Hailey Sinclair

9/11/20234 min read

The term “bully” takes over the evening news, daily headlines, and bestseller lists. Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Discovering the Power of Character and Empathy, by Emily Bazelon, is one of the most recent instances of anti-bullying literature, and its exploration of the genesis of the term bully aroused our interest.

Bullies, it seems apparent, have not always been viewed as terrifying threats. In the 16th century, the term “bully” was really interchangeable with “lover” for English speakers.

But how did the word’s meaning change so dramatically throughout time?

Dr. Ron Slaby, a well-known Senior Scientist, believes that “the good news is that we’ve grown more specific in characterizing the fundamental traits and many types of bullying over the generations.”

Not To Be Loved But Feared

In the 1500s, when a town squire or feudal lord spoke of his “bully,” he was referencing his admirer. This description extends to both genders and has linguistic roots in the Dutch phrase boel, which means “lover.” Several decades later, the connotation of the phrase shifted from “fine gentleman” to “blusterer”—someone filled with hot air and hollow warnings. Before time, the definition of the expression has evolved into a “tormentor of the weak.”

Throughout the mid-1800s, a classic British story of Tom Brown’s School Days featured Flashman, a savage “bully” who stole lotto tickets and ridiculed peers. Many decades later, an American instructor was requested to offer school bullying incidents in a survey. One instructor recounted a youngster named Fletcher who would shove younger boys who didn’t obey him and then kneel on them until they pleaded with him to desist.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, “bullies” were no more than just lovers or sweethearts; they were towering figures who instilled dread in their contemporaries, such as Fletcher and Flashman.

“Mobbing” Converts to “Bullying”

The term acquired the much more intellectual connotations we use now in the twentieth century.

After observing the local society’s animosity against his foster son, David, who is black, Dr. Peter Paul Heinemann, a Holocaust survivor and renowned physician residing in Sweden, created a hypothesis regarding bullying. Heinemann examined animal behavior, notably mobbing, a violent, natural action of birds striking a vulnerable member of their own species, and related the notion to a group’s animosity against a single kid.

Dan Olweus, a prominent Swedish researcher, studied Heinemann’s argument. However, he disputed that harassment constituted a “mob” activity. Instead, as Bazelon shows in her work, Olweus argued the exact opposite: Generally, a handful of students would perform most of the bullying in a classroom, and up to 3/10% of bullied youngsters had been abused by the exact same individual. Olweus selected the English term bullying to characterize these brutal playground acts when he translated his 1978 book Aggression in the Schools to English from Swedish. Olweus modified the definition of bullying throughout time to encompass three criteria: Bullying is…

(a) repeated;

(b) deliberate physical or verbal abuse;

(c) the individual believed to be more powerful than the target.

Did the Translation Lose its Essence?

Bullying is a complex idea to convey across civilizations. While comparable names exist in hundreds of languages, academic research has shown that they rarely match precisely. The Japanese phrase ijime, for instance, emphasizes social manipulation. Violenza and prepotenza, on the other hand, imply more overtly violent acts.

Of course, English has its own terminology for bullying, but most sociologists use Olweus’ three-part description. However, since contemporary society has paid increasing emphasis to this social phenomenon, individuals have begun to use the phrase to represent a broad spectrum of experiences. As a result, some researchers argue that the concept has become overly generic.

According to a recently published New York Times op-ed, “bullying” could perhaps not be used to characterize any act of taunting or dispute. The writer contended that the term is “overused—expanding, accordion-like, to embrace both horrible assault or intimidation and a few snide remarks.” “If every act of aggressiveness qualifies as bullying,” the paper ends, “how do we prevent it?”

In reality, scientists have been looking at this subject. According to a John Hopkins research study that looked at the validity of bullying self-report metrics, children’s victimization ratings differed depending on whether the surveying methods were behavior-based or definition-based. The power disparity between bullies and their victims, central to bullying, is exceptionally hard for youngsters to grasp. Without it, kids may exaggerate the amount to which they are physically tormented while underestimating the degree to which they are interpersonally abused.

Calling the “Wrong” Wrong

Sticks and stones may break my bones. But words shall never hurt me. Unfortunately, as most youngsters know, the playground chant may be a fragile protection against verbal assault. Bullying using insults, slurs, and epithets may be as damaging as physical abuse, and many perpetrators are skilled at wielding the destructive power of words.

However, words have the power to heal and forestall more harm. Branding an evil with a specific name might induce action at the international, national, and/ or local levels. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, grasped the power of words when he created the term genocide in 1944. Some who invented our present concept of bullying—intentional and persistent verbal or physical maltreatment by an individual with greater authority than his /her target—felt forced to give a proper name to specific conduct.

Nazi Germany’s Anti-Semitism and the Swedish provincial prejudice forced Heinemann to characterize what he saw. Olweus relied on this study to create the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which aided youngsters like Heinemann’s adoptive son, David.

“The good news,” Dr. Ron Slaby, Senior Scientist and Technical Assistance Specialist says, “is that we’ve grown more explicit in characterizing the fundamental traits and different kinds of aggression over the decades.” This comprehension highlights the extent of our efforts to assist in preventing and mitigating bullying.”

It Is Your Turn To Make The Difference

Do you notice children and teens appropriately categorizing bullying behavior in your interactions with them? What preventative initiatives have you discovered particularly helpful in teaching youngsters about intimidation and how they can adapt to it? Please express your thoughts in the comments section below.