May I have a word about… trigger warnings

<span>Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

I can’t be the only one getting heartily sick of trigger warnings (and perhaps the term itself should come with a trigger warning? After all, triggers are attached to devices that cause untold misery and damage.).

The latest to fall foul of the accursed things is that rather good novelist Anthony Horowitz. He claimed that he was asked to change a passage in his last murder mystery that described a Native American character attacking someone with a scalpel. Responding in the Spectator, he wrote: “Scalpel, of course, comes from the Latin word scapellus (from scalpere, to cut) and has nothing to do with scalping, which derives from the Middle English word scalpe (top of the head). But such niceties were irrelevant to my quite sensitive sensitivity reader. I made the changes [scalpel became surgical instrument], but I will confess they hurt. It just feels wrong to be told what to write by an outside party, no matter how well-meaning.” I couldn’t agree more and fear that we are in danger of losing nuance and true meaning in our use of the English language.

My mention of “furtle” in last week’s column prompted this from reader Melvin Hurst: “My late wife was brought up in the Black Country and would often use the word in the sense of rummaging around, as did the Antiques Roadshow participant. Another word my wife used often was ‘broddle’. My online dictionary gives it as Yorkshire dialect for ‘pierce’ or ‘poke’, but she used it in the sense of wandering around the house with no particular purpose in mind. I’ve no idea if it’s another Black Country expression, but it has certainly taken its place in my vocabulary, and it’s surprising how often it’s just the right word.”

Thank so much for that – I like it just as much as furtle. What a trove regional terms are. Long may they thrive.


• Jonathan Bouquet is an Observer columnist