a yob is a yob is a yob

October 5, 2006

Predictable howls of outrage from the ‘political correctness gone mad’ lobby at the news that the police have been banned from using the word “yob” in reports to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin said: ” It can reflect on groups of youths who congregate, rather than those who carry out criminal activity. We have to be careful because of the need to engage with young people.” Presumably the Assistant Commissioner is worried that congregations of young people will hang around reading MPA reports and might take offence, going on, I iimagine to wreak havoc on whole neighbourhoods asa result. Still, I think he has a point. ‘Yob’ is normally described in dictionaries as being ‘informal’ and so though not out of place in a matey document like the Labour manifesto, is not terribly appropriate for official reports. Also, although everyone thinks they know what a yob is, it can be tricky to define. One dictionary defines it as ‘yob – a cruel and brutal fellow’ and in another we read ‘yob- a rude, noisy, and aggressive young man’ Clearly we are also dealing with a particular nasty piece of sexism here and another reason for banning the word- why should young ladies not be able to have the term applied to them if their behaviour warrants it? Not only are definitions problematic, people are too quick to pin the term on particular sections of society, as this piece from the BBC website indicates:
“It (yob) has become a kind of shorthand for a form of behaviour that everyone recognises instantly. Rowdy groups of young people spill out of a pub, and then rampage through the streets, roughing up each other and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their drunken path. This is what is often perceived as “yob culture”. The words now have become a rallying cry for politicians in the law and order debate. But who, and what, are we really talking about?
The usual suspects include lager louts, soccer hooligans, and teenagers who hang out on street corners. In fact any young person who displays a disregard for orderly behaviour, and a disrespect for their elders, is likely to be labelled a yob.
While it may be identified with the young, yob culture is not confined to one age group, or indeed one class. It’s a form of behaviour that has been observed among a wide range of social groups. Restaurant owners say too many customers – including professionals like bankers and lawyers – indulge in drunken behaviour, and make racist and sexist remarks to waiters.”
Now we certainly wouldn’t want to the police to be hunting out anyone who happened to look like a lawyer or a banker would we? Or seeking to eradicate yobbishness from old folks’ homes either.
The member of the authority who raised the objection to the term, Ms Cindy Butts, had a more interesting reason for objecting to the term. “I have a problem with the language of ‘yobs. It sort of sets up and defines too much a ‘self’ and ‘other’, she said.” Nice to see that Ms Butts puts her degree in social anthropology from SOAS to such good use. I’ll remember that next time I’m nicked for speeding: ‘Reckless driver, did you say, officer? I believe you are trying to set up and define too much a ‘self’ and ‘other’. Good day to you.’ Ms Butts is, I believe, is deputy chair of the MPA. Now I’ve never been deupty chair of anything so for me the title very much defines a ‘sef’ and ‘other’ sort of thing. Also, as Sartre maintained, in a sense we are both ‘self’ and ‘another’ (“Je suis moi-même et un autre,”). In other words, “the imaginary object – the picture of itself – is properly speaking an other, and that the imaginary subject, in virtue of being divided between itself and itself as an other, is a kind of subject that can apprehend the otherness of another self.”, as Beata Stawarska of the
Catholic University of Leuven puts it in “The Self, the Other, the Self as An/other”. I hope that makes things clear. I’m sure Ms Butts will have no problem at all in labelling the next individual to confuse ‘other’ and ‘self’ by relieving her of her mobile as a ‘yob’. But she is right to suggest that official reports need to be a little less tainted by the words and concepts of the man in the street. After all the boys in blue are often too ready to leap to conclusions about people. I was once stopped by a policeman after I had jumped on my motorbike and sped towards him, carefully, staying just the right side of a bus lane. He flagged me down and said ‘If I hadn’t been here you would have gone in that bus lane, wouldn’t you?’ To which I replied ‘If you hadn’t been here, you wouldn’t have seen me though would you?’ He wasn’t best pleased but I quoted Sartre on hypotheticality at him and sent him on his way to look for other imaginary offences. With any luck he might have nabbed a few old ladies for jay-walking.

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