Dot Wordsworth

Why ‘safe’ is Dot Wordsworth’s word of the year

From safe spaces to NSFW

‘Makes me feel sick,’ said my husband, referring not to the third mince pie of the morning (in Advent, supposedly a penitential time of preparation), nor to accepting a glass of champagne after having earlier accepted a glass of whisky at another house. No, what made him feel sick was the seasonal greeting: ‘God bless, and be safe.’ For once, I agreed with him.

It was bad enough to be exhorted to drive safely or even stay safe during periods when terrorists had eased off a bit (after peak IRA, but before 2001). But now, with a fashion for shooting civilians in unexpected places, to be told to be safe makes no more sense than to be told to be rich. Yet safe is the word of 2015.

The most bizarre manifestation of the current desire for safety is the demand by some students that universities should be safe spaces — ‘free from violence, harassment and abusive language’. By a kind of doctrinaire centralised thinking, this had led to banning guest speakers held to be guilty of thought-crimes such as ‘transphobia’. Transphobia is saying or thinking the wrong thing about those who adopt a different sexual role from that into which they were born.

But it wasn’t just Germaine Greer. The Student Union at University College London banned the Nietzsche Club on the grounds that it was ‘promoting a far-right, fascist ideology’. Perhaps it was. But the nub of the ban was that this ‘fascism is directly threatening to the safety of the UCL student body’.

Then, in the autumn, a student at Warwick objected to attending a ‘sexual consent’ workshop. ‘Self-appointed teachers of consent: get off your fucking high horse,’ he said. But he was told angrily by other students that his re-education was necessary to make ‘campuses safer environments for everyone’.

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