The word ‘gay’ is commonly used as an insult in British playgrounds. With homophobia on the increase in schools, should teachers be doing more to stop such name- calling? Calling something, or someone, gay is one of the most popular put- downs in school. A pair of trainers can be gay, so can a broken drinks machine and anyone who does not quite fit in can be deemed gay too. Teachers, health workers and the police are increasingly concerned at the effect the pervasive use of the word gay as a negative term is having on children... (Here's why I omit the rest, but tell me if more context is needed)

9. What can be gathered from the fact that inanimate objects are referred to as being gay?
(a) The use of the word is very prevalent
(b) Children do not understand what the word means
(c) Children do not use the word in its literal sense
(d) The word now has no meaning
(e) The word is not intended as an insult

(a) INCORRECT. The fact that the word is used in relation to inanimate objects does not in itself say anything about the prevalence of usage.
(b) INCORRECT. Words are frequently used in different senses to their actual meaning and it does not necessarily follow that children do not understand its meaning.
(c) CORRECT. In the context described, to use the word ‘gay’ in its literal sense would be to refer to something as being homosexual. Given that this is a characteristic that cannot be exhibited by inanimate objects, it follows that children do not use the word in its literal sense.

  1. Why's (a) wrong? Doesn't it equal the last sentence above? After consulting the dictionary, 'prevalent' and 'pervasive' look synonymous?

  2. Why's (b) wrong? I agree with the answer's general observation, but the answer to (c) confirms that 'this is a characteristic that cannot be exhibited by inanimate objects'. Thus these children misuse this word, and ?thus misunderstand it?

  • 3
    Usually, anything which is pervasive is also prevalent, but they're not necessarily "synonymous". A relatively uncommon social phenomenon could reasonably be described as pervasive if what you want to emphasise is that it pervades, penetrates, permeates into many sectors of society, particularly if that penetration is particularly "deeply embedded". In the case of, say, a disease, if it's prevalent that means many people in total are infected. If it's pervasive, people from all sectors of society are (or may become) infected, but not necessarily in huge numbers. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 23 '14 at 14:31

The intent of the question seems to be to make you comment directly upon the fact "that inanimate objects are referred to as being gay" rather than to answer using the passage. If you reason directly from the statement in the question then (a) is incorrect because there is no mention of the frequency of the use of the gay reference. Similarly there is no way of knowing whether or not the child using gay in such a manner is ignorant of its meaning. Following this reasoning pattern the most correct answer is (c) because it is the only fact that is evident from the statement in the question.

As for prevalent and pervasive, it should be noted that pervasive is often negatively co-notated where as prevalent is not.

  • 1
    Having just edited the question formatting, it's now clear to me you've identified the thrust of the multiple choice test presented by OP. Per my comment, there is a difference between pervasive and prevalent, but it's not really relevant to the test itself. I would just add that in my experience both terms often have negative connotations - but I agree that of the two, pervasive is more likely to be used disparagingly. Other alternatives such as widespread are more "neutral". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 23 '14 at 15:12

1.Why's (a) wrong? Doesn't it equal the last sentence above? After consulting the dictionary, 'prevalent' and 'pervasive' look synonymous?

That's the problem with a lot of your recent questions. Yes, prevalent and pervasive are related. If a lot of kids at a school start wearing red hats, we can say that red hats are prevalent, and that these red hats are pervading the school.

But these exams aren't meant to test your synonym recognition skills; they are testing your ability to discern more subtle details of passages. It's "fine-toothed comb" stuff, designed to see if you're fit for the legal profession, not to see if you can understand conversational English. (As a matter of fact, many of the "wrong" answers in such questions will have a measure of validity; if all the incorrect answers were patently wrong, the test would be too easy.)


[rant]This is yet another example of the shite these tests are.[/rant]

Answer (c) might have been correct if it had been worded "Children do not always use this word in its literal sense." or "When using the word to describe inanimate objects, children are not using the word literally".

But to say that "children do not use the word in its literal sense" is a blanket statement equivalent to saying that children never use the word literally.

The only non-false statement is (a).

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