5

The Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Ben Broadbent, has apologised today after his use of the word 'menopausal' (to describe the current British economy) was criticised by Carolyn Fairburn, the Director General of the CBI, the Confederation of British Industries, as being derogatory to women.

Also, the TUC (Trades Union Council) general secretary Frances O'Grady said:

There's no need to resort to lazy, sexist comments to describe problems in the economy.

It seems that Mr Broadbent was influenced by the wording 'climacteric' in relation to economics. And he has picked out the state of menopause (which 'climacteric' is sometimes applied to) and has misapplied the concept of 'decline'.

I think he has misunderstood both the concept of 'climacteric' and also its usage in the area of human physiology. He has then homed in on the word 'menopause' as if it meant a pinnacle followed by a nadir.

Climacteric - 2. Physiol. and Med. Originally: of, relating to, or designating a period of physical (and, often, psychological) change occurring in middle age and believed to indicate the onset of senescence. In later use: spec. menopausal. Cf. sense B. 2b.

OED

But the measure of the word 'climacteric' is, in its other main usage, not viewed as a peak, after which there is a decline, but rather as a step-change in progression :

1993 N. G. L. Hammond Sources for Alexander Great i. v. 67 The other Alexander-historians did not mark the Battle of Gaugamela as such a climacteric event.

The criticism levelled at the use of the word 'menopausal' was that women were being viewed as 'in decline' simply because their time of natural fertility was past.

But I think Mr Broadbent has misunderstood the meaning of the word 'climacteric' which is applied to the time of menopause and also, it appears, has been used to describe economic periods.

My own understanding of the word 'climacteric' is that it denotes a significant period or an epoch. But I can see nothing in the origin or usage of the word that implies decline thereafter.

I and my social counterparts are in our sixties and I would strongly dispute that the menopause denotes a 'peak' of human progression after which there is a 'decline'. Much the opposite, for maturity ought to be a step in the progression of one's developing humanity.

And I would further dispute that the word 'climacteric' gives any indication of such 'peak' and 'decline'.

Is there any excuse in the dictionary for Mr Broadbent's faux pas ?

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's just an invitation to discussion. The full OED explicitly specifies In later use: spec. menopausal under climacteric - the only reason Broadbent's usage is in the news is because of some perceived implication of it being disrespectful to women. – FumbleFingers May 16 '18 at 13:33
  • 1
    @FF Is 'boom and bust' likewise taboo? – Edwin Ashworth May 16 '18 at 13:34
  • @EdwinAshworth: Dang, man! - that''s bitchin’! – FumbleFingers May 16 '18 at 14:02
  • Ben Broadbent said that "climateric" is used in economics to refer to a period that is "past its peak", so climateric or menopausal don't refer to the peak, but to the fact that that peak is behind us. telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/05/16/… – user067531 May 16 '18 at 14:51
  • British economic growth: The paradox of the 1880s and the timing of the climacteric. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0014498386900021 – user067531 May 16 '18 at 14:56
1

Relevant present-day definitions of 'climacteric' and 'menopause'

The problem for Mr. Broadbent is that the definitions of menopause are narrow and physiological. From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2011):

menopause n. 1. The permanent cessation of menstruation, usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. 2. The period during which such cessation occurs. In both senses, also called climacteric.

But the definitions of climacteric are not similarly limited. Again from AHDEL, fifth edition:

climacteric n. 1a. See menopause. b. See perimenopause ["The period of a woman's life characterized by physiological changes associated with the end of reproductive capacity, terminating with the completion of menopause"]. 2. A critical period or year in a person' life when major changes in health or fortune are thought to take place. 3. A critical stage, period, or year: "before the end of the millennium, whether [he] lives to see that ecclesiastical climacteric or not" (Conor Cruise O'Brien). adj. 1. Of or relating to a climacteric. 2. Critical; crucial. {< Latin clīmactēricus, of a dangerous period in life < Greek klīmaktērikos < klīmaktēr, dangerous point, rung of a ladder < klīmax, ladder; see CLIMAX.}

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) differs from AHDEL in listing a non-menopause-related meaning of the noun form of climacteric before the menopause-related meaning:

climacteric n (ca. 1630) 1 : a major turning point or critical stage 2 a : MENOPAUSE b : a period in the life of a male corresponding to female menopause and usu. occurring with less well defined physiological and psychological changes 3 : the marked and sudden rise in the respiratory rate of fruit just prior to full ripening

Merriam-Webster, by the way, lists a first occurrence date for menopause of 1872. Somewhat mystifyingly, the Eleventh Collegiate dates climacteric as an adjective to 1582 and yet lists its definitions as "1 : constituting or relating to a climacteric [although climacteric as a noun isn't found in English until 48 years later] 2 : CRITICAL, CRUCIAL."


The back story on 'climacteric' and 'menopause'

Early dictionaries tend to support the Eleventh Collegiate's order of definitions for climacteric as a noun. The earliest dictionary notice of climacteric (in the form climactericall) that I am aware of is from John Bullokar, An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the Hardest Words Used in Our Language (1616), which uses the word to to indicate a year of special numerological significance:

Climactericall. A Greeke word signifying an account or reckoning, made by certaine degrees or steppes. Some haue heereby diuided the age of mans life after this manner. The seuenth yeare they reckon for dangerous; and by this account the 14, 21. 28. 35. &c. are climactericall yeares. Likewise the ninth yeare is esteemed equallie as dangerous, and by this account, the 18. 27. 36. &c. are called Climactericall yeares. But the most noted and famous Climactericall yeare, is at the age of 63. because both accounts doe meete in this number ; namely 7. times 9. and 9. times 7. And this is held the most dangerous yeare of all other.

As Mr. Broadbent was born on February 1, 1963, he is four years past the dangerous age of 49, and seven months away from the dangerous age of 54, so he really has no excuse.

Not much had changed by the time of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which includes these entries:

CLIMACTER, n. s. A certain space of time, or progression of years, which is supposed to end in a critical and dangerous time. [Cited occurrence:] Elder times, settling their conceits upon climacters, differ from one another. Brown's Vulgar Errours.

CLIMACTERICK, CLIMACTERICAL. adj. {from climacter} Containing a certain number of years, at the end of which some great change is supposed to befal the body. [Cited occurrences:] Certain observable years are supposed to be attended with some considerable change in the body ; as the seventh year ; the twenty-first, made up of three times seven ; the forty-ninth, made up of seven times seven ; the sixty third, being nine time seven ; and the eighty-first, which is nine times nine : which to last are called the grand climactericks. [Brown] The numbers seven and nine, multiplied into themselves, do make up sixty-three, commonly esteemed the great climacterical of our lives. [Brown] Your lordship being now arrived at your grand climacterique, yet give no proof of the least decay of your excellent judgment and comprehension. [Dryden] My mother ois something better, tho', at her advanced age, every day is a climacterick.

Johnson's reference to "Brown's Vulgar Errours" is to Thomas Browne, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Enquiries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, first published in 1646, which devotes an entire chapter to "The Great Climacterical Year, that is, Sixty-three."

The first full-size Merriam-Webster dictionary to explicitly associate climacteric with menopause is also the first such dictionary to include an entry for menopause—and even in this instance the actual connection is made not in the entry for climacteric but in a subentry for change of life under longer entry for the noun change, in Webster's International Dictionary (1890):

Change of life, the period in the life of a woman when menstruation and the capacity for conception cease, usually occurring between forty-five and fifty years of age ; — called also menopause, climacteric, turn of life, etc.**

This dictionary's entries for climacteric aren't exactly direct on the menopause front:

Climacteric a. Relating to a climacteric; critical.

Climacteric n. 1. A period in human life in which some great change is supposed to take place in the constitution. The critical periods are thought by some to be the years produced by multiplying 7 into the odd numbers 3, 5, 7, and 9; to which others add the 81st year. 2. Any critical period.

But its entry for menopause is plain and to the point:

Menopause n. (Med.) The period of natural cessation of menstruation. See Change of life, under CHANGE.

So menopause was an explicitly medical term when it first reached popular consciousness, and this occurred at roughly the same time that climacteric expanded to acquire a new meaning that amounts to a euphemism for menopause along the lines of change of life and turn of life.


Conclusions

I have to say that, on this record, only the flimsiest of dictionary equivalences is available to justify Mr. Broadbent's use of menopausal as interchangeable with climacteric. For a somewhat comparable case, consider the entry in AHDEL, fifth edition, for impotent:

impotent adj. 1. Lacking physical strength or vigor; weak. 2. Lacking in power, s to act effectively; helpless: "Technology without morality is barbarous; morality without technology is impotent" (Freeman J. Dyson). 3. Incapable of sexual intercourse because of an inability to achieve or sustain an erection. 4. Obsolete Lacking self-restraint.

Now suppose that, channeling Freeman J. Dyson, Mr. Broadbent had said, apropos of the Bank of England's use of technology,

"Technology without morality is barbarous; morality without technology is erectilely dysfunctional."

It wouldn't work—not because impotent doesn't mean (among other things) "erectilely dysfunctional," but because "erectilely dysfunctional" doesn't mean any of those other things that impotent can mean.

Menopausal is a similarly narrow clinical term that has not crossed over into figurative use in the sense of "crucial or critical," however much Mr. Broadbent may wish that it had.

0

My question is 'does the word climacteric imply, of necessity, a peak/decline at all ? Does it not imply a step-change in an upward progression?

Depending on it's use in context, it does not necessarily mean 'and subsequent decline'. And it does not indicate 'a stepward up' to the event.

Is there any excuse in the dictionary for Mr Broadbent's faux pas?

There was no faux pas if he only used the word climacteric. I would have to read the actual transcript to parse any innuendo or nuance. climacteric TFD

  1. noun: a critical event or period

  2. adj: involving a crucial event or period

  • Yes, but the usage in the passage is specific to economics, where it is used with a precise connotation. – user067531 May 16 '18 at 15:08
  • @user3850720 edited as i left out a crucial word: not. tks – lbf May 16 '18 at 15:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.