The islanders of Lesbos have lost their legal attempt to disallow the use of the word “Lesbian” to refer to women-who-sleep-with-women.

Now, this might seem like a victory for common sense over and above the silly human-rights legal arguments that seem to abound these days. Apart from the fact that it does appear that homosexual women have stolen the name of these islanders…

The term Lesbian is the proper designation for an inhabitant of the island of Lesbos, in the same way that Londoner is for someone who hails from London. The term was taken to refer to same-sex attraction among women because the ancient Greek (and female) poet Sappho came from Lesbos. Sappho appears to have written poems expressing physical attraction to other women, so is taken as a good forbear. In fact, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the term Lesbian (in the sexual sense) used to be interchangeable with the term sapphism.

I think it is fair to say that, worldwide, Lesbian means ‘homosexual women’ to more people than it does ‘inhabitants of Lesbos’, so the Greek courts decision is probably a good one. But lets think about it for a moment. This use of the word Lesbian is pretty arbitrary, and the islanders can reasonably claim to have the original usage. The logic of the selection of this word is daft: ‘Lesbians’ could just as easily be called ‘Romans’ because of an easier acceptance of such practices in ancient Rome.

How would you like it if they were named after your town or country? If the phrase ‘Brummies’ was used because some prominent homosexual women came from Birmingham? I could imagine even the most non-homophobic Brummie finding that distinction hard to swallow…

I feel sorry for the people-of-the-island-of-Lesbos. Surely they deserve to have their name back. Perhaps we should go back to calling those other Lesbians Sapphists…?

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