Opinion: Congratulations to Gondek, but ‘Su Adoración’ is not the only municipality with a colonial past

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Tuesday that she would no longer prefer to be called “Your Adoration,” the traditional way of addressing a mayor, but rather “Mayor Gondek.”

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He called “His Adoration” a “clumsy” and “colonial” form of leadership, and indicated that this move was part of “my efforts to practice personal responsibility when it comes to reconciliation.” Gondek credited Regina Mayor Sandra Masters, also the first female mayor of a city, for leading the way in dropping the title.

I am totally unable to answer the “clumsy” accusation, which I guess is in the eye of the beholder.

Gondek is absolutely correct in suggesting that the title “Your Worship” stems from a British imperialist past in Canada, as do all of our terms for municipal government. As a word, “worship”, originally “worth”, meaning “the condition (in a person) of deserving, or being held in high esteem or reputation; honor, distinction, renown; good name” (Oxford English Dictionary) dates back to before the year 1066, and the phrase “Your Worship” applied to mayors is at least from the 16th century.

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Originally “Your Adoration” was introduced as a title slightly below “Your Lordship”, used for judges and members of the nobility, to make it clear that mere municipal leaders were definitely inferior.

Of course, all terms applied to our municipal elected officials are equally mired (so to speak) in a colonialist past. The word “mayor” itself is first attested in its current meaning in Britain in 1325, so maybe Mayor Gondek should think about getting rid of that too, for what it really means, i.e. “chief or main official of the municipal government”. “Mayor” originally meant simply “leader” or “person in charge,” but its history in English dates back to the Norman conquest of England, and it was one of the governmental terms imported in 1066, along with feudalism.

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Longtime Calgarians will remember the long-running controversy over the term “alderman,” which was reaffirmed in 2003 and 2007 by the council as the term for elected members after challenges, but changed in 2010 to “counselor.” (The original problem was with the “man” part, when not all council members were men anymore.)

The term “alderman” also dates back to the Old English period and originally meant “leading person” (in those days “male” was gender-neutral), and was generally in those days applied to someone who was a leader of war. charged with the defense of a substantial part of the kingdom, such as an area of ​​the coast. I’m not sure our current advisers would be up to the task if Calgary were attacked.

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“Ward” originally applied to a place to guard or defend, so the “councilman” of a “ward” would be in charge of defending that area of ​​the city. So, for example, my own councilman, Terry Wong, would join us in defending the areas that encompass the middle of the East Village and Brentwood (and many others in between). I propose that we meet at Higher Ground to plan our barricades.

“Councilor” may escape gender controversy, by the way, but its history is as intertwined with the past and with the ancient history of the British bureaucracy as “alderman” as it was used for a member of a king’s council from the 1380s onwards. .

There is no doubt that the words we use to describe our municipal government are colonial—after all, the imposition of the English language and its terms, as well as the concepts of government that they encompass, are aspects of colonialism—but it does not seem likely that this history can be erased with a single word, certainly not “Your Adoration” with its lovely old-fashioned sentiment.

Kudos to Gondek for trying though, and indeed to anyone trying to modernize our old ways.

Not sure about “mayor”, “district”, “councillor”, “election”, “term”, “councilman”, and so on: awkward for sure, but also smelling of history.

Murray McGillivray is Emeritus Professor of English, specializing in Old and Middle English, at the University of Calgary.

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