As a Germanic language, Danish offers the possibility of making compound words. Take kvindehåndboldlandsholdet, just to illustrate the point. In some cases, though, political or administrative considerations lead to the formation of strange compounds like flygtningeindvandrere – technically: “refugee immigrants” – where two distinct groups (refugees and immigrants) are conflated into one (non-Danes). To prove that you master political language, you also have to pronounce the word in a particular way: Not ‘flygtninge-indvandrere (with stress on the very first syllable), but flygtninge’indvandrere (with a stress on “ind-“).
Another quasi-compound is bøsselesbiske which means “gay lesbian” – pronounced bøsse’lesbiske, not ‘bøsselesbiske. Here the motive behind the creation is that homoseksuel is considered politically inappropriate.
But move across Øresund and things get really complicated. The Swedish words for gay and lesbian, respectively, are bög and flata but you never hear about bögflator or bögflata politics. The politically correct term is …
… er, right. It used to be HBT (and you should remember that the Ts are not transsexualla but transpersoner), but it may be HBTQ these days. Or something.
Andrew Gelman noted that the proliferation of letters in the US version of the acronym has taken one further step. It’s no longer LGBTQ but LGBTQI – and even LGBTQIA has been spotted. So wait for HBTQI to appear in Swedish anytime soon.
But why the proliferation of letters? Gelman wonders if Q (for queer) wouldn’t fit the bill perfectly and from a rationalistic social science perspective it is a reasonable assumption. After all, queer politics are about breaking down cultural and political hierarchies and distinctions.
But there is more to it (cue Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildawsky): Queer politics are also about creating new identities and distinguishing yourself from the dreaded heterosexual squares – we are not in the individualistic but in the collectivistic, or high group, range of politics here. The problem with queer is partly historical (the term hasn’t succeeded in supplanting gay, lesbian and so on), party dimensional (queer could just as well be taken as expression of an individualist or low group lifestyle, but ideologically the queers are in the collectivist or high group range).
In terms of language, the queers are faced with a problem: They want to appear inclusive but as they rely on a strong group identity, they are in fact exclusive. Gay politics? What about the women? Gays and lesbians? Yeah – think about us bisexuals! Etc, etc.
My guess is that the proliferation of letters only stops when the queers either run out of sexual subcultures or the politics move in an individualistic or low group direction. In a way it is interesting that the alphabet soup is widespread in the US, otherwise seen as a strongly individualistic culture, and Sweden, but has failed to make much of an impact in Denmark.
And by the way: Mess with language at your own risk. ðŸ˜›