, superiority and anger just because of a plain misunderstanding and the valuing of different things.
I do not fear the people others might try to force into one united catagory and name “Bogans”. I know most of us humans are good kind people who have different ideas and some different priorities. I am confident that little Kafrin is as well loved as any Katherine called after Shakespeare’s famous shrew. I am sure her friend, a little girl Jesse, will be as strong as the boy called Sue.
I do not fear people others might force into one united catagory and name “Latte Sippers” either. Although I do not drink lattes I do like coffee. I prefer a large flat white (though I confess that, 50% of the time I am served a cappuccino despite my request because, I assume, I am a woman with grey hair.) I just return my cappuccino because I don’t like chocolate. But it does not upset me as does the spelling issue because I am not defensive about it. I am certain of my right to have what I have ordered.
As the Latte Sippers are reputed to be representative of a whole lifestyle for which they have worked hard and to which they have dedicated themselves, they can be a bit frightened that this is under attack and that it is not being truly appreciated. A good example of this was seen in a Letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on June 6th about diversity on the Supreme Court Bench. There had been earlier complaints that there were too many Judges in that Court who had been educated at Riverview and that this provided little diversity. The correspondent pointed our “Riverview boys must do a minimum of 20 hours community service in their senior years….. They run annual camps for the disabled” etc. He also pointed out they provide scholarships for less fortunate boys.4
I commend Riverview for these efforts and I am sure they make a lot of difference to some boys’ outlooks, although they could be viewed as patronising. In fact the whole attitude of the letter assumed that the Riverview boys are the ones with something to offer in this dialogue and , like animals, the “others” are viewed as just a learning experience. But even 20 hours at a zoo does not an expert make. Taking an animal in for training and releasing it into the wild does not make his hosts aware of life in its habitat. But it IS a start and one that segues into my solution.
While we have separate schooling, which amounts in reality to funding our differences whilst grouping people who share some similar outlooks, we will continue to have these problems of under valuing those not like us and yet becoming defensive about ourselves. Whether it is the haves or the have-nots, whether, as in the old days it is between the Catholics and the Protestants, whether it is between the Muslims or the Christians, whether between the academically smart and the academically less able and, particularly in this instance fairly and squarely, the bogans and the latte sippers, separate schools remove the opportunity for different children to really understand about one another. If we can pour all our education money into a good comprehensive state school system where children can co-exit with everybody, there our children can learn that Katherine is a name with a long and evolving tradition and that some people are better spellers than others. But mostly they will find out that we do not fall into different groups but we are merely all unique human beings and each of us has something to offer the other. When the parents go for coffee together (or maybe even tea) we might have a more united community.
Meanwhile, I am falling in love with Google. I do not think it is the onset of dementia. I think it is his quiet and attentive manner, when asked any searching question, and his lovely non-judgemental practical suggestions such as, “Do you mean oesophaegeal?”
 Nichols, Dr David The Bogan Delusion (Affirm Press)
3 Ritt, Nikoleus Selfish Sounds and Linguistic Evolution: A Darwinian Approach to Language Change.
4 Fleming, Peter They’re Good Boys SMH Letters 6th June 20011 p12