Ban Bossy? Ban 'Frape'

Backed by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Beyoncé, the 'Ban Bossy' campaign - calling for the prohibition of the apparently gendered word 'bossy' - is a big deal, whether you support it or not.

Backed by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Beyoncé, the 'Ban Bossy' campaign - calling for the prohibition of the apparently gendered word 'bossy' - is a big deal, whether you support it or not. The furore over language has prompted me to consider another very modern, seemingly innocuous - yet indubitably troubling - word that has entered our lexicon of late: 'frape'.

'Collins English Dictionary' defines 'frape' as 'the practice of altering information in a person's profile on a social networking site without his or her permission'. It is a portmanteau, CED asserts, of 'Facebook' and 'rape'. Unofficial online referencing site 'Urban Dictionary' goes further: '"Fraping" is the act of raping someone's Facebook profile when they leave it logged in'.

The word 'rape' has a long history. It was first used to define 'the taking of something by force' in 1358 and for a long period referred to assault or kidnapping in general. Yet, over the centuries its connotations of sexual assault have gradually intensified. Now, if you asked an adult what 'rape' meant, they would likely give the answer 'sexual assault': male to male, male to female, female to female and so on. If charged with 'rape' a criminal's crime is sexual: GBH and kidnapping are reserved for non-sexual offences.

The average child in the UK has sexual education lessons - of some form or other - from Year 5/6 (ages 10 or 11). Rape is not typically part of the curriculum. As of December 2013, Facebook reported 1.23 billion active monthly users: that's around one seventh of the world's total population. The majority of Facebook users in the UK (67%) are aged 18-29. Yet, 5% of its users are aged 0-17: there is no 'lower age limit' on the site (a baby could have a profile).

Effectively, a child could be using Facebook before having really learnt about sex and, certainly, not having learnt about rape (unless they received some form of education on the matter by a parent/guardian). They could have added the word 'frape' to their personal dictionary before knowing the connotations of the primary word of which it is comprised.

The word 'frape' normalises and trivialises the word 'rape'. If a young teen sees 'fraping' as an annoying but relatively harmless and silly thing how are we meant to tell them - when the time comes - that 'rape' is one of the most serious, devastating things in existence? How can we make it carry weight in a classroom, college or court of law?

'Rape' jokes are an unfortunately common feature in contemporary society. Ironically, there are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing and promoting them. While the word 'frape' might not necessarily promote 'rape' jokes, it does nothing to help banish them. It adds to the aura of nonchalance and 'comedy' that - horribly - surrounds the issue.

Some words are sacred for positive reasons, such as those three 'little' words - 'I love you'. Other words are sacred for negative reasons. 'Rape' is not a 'nice' word, but its connotations of pain, distress, violation, abuse (etc.) are what make it sacred. It doesn't exist to be co-opted by a tech-savvy - yet clearly not so linguistically savvy - generation. For we have a word for 'changing someone's profile': 'hack'. Not only is 'hack' more directly descriptive - it completely avoids appropriating another, special, term.

One of the main problems I have with the 'Ban Bossy' campaign is that it will be near-insurmountably difficult to implement. Language is fluid: it spills and trips from the tongue. If we begin arresting people for using certain terms a) our prisons will be full and b) the human right to free speech will gradually be eroded. While it's illogical to 'ban' the word 'frape' it would be good to see people re-thinking their language choices. It takes only seconds to reconsider what word you're going to use: 'Facebook hack' is a mere two syllables more than 'frape'.

Yes, there are more important issues in the world; but, that doesn't mean we should ignore small ones. Gradually razing 'frape' from common speech (perhaps coinciding with Facebook's eventual demise) will make the world better in tiny bit better. It will teach children - who, rightly, do not know better - that 'rape' isn't a word you use casually. Perhaps, in turn, it will teach them that 'rape' as a 'thing' isn't casual or comical either: because, believe it or not, there are people who think that way. Language is a beautiful thing. It is how we express our innermost thoughts, communicate with others and evidence our beliefs and values. If we, as a society, believe that rape is wrong, we should reflect that in our speech: decouple 'Facebook' and 'rape', give the latter term the terrible sanctity it deserves. Baby-steps are baby-steps; but, when they're so easy to take the question is not why would you, but why wouldn't you?


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