Not appropriate

September 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The words ‘not appropriate’ and variations such as ‘not appropriately . . . ’ are phrases that you could hardly avoid. Although the words are old, they have become current in so many contexts that they have taken on a new and larger life.

About two and a half years ago, I was helping some school children make a Papier-mâché model of themselves from newspapers, donated by parents. A hand went up, and a girl of about eight or nine signalled to my attention part of the newspaper. It contained the word ‘sexy’. She advised me that it was ‘not appropriate’. Perhaps, I belong to a generation of children who were too ‘innocent’ to be quite so alive to what was ‘not appropriate’.

There are so many things today that are ‘not appropriate’. The phrase is one that covers a spectrum of behaviour from the criminal to the careless. But we are never sure which end of the spectrum a particular ‘not appropriate’ occupies.

Novelists write of ‘veiled threats’ and one might talk of words having ‘veiled meanings and connotations’. A word with the scope of ‘not appropriate’ suggests the ‘awful’ and the ‘unmentionable’. And fear is struck into the hearts of those against whom it is used. What exactly does the message containing the words ‘not appropriate’ mean? Have we, the recipients of the ‘not appropriate’ message, missed out on some vital lesson of life and are so ignorant that we or those belonging to us indulge in behaviour that is ‘not appropriate’?

Today if a father is told that his son was ‘not appropriately’ dressed for a field trip, he might be forgiven for wondering whether the teacher means that his son did not wear wellingtons or that his son wore high heels.

The builder’s behaviour was not appropriate. Does this mean he asked to use the toilet or that he made a pass at someone?

We don’t know what ‘not appropriate’ means. And sometimes we daren’t ask.


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