You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

To groom or not to groom

The Baltimore Sun

A colleague has been told to avoid the word grooming to refer to the review and refinement of requirements, because of negative connotations. Because pedophiles groom victims, the word is now supposed to be avoided. The colleague wonders how much trust to put in this advice.

We have seen how the development of a particular sense of a word can cast a shadow over its other senses. Once gay, for example, became a dominant term for homosexual, despite some resistance, its use to express gaiety has largely faded away. The Flintstones, if resurrected, would likely not use “have a gay old time” in the theme song.

There is no dispute that grooming, as a description of the process of an adult’s developing an emotional rapport with a child preparatory to sexual activity, is in wide circulation. When I did a Google search for grooming, the first result was the Wikipedia entry “Child grooming,” followed by a succession of results for pet grooming.

I doubt that grooming in the context of horses and dogs is likely to go away, because of its long-established and widespread familiarity in that context. But it’s possible that any metaphorical sense is going to feel contamination from the sexual context, jarring the reader.

But that’s just a guess, a curbside opinion. What say the rest of you?

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