The meaning of 'pervert'


Geoffrey Rush has been taken to task by the barrister for the Daily Telegraph for saying that he felt that the newspaper had made him out to be a pervert. Not so, said Tom Blackburn, who argued that a pervert was a sexual deviant, as, for example, a peeping Tom.  He went on to say that perversion was disgusting and bizarre and gave bestiality as another example. The newspaper had not accused Rush of perversion but of inappropriate behaviour.

 Macquarie Dictionary gives a definition, labelled Psychology,  to the effect that a pervert is someone who practises sexual perversion, that is, unnatural and abnormal sexual activities. The next definition lightens this to someone whose sexual behaviour is deviant, that is, deviating from the norm, and unacceptable.

 But pervert as derogatory term has a history in Australian English. In particular, ‘you old perve’ has been the retort of many a young woman to an old man who takes an unwonted interest in her.   Indeed Australians have used the word pervert so loosely that it has been reduced to perve (a form that the OED refuses to accept as a legitimate search), along with the verb to perve on someone.

 I think this is a case where Blackburn is choosing the first meaning of pervert as if it is the only one, whereas Rush, drawing on the colloquialism of his youth, is using the second one which has more general currency in Australian English.  Indeed, it would come to mind quite naturally given that this is a case which conjures up the stereotype of the old man and the young woman.

Sue ButlerComment