Saturday, April 9, 2011


Rather improbably, the solution to the classic impenetrable mystery story of the dead man in the isolated railway carriage was that he had been gored by the horn of a bovine on a passing train.
This is not how it is written in a famous story, or how my mother read it to us. The word the author uses is "steer", and this proved to be my mother's stumbling block. If it had been bull or cow, there would have been no problem: she evidently just had insuperable difficulties in explaining the word "steer"as relating to a desexed bull calf. "What is a steer?" we asked at the story's climax. She clamped her lips, and we were awed and silenced by the import of her inability to offer any further words.

I thought, at the time, that the man had been gored by some amorphous, unspeakable horned creature and this strange, evidently murderous being/thing lingered in my imagination.
If spaying/desexing had been explained, I think that I would have taken it in my stride, without a second thought. And the story would have made sense. But, the zeitgeist of the times was that the world was wicked, and that the best protection for children was ignorance. (cf).

"Gender" was the everyday substitute for the embarrassing, risque word "sex". Masculine, feminine, common, neuter -
there was no category for such as a "steer", so it rendered my mother mute.


Elisabeth said...

When I was a child one of the forbidden words was pregnant. My mother was never pregnant, she was 'expecting'. The zeitgeist of our times indeed. Keep the chilren ignorant and avoid sex at all times, references to it at least, at least not from the women. For the men, on my life, mostly my father wen drunk, sex was all he could talk about and more.

So we lived in a strange mix of sexual repression alongside the blatant and sexually explicit - very confusing for a child.

Frances said...

Yuck, Elisabeth. No daughter wishes her father to rant about sex.
It's a narrow road between discourse and verbal incest: no road for a drunk to negotiate.
Nice to see you here, Elisabeth. Thanks.