Sexual harassment is very much in the news.
Not, of course, that the phenomenon is new. I am sure it has existed since the dawn of time, but we apparently only came to have a specific word for it in the 1970s. This was no doubt a consequence of both increased numbers of women in the workforce and feminist raised consciousness at the time. Here is the earliest example the Oxford English Dictionary has found:
1971 Yale Daily News 19 Apr. 1/5 ‘We insist,’ said one of the women, ‘that sex harassment is an integral component of sex discrimination.’ ‘Men perceive women in sexual categories and not in professional categories,’ she continued. The complaint of sexual harassment was apparently a ‘new idea’ to the H.E.W. team.Here is a telling quotation from four years later:
|Title||Male and Female|
In Washington, D.C., Officer Peggy A. Jackson, 27, charges that it is practically a rule of the force that " you've got to make love to get a day off or make love to get a good beat. " Washington's 4,200-member police department includes 333 women, about half of whom are assigned to patrol duty with men. No formal complaints have been filed, but D.C. Councilwoman Willie Hardy is investigating several verbal charges of sexual harassment. Though the U.S. Attorney's office has dropped the case for lack of evidence, the police department is investigating the alleged rape of a woman cop by a sergeant during a stakeout of an office building.
The word "harass" has been around much longer than this, though. We borrowed it from the French harasser in the 1600s, in several senses:
- to tire out; to exhaust with care or trouble
- to make repeated small-scale attacks on (an enemy)
- to trouble with annoyances, importunity, misfortune
In the twentieth century, a new sense, "to subject to aggressive pressure or intimidation", came to dominate.
There is some discussion as to the pronunciation of "harass". Is the accent on the first or the second syllable? In Canada, it is more commonly on the second syllable, although those who accent the first syllable (as most British English speakers also do) tend to be convinced that only they are right, and write indignant letters to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about it.
The French word which we borrowed back in the 1600s derived from harer ‘set a dog on’, which in turn came from a Germanic word hare, a cry urging a dog to attack.
I would say that an etymological connection between sexual predators and dogs is appropriate.
Except that it's an insult to dogs.
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