Thursday, January 27, 2005


When you hear "fondling," do you think "good touch" or "bad touch"?

I think "bad touch," as do many others, but that's not a universal reaction, I found out tonight.

There's a debate going on at the Testy Copy Editors board. It was prompted by this post from Phillip Blanchard:
Parents and investigators said Tuesday they want to know why Berwyn school officials did not tell police years ago about allegations of "inappropriate touching" against a band teacher who was charged last week with fondling girls after duct-taping them to chairs. ...
[Robert] Sperlik is charged with molesting five girls under the age of 13 between 1999 and 2003. He allegedly secured some of the little girls with duct tape--on their mouths, hands and bodies--binding them to chairs and then fondling them, according to court documents.
(Chicago Sun-Times)

***This has bothered me for years. "Fondling" isn't what we want here.***
Phillip argues later: "'Fondling' implies affection, which is not a factor in molestation."

Fondling and molestation are nearly synonymous to me, so it was eye-opening to read this debate. So far, I've left it this way: "Molestation" might be a better word choice in such situations, but "fondling" certainly isn't wrong.


At 11:31 PM, January 27, 2005, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

It’s a bad touch if it’s nonconsensual. If it’s consensual, it can be a good touch.

At 6:10 AM, January 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your feeling for use of fondle/fondling. But, I just looked it up in the OED to be sure and it lists no sense in which either is negative as we use them in our society. As usual, we have corrupted another once fine word.

Mark Lindner

At 11:36 AM, January 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that means it became corrupted when we fondled it, which is a good argument for the "bad" interpretation.

Michael R.

At 12:11 PM, January 28, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Well, here's where the descriptivist in me comes out: Words' meanings will change. This seems more an evolution than a corruption to me. (Splitting hairs, anyone?)

At 4:51 PM, January 28, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I agree with Peter. The answer to "May I fondle your buttocks?" is sometimes "Yes." I suppose someone could answer "Yes" to "May I molest you?" as well, but that would be an ironic exchange.


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