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Monday, August 8, 2022
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HomeCulture WarsA little extra wokery from the Halifax

A little extra wokery from the Halifax

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LAST week Halifax Bank announced, via Twitter, that they were going to add ‘preferred pronouns’ to staff name badges. To prove it, a photo was attached of a female badge with ‘she/her/hers’ in brackets.

The original purpose behind this 20th century innovation was one of those Americanisations of British life. Using first names, ‘make a friend of your customer and they’ll always come back’ sort of incentive. Upgraded to the 2020s, it now takes many forms – photo IDs on a lanyard, etched or printed plastic, lapel pins, printed inserts, even medallions and eco-badges.

Take Imprint Plus. They specialise in ‘identification products’, and encourage business people to ‘establish a friendly, welcoming atmosphere so that all your interactions with customers and staff have a personal touch, and use our affordable unique identification solutions to enrich your guest experience’. It’s all about strong connections and business success.

Banks feature very strongly in their marketing. ‘Establish a positive and approachable environment’, they advise, ‘that facilitates long-lasting client relationships at your financial institution.’

The badge market is a big deal. In the US alone, the market size is estimated to grow from $21.1billion in 2020 to $33.8billion by 2025. No wonder Halifax are developing their badge policy. Their only problem is that they haven’t quite grasped its positive impact potential.

Their pronouns policy hasn’t gone down well with their established customers, some of whom at first identified the tweet as a joke, and then as a serious turn-off, followed by threats to close accounts. The bank has defended the policy saying, ‘We strive for inclusion, equality, and quite simply in doing what’s right. If you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account.’

Phew! That’s what legendary marketing guru Peter Drucker would have termed ‘turning an opportunity into a threat’. It appears that, like many other ‘woke’ organisations, Halifax are much more concerned about the potential harm to any mis-gendered members of staff than the expectations of their down-to-earth customers.

As a Halifax account holder (for the time being), I am now faced with an unsettling prospect each time I pop in to check my account balance. I would normally interact anonymously with any face behind a Perspex shield. Now I might be expected to address them by name, and the rest. The only exception to this was in Waitrose when I was served by a young lady wearing the badge ‘Janice Davis’. I just had to ask . . .   

The interference goes further than this, because the innovation adds nothing useful to face-to-face communication. The name badge addendum is specified in the third person pronoun, which, as even a two-year-old is aware, is not the pronoun to use when speaking to another person. At the bank counter, or the supermarket check-out, what is needed is the good old second person, which in the Queen’s English consists of one immutable word – you (confirmed by Fowler’s English Usage). It’s one of the characteristics that make modern English such an easy language to master.

Here in East Switzerland, my day-to-day communication is more complicated and requires careful thought all the time. Speaking to a friend, a child, or my OH, the word needed is ‘du’, with case inflections including ‘dich’ and ‘dir’. Among several friends, or all the local kids, I need to change to ‘ihr’, inflecting as necessary into ‘euch’. And of course each requires the appropriate verb ending on every occasion.

There is a further format, which is essential for polite communication, with strangers, older people, or superiors, in order to convey politeness respect, even submission, and that is ‘Sie’, singular or plural, inflecting into ‘Ihnen’ as required, and always written with a capital letter. This actually means ‘they/them’, and harks back to an age of extreme deference when no underling would dare to address a superior as ‘you’. It lingers on in English in the cod servility of a shop assistant who, bowing and scraping, asks ‘Would Madam prefer . . . ?’ Or a baby-talking mother asking her infant ‘Mummy get Jack a choccie?’ Is this what Halifax have in mind?

Of course, all of this has nothing to do with gender, mis-, cis- or whatever.

If the Halifax employee wants to add the communication pronoun, all that is needed is ‘you’. This ‘she/her’ business comes into play only if you are talking behind their back, or writing to Head Office about them, maybe even complaining. In such situations, I might not know of this ‘preference’, not having the name badge in question before me as I type or telephone. Would my conventionally acquired usage of the standard pronoun range constitute a hate crime?

Anyway, this addition to the name badge isn’t really for my information. It’s actually an instruction, a directive, a command. I tend to react badly to any arbitrary requirement like this. It brings out my inner bolshie and encourages perverse behaviour. This means I will definitely have to close my Halifax account, purely as a defensive measure, to obviate any future actions which might lead to my arrest on hate crime charges. If such a fate should befall me, in my defence I could blame the rigours of my Scottish education, which in my school days was regarded as among the best in the world.

I leave you with Mike Graham discussing the Halifax move on his talk show. I have every sympathy with the young man who wishes to be addressed exclusively as ‘Your Majesty’. 

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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