Golly – we must brace for that word to be stricken from the language of all decent people

Yes, we know what it is - just don't use the word.

Yes, we know what it is – just don’t use the word.

Oh dear. Alf is harbouring an offensive weapon in his storage box of childhood toys and memorabilia, such as his Plunket book.

Among his treasures is a ….

But wait. The moment Alf completes that sentence, he will have committed an offence against modern-day notions of decency and probably against the law.

Accordingly he is risking being heavily penalised for saying that among his treasures is a golliwog.

There. It’s been said.


The heavens did not open up, lightning did not strike Alf’s flat in Wellington, no plagues of locusts have been spotted headed this way.

But we can be sure there will be complaints about the outrage thus perpetrated.

Alf did consider (momentarily) simply referring to his childhood possession as a gollie.

But in these increasingly intolerant times, almost everybody has been heavily steeped in political correctness and conditioned to be slighted, affronted, insulted or offended by the hint of a mistimed cough. They are primed to provoke a media fuss not only if offence has been caused, but when there is the teeniest hint it might be caused.

Your highly considerate member for Eketahuna North accordingly thought about dropping the “wog” bit from the word “golliwog”, but decided nah, that won’t provide immunity from the fury of the fusspots.

Somebody is bound to bring this blog to the attention of the Race relations Commissioner or Camille Nakhid, chairwoman of New Zealand’s Inaugural Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel.

And then it will be all on.

And sure enough, evidence of this is provided by a report at Stuff which says:

Invercargill retailer H&J Smith has been criticised for selling “Gollies” in its store.

But marketing manager Rebecca Sheppard says the “Gollies” have been sold at the store for the past 15 to 20 years.

The Invercargill store had displayed a collection of the dolls as a stand-alone display, but after being contacted by The Southland Times the display was changed to a mix of caucasian rag dolls and “Gollies”, originally popularised as Golliwogs.

New Zealand’s Inaugural Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel chairwoman Camille Nakhid said people did not realise what the Golliwog had come to mean.

“For many African communities, particularly African American people, these dolls depict years of denigration and public humiliation,” she said.

Nakhid rejects any notion these dolls are back in vogue because of a change in society.”

“The hair and the lips are a caricature of a buffoon, no-one can say we have moved past that when it is still the same image of denigration being depicted.”

Dunno what this means for Pooh Bear. Better keep him in the box with the golliwog lest there be an uprising among outraged bears.

But wait…

There’s more.

While the f word and the c word increasingly are being employed in TV programmes beamed into Alf’s lounge, where they deeply offend Mrs Grumble, nobody seems to give a toss.

But it looks like the word “golliwog” may soon be stricken from the English language.

In Britain, a chef is suing his boss after he used the word “golliwog” during a conversation about labels on jam jars.

The chef’s lawyers are set on convincing the judges that the word “golliwog” is inherently offensive to black people and almost always discriminatory – no matter in what context it is used

Yep. You heard right – and it’s the sort of thing that is bound to happen here, too.

A black chef is suing his boss for racial harassment after he used the word ‘golliwog’ during a conversation about the old label on Robertson’s jam.

Denise Lindsay, 45, was working for the London School of Economics when chef manager, Mark McAleese, said the controversial word in front of her.

Now her lawyers are battling to convince three top judges that the word is inherently offensive to black people and almost always discriminatory – no matter in what context it is used.

Her barrister, Daniel Matovu, told the court: “White people don’t get called ‘golliwogs’. The word is an overtly racial comment.

“‘Golliwog’ cannot be interpreted in any other way.

“What the authorities make clear is that, when something is inherently discriminatory and clearly has racial overtones, there is no further debate.”

How could “golliwog” creep into a chat about jam?


Originally called the Golliwog, the Golly first appeared on jars of Robertson’s jam in 1910. However, the character was removed in 2001.

Ms Lindsay was working as an assistant chef manager at the LSE’s Bloomsbury student halls in February 2009 when Mr McAleese used the word while discussing “the change to the label of Robertson’s jam,” the court heard.

Ms Lindsay was upset and an employment tribunal later found that what Mr McAleese said amounted to “an isolated act of harassment” – despite the fact that he had apologised and had not uttered the word for the “purpose of violating her dignity”.

The tribunal ruled: “We have concluded that, for a white manager to use the words ‘golliwog’ and ‘golliwog jam’ in the course of a conversation with a black Afro-Caribbean colleague is unwanted conduct”.

Ms Lindsay’s harassment claim was dismissed.

But not because any hint of common sense prevailed.

Nope. It was dismissed because the tribunal said it had been brought too late.

Whether that decision was justified is one of the central issues now being considered by the Appeal Court judges.

Mr Matovu argued the tribunal was plainly wrong to dismiss the “golliwog complaint” purely on grounds of delay.

However, the LSE’s barrister, Shaen Catherwood, insisted that Mr McAleese’s use of the contentious word – spoken quietly and quickly – did not come anywhere close to racial harassment.

“I say it is unsatisfactory that somebody should be labelled with a finding of harassment on racial grounds when the actual context in which the word was used was innocent and inoffensive,” he told the court.

Lord Justice Christopher Clarke reserved the judges’ decision.

Depending on the outcome, people like Alf with an inclination to use robust English words could find themselves in a jam.

If golliwog is stricken from the vocabulary, it’s fair to suppose gollie should not be used either, no matter what the context.

Accordingly it would be risky (for example) to denounce the ruling by saying:

Golly, wasn’t that a bad decision.

But it will be in order to say “”Fuck, wasn’t that a bad decision”, although Mrs Grumble will take serious offence.

3 Responses to Golly – we must brace for that word to be stricken from the language of all decent people

  1. Sarah says:

    Great article!

  2. Barry says:

    Alf, I think it’s a…a…a…gollywog!

  3. Skinny blondes with big boobs get a bit precious about being called ‘Barbie’ too. They are expected to get over it…

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