Why I hope frape isn’t word of the year

I’m happy to acknowledge there are many new words introduced to the English language each year which may not sit quite right, but regardless enter the lexicon having earned their place. Perhaps the new word reaches momentary heights or even blessed notoriety only to be usurped by the next it word or phrase which comes along and sweeps us off our colloquial feet.

Take one of Macquarie Dictionary’s 2012 Word of the Year contender’s, the rambunctious cuprocking, for example. While at first it might suggest one’s futile attempts at successful beer-carrying at a music concert, it actually means something more fad than universal – the art of placing plastic cups in wire-mesh fences to create a design. Words like this, while often containing an obvious used-by-date, do little to dilute the language. They’re harmless and expendable. Maybe they’re even a little cheeky, like fellow 2012 WOTY contender dilligaf, aka acronym ‘do I look like I give a fu*k?’. Inconsequential little harmless words which drop out of use just as easy as they dropped in. Fine, fine, fine.

Then there are words like frape, another 2012 WOTY contender in Macquarie Dictionary’s ‘internet’ category, defined as the following:

Frape. 1. (Verb) gain access to (someones Facebook page), either by hacking it or because it has been left logged on, in order to alter it without their permission, as by changing photographs, links, personal details, etc., or by making false posts; done as a prank or as a malicious attack. 2. To subject (a person) to such treatment of their Facebook page. (Noun) 3. Such an attack on someone’s Facebook page.
[F(acebook) + rape] -fraping, noun -frapeage, noun

This is a word I consider neither inconsequential nor harmless. Unfortunately, simple web searches to learn more about the word when I first saw it did little to quell my own concerns with its etymology. Expecting to be confronted with a slew of articles challenging the legitimacy of the word on inappropriate grounds, I instead found a number of surprising precedents for its use (as well as a lot of misspellings of Frappé, the beverage, incidentally). Most concerns about frape I came across on the internet were lost amid a sea of eager adopters, and a number of comments I read made it clear how skewed the argument for the word’s adoption could be.

Of course, some people argue it’s just a bit of clever word play and I’m sure these folks would find frape right at home in the ‘rape jokes are fine’ camp. Others claim frape has nothing to do with the definition of rape as sexual violation. The main defence of one such argument I came across centred on how frape was not a joke about rape if it was used to refer to the definition of rape as in ‘to pillage/despoil’, suggesting linking the word to the definition of rape as sexual violation was out of context. Well then. Surely this can be fairly simple to test: the definition more frequently applied in common use. Are users of the word generally using it to refer to rape as in to despoil or in the context of rape as sexual violation?

Facebook pages I searched dedicated to the encouragement of frape sealed it for me. On one group’s page, the violent overtones inherent to the ‘rules of frape’ spelled out for potential Facebook hackers left little doubt which definition had been adopted. I saw posts where victims of such pranks complained of hacks where status updates were of a sexual nature. Another page, promoting itself as a frape victim support group, didn’t even try to hide its mockery of rape support groups in its introduction: “all those who have been fraped – there are others who have gone through the same pain and suffering that you have – you are never alone!”

Still not convinced? Just consider these direct quotes from one of the page’s posts:

“Hi, I’m …. and I was Fraped last night (pause to sniff pathetically).”

“Just reliased im [sic] a frapist!!!”

“I kept getting told it wasn’t my fault but I can’t help thinking I’m to blame.”

It’s beyond a stretch to suggest any of these fit with the rape definition ‘to pillage/despoil’ in my book. But perhaps it’s just me, you might say. Indeed, frape doesn’t seem to have encountered too much opposition in its short history, as far as I can tell. The biggest story I could find opposing its use was this.

Still, I’m sitting firmly in the frape is not funny camp. I don’t think it should be a word of the year contender, or that it even deserves being elevated to the Macquarie Dictionary category of ‘internet’. If anything, it’s a word with a view to being included as a form of cyberbullying.


Less humble more brag

There was a great line in a comedy I saw a few weeks back which brilliantly summed up the intolerant attitude so ruthlessly applied to any Australian who pulls their head out of the sand long enough to make a go of it (and happens to be in the Antipodes at the time).

The show was an SBS pilot program called The Arecibo Message and the host riffed on the idea of discrimination of different kinds before proceeding to nail the nature of Australian tall poppy syndrome in its final, dead-pan punchline: “And always discriminate against Australian soap stars who do anything, because it’s the Australian way.”

We’ve seen and heard it all before – and certainly before the recent chastising of actress Melissa George for her ‘stubborn’ refusal to engage with the media about her soap star roots – ‘So you’re successful, but why oh why CAN’T you still call Australia home?’, or, ‘You’re a big star now, but remember back when you were sh*t?’, and so on. It’s supposed to remind the rest of us that all the recognition in the world doesn’t guarantee a hoot of home-ground swagger.

If only it was just former Australian soap stars and ex-pats who had to shoulder such sledging and not the intellectuals, entrepreneurs and the people responsible for shaping our future in new and creative ways. I’ve read one too many articles of late painting a none-too-flattering picture of a cowering culture of glass ceiling apologists afraid of the shards which might go flying should they break through to greater heights.

A December opinion piece lamenting the absence of Australian thinkers in the global marketplace went some way to addressing how much this attitude permeates Australian intellectual culture. Tim Soutphommasane argues it’s not absence of intellectual thought which keeps Australians from making their mark on a bigger stage but more likely some sort of ingrained pragmatism causing us to get bogged down by details. We rarely step back and value an idea in and of itself, in other words.

Becoming bogged down in detail is one thing, but being labelled ‘un-Australian’ for promoting ourselves is another. If the idea of ‘thinking big’ is being replaced with ‘only think as big as the person next to you’, we may have to get used to waving goodbye the true entrepreneurs who might see more fertile land to sow ideas beyond our own shores.

Unfortunately, that is almost exactly what another article which looked at a survey on local start-ups suggests has been happening in Australia for some time. Among its findings, the survey found Australian entrepreneurs were ‘less ambitious’ than their US counterparts, and ’less likely to develop global businesses’. Only five per cent of the 1000 Australian technology start-ups surveyed were building businesses which could expand globally, while US businesses were found to raise 100 times more funds to upscale their operations than their Australian counterparts.

While the article does suggest there have been some positive signs in the past five years or so, the report’s finding that niche markets are more attractive to Australian start-ups than major markets only adds to the gloomy forecast. We’d rather set our sights on the hills than on the mountains, it seems.

Some consolation, I’m clearly not the only one concerned that the precious few with big ideas just seem to fall by the wayside. Just ask Opposition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull, who a few weeks back told a bunch of folks at the Woodford Folk Festival – that’s right, politicians ‘do’ festivals now – it was time for governments and individuals to start think bigger by prioritising “truth-telling and responsibility as our key undertakings”.

I’m especially fond of his rallying call for web entrepreneurs to establish a fact checking-website to hold politicians into account, and can’t help but think he’s probably taken a good look at the success of fact-checking ventures in the US at the moment with an understandable amount of big pond envy.

But to me, it’s more than just a call for bigger fish in a pond with ample room to spawn, it’s a call for an end to the Australian cultural cringe which sees big ideas fail to get off the ground. It seems 2013 is as good a year as any for Australians to embrace their big ideas – so enough with the humble, it’s time to bring on the brag.

The silent majority

There’s a moment that I’m going to call editor’s recoil whenever I see the word ‘aggressive’ or ‘militant’ in front of the word atheist.

At the very least it can make atheism sound like a personality flaw in need of its own spectrum disorder with all the trimmings of a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Worse, when adjectives such as ‘militant’ get bandied about to describe prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins, or Dan Barker, it tends to liken atheism to religious extremism.

While some atheists like Dawkins embrace the idea as a way of fighting religion, I’m intrigued by the label and the idea that atheists in any way resemble their religious counterparts.

Secular Party of Australia president John Perkins is perhaps a good example of what some people might describe as an ‘aggressive’ Australian atheist.

When I interviewed Perkins as a journalism student back in 2010, he was one of about 40 people attending a monthly Atheist Society of Victoria lecture at a Unitarian Church in Melbourne.

Perkins told me while he considered himself of the same ilk as Richard Dawkins, the ultimate goal of monthly meet ups for most atheists who went was more conservative.

“Part of it (the meetings) is just to provide a forum for people who are interested in atheist issues and various related issues, and the people who go tend to be people who are more concerned about religion than just against it,” he said at the time.

My observations of the atheists at the 2010 meeting were that they were a fairly subdued bunch.

Towards the end of the lecture, some people lingered to ask philosophical questions, while others seemed to have come to get further insight on religious matters. One woman stayed back to chat with the organisers because she was interested in discussing the issue of religious education in her child’s school curriculum.

Hardly a group of ‘militant’ atheists, in any case, unless you consider the act of questioning religion radical in itself.

In 2010, I also spoke to Professor of Religion at Monash University, Graham Oppy, to find out if there was anything to this idea of militant atheism.

Prof. Oppy said it was unclear exactly what the term meant. But he did say it might be used to refer to atheists such as Dawkins and Perkins who were “prepared to defend their views in public”.

Perkins told me at the time he agreed he fit the publically visible atheist definition and he was proud to be part of such a minority. To Perkins, it was important he described himself as a strong atheist because he felt most atheists didn’t go far enough in vocalising their opposition to religion.

There was one reason most atheists in Australia don’t stand around proclaiming their non-religious viewpoint from the rooftops, Prof. Oppy said – they simply do not think about it.

“It’s a bit hard to interpret the census data but nearly one in five Australians tick the no religion box on the census, and a lot of those would be atheists. But there aren’t many people who write in to the newspapers, it tends to be the same people, people like John Perkins. There are very few people writing in about these issues. At least in Australia, most people don’t really seem to care,” he said.

It’s a particularly relevant point to make in the same week as Christmas. With so much space dedicated in newspapers and on TV to the Christian festival, you’d be forgiven for thinking secularism in this country was overrated.

And in reality, while there are more organisations and groups that exist visibly to support atheists, the idea of a rising tide of aggressive atheists sits far apart from the silent multitudes they actually are.

So spare a thought for the atheists you know at your family Christmas this year, they may be silent but they are the majority.

Jill honoured, a street reclaimed

Peace march for Jill Meagher on September 30, 2012

It could have been me. It could have been someone I know.

These were the two thoughts which ultimately drove me to the peace march held to honour Jill Meagher in Brunswick on Sunday.

Along with much of the nation, I was consumed last week by the stories which emerged surrounding Jill’s disappearance after leaving a Melbourne bar on September 21 and was deeply saddened on Friday by the news of her death.

I first learnt about her disappearance through social media the previous Sunday and it drew my interest not the least because when I am not in Echuca, the Melbourne inner-suburb of Brunswick is where I call home.

My partner and I have lived in an apartment just off Sydney Rd for a number of years. I have many friends who also call the neighbourhood home. I find it a vibrant, exciting place where there are usually lots of friendly people around.

At the start of the week, I had hoped it was simply a mistaken case of a missing person, that husband Tom Meagher’s fears would prove unfounded, that Jill would turn up unharmed.

My concern turned to horror as I watched and read what began as a missing persons case turn into a homicide investigation towards the end of the week.

The CCTV footage of Jill on Sydney Rd taken on the night of her disappearance really hit home.

I know that shop, I know that footpath. That could have been me.

When the news of an arrest came through on Thursday, I feared the worst. By Friday morning, I  was in tears. It was too much to think about what Jill’s family would have to go through.

This is when it started. In the back of my head, two persistent thoughts began to take over most others.

It could have been me, it could have been someone I know.

I struggled to find any other way of looking at it, and the thought of it really shook me up. Brunswick has long been the hub of my urban existence — I feel safe there.

I know and love its streets dearly, and Sydney Rd in particular.

But now what? Do I need to be afraid to walk alone? Should I look over my shoulder wherever I go after dark?

No. I do not want to be afraid. These are MY streets.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to join the peace march, for all these reasons. And, after all, it was just down the road from my house. But before I left the house on Sunday, I thought it might just be a handful of people walking.

I met up with my friends just before noon on Sunday, we caught the train a few stations up from where I live to join the start of the march. It was not immediately apparent how large the march was going to be until we walked up to it.

But the closer we got, the more clear it became.

There were thousands of people there. Tens of thousands of people.

There were young people, old people, women, men, children, people of every background and political persuasion.

It was overwhelming. People wept, myself included. I think from the enormity of the response.

The further we walked, the more people we saw, stretched out in front and behind, as far as the eye could see. It is something I will never forget.

The entire length of Sydney Rd covered with people, all marching in honour of one woman whose life was tragically cut short, to reclaim our beloved street back, to make it feel safe again.

I remember thinking, all of this is for one person, but it’s about more than just one person, it’s much, much bigger than that. And all of us felt it enough to turn up and march.

It could have been any one of us. It could have been someone we knew.

*A version of this was also published in the Riverine Herald, October 3, 2012.