The use of the word “son” as a way to patronise or belittle someone in an argument is one of the worst forms of condescension, writes Kevan Christie
A recent argument on Twitter caught my eye and made me realise that we Scots are up there with the best of them when it comes to condescension.
I won’t embarrass the parties involved, suffice to say the chief protagonist is a former MSP and senior government advisor. What jarred with me and other folk on the thread was this guy’s use of the word “son” as a put down in the spat.
He probably thought he was onto a winner coming across all Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men – “we follow orders son” – using his wealth of experience to put an upstart (Tom Cruise) in his place.
Nearly every male who has grown up in Scotland has at one time or other met with this unique form of patronising greeting, in which somebody on meeting you suddenly assumes the role of your father. “But you’re no my dad?”
So I was fair chuffed that those who spotted the slight were quick to pull up this would-be father figure for the insult, which looked even more out of place in a social media setting.
I couldn’t even tell you what the disagreement was about or if the guy was in the right. And I know he’s not the devil, although I’ve never met him, but he had something of a “mare” resorting to this patter. Talk about a dinosaur.
Now, I don’t consider myself in any way a violent man but an interaction with one of the “son brigade” is sure to bring my blood quickly to the boil. I always make a mental note to self to basically write them off: “Oh, he’s one of them.”
No-one should take being called son from anyone bar their parents, although there are exceptions, and I would urge everyone to challenge the term instantly especially when someone younger or slightly older than you feels the need to greet you this way.
And certainly never let a police officer or your boss away with it. What they’re really doing is attempting to put you in your place while trying to assert their own authority over you.
There are, however, instances where you can let it go – if an older person calls you it and you know they’re not trying to put you down. Begbie-like psychos can get away with calling you son (or anything else) and also celebrities at the level of Sir Billy Connolly have earned the right.
I experienced this at the weekend when the gentleman taking the money at the Dundonald Bluebell vs Crossgates Primrose, East of Scotland, King Cup 2nd round tie, said “thanks son” after I handed over my hard-earned six quid. It was pouring with rain, I was pieless at half-time and Crossgates came back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 but I gave the turnstile guy a pass.
Different rules apply in the former mining villages of deepest, darkest Fife. My mate’s mum can also call me son – it’s a term of endearment. I must say at this point that women don’t have a recognisable equivalent, sure they get “love, darling, doll and hen” from men and each other but, on the whole, they are far less insecure when it comes to social status and are generally nicer people.
They’ve also had a lifetime of being referred to as “girls” – most likely from the same people who say son. The guy who calls people son has an inflated sense of his own self-worth, he’s “Billy Big Time” or he “thinks he’s Erchie” – if you’re in Dundee. He’s got a few bob in the bank, which he believes gives him a certain amount of social standing and opinions that must be heard.
A “big man” at the local golf club, he goes on three holidays a year, most likely has a private reg on his motor, enjoys hospitality at the fitba’ where he “knows” a couple of the players and always manages to bag free tickets to the rugger. Scottish band The View captured this perfectly a few years ago in their song Superstar Tradesman. “Superstar tradesman, stands at the bar, Get a trade son you will go far, You have a house in the Ferry and a new guitar, That’s never been played before and it never will.”
He’s also the kind of person who says “correct” after someone says something he agrees with – like he’s marking their sentences. This is in no way to be confused with the gentler “guaranteed” which is an acknowledgment of an opinion shared and a benign form of agreement mostly used in Leith and surrounding areas.
For example, the statement “Brendan Rodgers has his work cut out at Leicester City” could be met with a “guaranteed”, rather than the harsher “correct”. No harm done. I write this by way of warning – be on the lookout for these characters, they permeate every aspect of our daily lives.
You know who they are ... they know who they are – you probably had a drink with one at the weekend. But don’t let them away with it even if it means three seconds of marginally uncomfortable social interaction.
A simple “I’m not your son” leaves them in no doubt and clears the air, you can even tell them that would be physically impossible unless they were minus three when you were born.
The term “mate” is also in the same ballpark but not nearly as bad, the diet coke to son’s full fat and I’d normally let that go. Son is worse, more Scottish, more designed to establish control and hierarchy with an all-round nastier undercurrent.
My feeling is that it’s had its day, played oot and, in this case, we’re not Jock Tamson’s or anyone else’s bairns.