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Against gender-neutral language

Here is a good post on the evils of gender-neutral language. Markos, an English prof. at Houston Baptist University, has a lot of good things to say. One of his goals is to stiffen the spines of his readers, particularly his Christian readers, who have bought the line that gender-neutral language is required of them as Christians in order to show their sensitivity.

A few excerpts:

In the Preface to the Contemporary English Version, the editors (in an attempt to justify their censoring of all “sexist” language from their translation) make the following claim:
In everyday speech, “gender generic” or “inclusive” language is used, because it sounds most natural to people today. This means that where the biblical languages require [an important concession that!] masculine nouns or pronouns when both men and women are intended, this intention must be reflected in translation, though the English form may be very different from that of the original. The Greek text of “Matthew 16:24 is literally, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Contemporary English Version shifts to a form which is still accurate and at the same time more effective in English: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.”
The assumption that underlies this paragraph is not only radically untrue; it is insincere, manipulative, and patronizing. The literal translation of Matthew 16:24 quoted above is neither unnatural nor ineffective. Even after two decades of gender-neutral brainwashing in our schools and universities, any teen (or even child) would recognize immediately the naturalness of the original verse and would understand that its invitation is made to all people, not just males. The editors of the CEV would have us believe that their gender-neutral translation of the verse is more natural and effective and that it more truly reflects the way “real people” speak. But they are putting the cart before the horse. The true goal of the gender-neutral agenda is not to reflect existing patterns of speech, writing, and thought, but to so radically alter those patterns that people will, in time, really come to think of the literal translation as unnatural.
Many who advocate gender-neutral translations of the Bible (and of the hymns, creeds, and prayer books) do so, so they claim, to avoid offending the more “sensitive” people in the pews. I can’t say I’ve met any of these hypothetical sensitive people, but, if they do exist, they are certainly vastly outnumbered by the people who are genuinely (if silently) disturbed by the co-opting of their scriptures and traditions. (Indeed, I would argue that the majority of those “sensitive” people are precisely the ones who are engaged in neutering the Bible and the prayer books!) And besides, even if there are a significant number of such “sensitive” people, how far are we to go in accommodating their sensitivity? Shall we cease to speak about sin and the need for confession? Such talk certainly offends more people than the types of pronouns used in the service. And how far, one may legitimately ask, is the revamping of traditional language to go?

Comments (41)

Every group of people has its own lingo, it's own vocabulary for political correctness, so first off, let's be real and say some people wear "he" and "him" as proudly as any other badge.

That said, as a parent of a daughter, I would certainly want to ensure she realizes that many possibilities are open to her, regardless of vocabulary. So I feel somewhat sympathetic to the need for caution in language.

However, as an artist, I know that many attempts to alter language utterly lack any sensitivity to good grammar, let alone a creative effort at written commmunication. So I say to take it out of the hands of the political hacks on both sides, and leave it to the writers: where it belongs.

Several things: First of all, as someone who once was a daughter and who now has three, I entirely disagree with any implication that using "he or she" when speaking of a doctor, or, still more, using "she" alone as if it were a generic pronoun is somehow important in order to show women their "opportunities." The gender-neutral movement was a top-down movement that got up steam in the 80's and was still working hard to impose itself in the late 80's and early 90's. It's not as though women prior to 1980 didn't know they had the opportunity to be doctors (or whatever) because so many people used the generic 'he'!

I'm not quite sure what writers you have in mind. It was the educators and, following them, the left-leaning English professors who by and large imposed this, with the eager cooperation of the media. Whether you consider them "writers" or "political hacks," they themselves, at least some of them, would doubtless have regarded themselves as writers. But that they had an agenda other than beauty in language (!) is absolutely undeniable, as their own repeated statements (and, indeed, your own statement about helping girls to "recognize possibilities") indicate.

As for "political hacks" on the traditional language side, I beg to point out that the change came _from_ the left _to_ the right in an aggressive, harrying and bullying blitzkrieg in a single, relatively late decade of the 20th century. Any implication that somehow people on the "right" are engaging in some sort of "political hackery" by resisting the clearly political movement to cut off contemporary language from what always heretofore simply was normal language and that there is some sort of symmetry between the pushers of revisionist language and its opponents seems to me entirely contradicted by the history of the thing, through which I lived and which I saw with my own eyes. And Markos, of whom I'd never heard until a week or so ago, saw the same thing at the same time.

It was hard not to wince today (August 3) during the Gospel reading appointed for Mass: "One does not live by bread alone..." (Matt. 4:4) which is our Lord's paraphrase of Deut. 8:3. Thus is shattered the magnificent declamation: "Man does not live by bread alone..." The egregious New American Bible prefers "one" to the generic "man" for "anthropos." The translation makes Christ sound like the Prince of Wales who often refers to himself as "one" presumably to distinguish himself from his mother's royal "we."

Oh, wow. My condolences. That's really awful. I think I'd start breaking out in hives if they read from a "translation" like that in church!

Is it sexist to think women are so fragile and easily misled that they need expert protection from traditional language?

Facetious questions aside, the elimination of supposed bias is in my view a way of democratizing criticism. If someone can detect and condemn an "ism," he gets to feel like he is participating in social betterment. (Teachers and others desperate for audience participation likely encourage this lamentable phenomenon.)

Plus if we get bogged down in debate over what is and is not sexist, we can never get to substantive issues and action. The gender neutrality debate is a decoy, and it's not the traditionalists who are causing the distraction.

Our Parent, who art in whatever awaits us after death
Hallowed be thy socially-constructed gender-biased name
Thy egalitarian regime come
Thy will be done (if it does not violate my autonomy)
On Gaia as it is in whatever awaits us after death

We are entitled to our daily bread (only if it is organic)
There is no property and thus no trespass
But provide diversity training for those who rail against it

Lead us not into chastity
But deliver us from nature

For thine is the egalitarian regime, the impotence, and the ignominy
Now and as long as our prebytery says so.

Apersons

It's funny you should bring up the stuff about God, Frank. It's my perception that in the Christian community, many people have accepted neutralized language regarding mankind so long ago that they consider it a non-issue and are now moving on to the bigger things: Neutralizing God. Hence the invention of the pseudo-pronoun "Godself," which would be roll-around-on-the-floor-laughing funny if it weren't actually used. It's like something stepping out of satire into real life.

Last semester, which was my third year as an undergrad, I wrote a paper in my Milton class where, as usual, I used "he" a couple times to refer to the generic third-person singular pronoun. When I got my paper back, I noticed my professor wrote "or she" after all of my "he" pronouns. I asked him about this one day after class, saying that I used "he" in the traditional sense of referring to the generic third-person singular pronoun, and said that I thought this was the norm. He replied with a laugh, "Sure, in the 17th century maybe."

The only reason why I thought this to be a little odd was that I was in my third year of college, and of all the english essays and papers that I had written, this was the first time a professor seemed to take exception with my generic "he" pronoun. I'm sure I've used that pronoun many times before, I would have thought that if this was somehow in bad taste that I would have been corrected a long time ago.

The gender-neutral movement was a top-down movement that got up steam in the 80's and was still working hard to impose itself in the late 80's and early 90's.

Got that right. Try finding a major academic publication that does not insist on authors using gender-neutral language.

Wow, Aaron, how historically ignorant can your professor be? Very historically ignorant. What an idiot. Good liberals, and I do mean liberals, wrote in traditional English using generic "he" and "man" right up through the 1970's. Here's a funny thing: Bertrand Russell, no conservative to be sure (!), wrote in traditional English, _of course_, as every lettered man of the time did. (Russell died in 1970.) One of his books, I forget which one, has been re-issued and "edited" with all its language changed to "gender-neutral," this on the ground that Russell was such a political progressive for his time that _surely_ he would have changed his language had he lived longer! The arrogance of this is astounding, and particularly considering that Russell wrote exceedingly well and that any such revision is an act of outright linguistic vandalism. I haven't been able to bring myself to read and compare passages. But that is just one example--gazillions could be given--that refutes your professor's ignorant statement. Heck, I remember that the TV anchormen were called "anchormen" right up through the 70's. And Star Trek moved from "To boldly go where no man has gone before" to "no one has gone before" with the next-gen. I remember my disgust at hearing Shatner's voice deliberately go back and "correct" that at the end of the last of the "bridge" movies, which I watched some time around 1992.

But of course that sort of historical revisionism is just a concomitant of linguistic revisionism. The revisers _wanted_ people to think, within a single generation, that generic "he" was literally archaic.

Don't give in, Aaron! Stand up to 'im. Heck, you can refer him to Markos's paper as to a fellow English professor who gives the true history. And I have a published paper on this, too, though I don't think it's available on-line.

Perseus, we have never had to bend on that. In philosophy journals it is usually not even questioned. They just publish your piece with the language the way you had it. When it comes to a book publishing company, there is usually some need to get it straightened out ahead of time. Littlefield Adams put some pressure on someone I know circa 1995 to change his pronouns, but he faced them down, and they gave in. In Tim's and my 2008 book in epistemology, published with Routledge, there was not the slightest problem. Their official style manual calls for "gender-neutral" language, but the publisher (a person, that is) was completely fine with our using normal English when we wrote and asked him about it before signing the contract. So I think a lot of these insistences vary from one discipline to another and that more people might find that they can just use traditional English if they would only try it.

Students, however, are often not so lucky. I have recently heard that at the ostensibly Quaker George Fox University a professor grades her students down for referring to God with masculine pronouns!

Lydia: I'm not surprised about book publishing (I didn't have a problem with my publisher-), but I am surprised about philosophy journals. The APSR expects gender-neutral language. Even today, philosophy journals don't expect gender-neutral language?

Translating an inclusive he as one is not a translation error. It is no more a translation error than flattening an idiom. In an academic setting, a more transliteral version may be preferred, but that is meant as a crutch for those unable to use the native language.

Students, however, are often not so lucky. I have recently heard that at the ostensibly Quaker George Fox University a professor grades her students down for referring to God with masculine pronouns!

Granted, this is secular, but in a college sociology class round about 93 or 94, I was invited to re-do a paper in which I used nothing but the male pronoun. My other option was to accept a failing grade. I redid the paper for fear of losing my GPA and got an A- (lost half a grade for it being late), so obviously the content was fine. To her credit, the gender-neutral thing was department policy and communicated to us at the beginning of the term; she obviously wasn't about to swim up stream, though.

It seems to me that we are failing to distinguish several between several cases. Let me just mention two. First, there is the case of using gender-neutral language in a translation (of the Bible, or of Russell, for example). Here the most obvious argument against the use of gender-neutral language is simply that it is infelicitous to the original. But one can accept that argument and still support using gender-neutral language in other cases. If I'm writing a history article, for example, and I make a claim that "an historian might say x," what is wrong with later referring to the historian as "she"? It's simply a fact that some historians are women. Perhaps I might alternate with "he" in the next available example. In any case, this second example has nothing to do with being infelicitous to an original text. It has to do with being felicitous to reality (i.e. some historians are women).

I'm of two minds about this. I certainly see no problem with concerned writers and speakers making an effort to make clear, via their pronoun choices, that neither gender is inferior, and that neither gender deserves to be the default in all cases. I also think that an appeal to tradition is the most insidious form of logical fallacy.

At the same time, having attended a holiday party where the guests sang gender-neutral carols, I couldn't help but giggle. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlefolk" was the first song. I'm not convinced that historical accuracy in texts--particularly poetry--is insignificant compared to the goals of gender-neutral language proponents. And since there are plenty of texts from various eras which do employ male pronouns as universal, it would be nice if we can avoid raising a generation of readers who assume that all writers prior to a certain date must have been sexist. It didn't really matter how little sexism a writer felt in the 1870s; no other options were considered grammatically correct.

Today, however, there are other options. Use of gender-neutral pronouns is widely considered grammatically correct. So, unless their content gives them away, there's no way to know whether a writer using "traditional" pronouns does so because they want to defy "language police" or because they actually believe women are inferior to men.

Lydia, you wrote:

It's not as though women prior to 1980 didn't know they had the opportunity to be doctors (or whatever) because so many people used the generic 'he'!

But surely you're not claiming that the number of women becoming doctors at the end of the 20th century was equal to or smaller than the number of women becoming doctors at the beginning of the 20th century?

I don't mean to suggest a causal link, but I'd wager that the data show a correlation between the increase in gender-neutral terms in the last 25 years of the 20th century and an increase in females in professional positions which had traditionally been viewed as "male:" doctors, lawyers, cinematographers, architects, etc.

Further, just because we ought not assume that writers were sexist for employing "traditional" language, it doesn't follow that we can assume they weren't sexist.

When Time magazine began running its annual "Man of the Year" issues, most people really did hold the belief that women couldn't be as influential or culturally important as men. Changing the designation to "Person of the Year" was not inappropriate.

Perseus--In my experience, philosophy journals scarcely change a word of one's articles. The article is either accepted or rejected. Very little editing goes on after that point. In my experience it's almost a point of honor to treat the author's original text carefully, and I'm continually having to explain to my husband the very different editorial policies of opinion journals and magazines (like _First Things_ or _Touchstone_, for example). As far as I can recall, neither Tim nor I has ever once had a philosophy journal try to change our pronouns. I think graduate students are terrified that an article they submit will be rejected for that reason--if they don't use gender-neutral language--but that doesn't fit with my experience. The process of blind review really does seem to be carried out, so the fact that I'm a nobody (without academic affiliation) or that a grad student is a nobody doesn't seem to be relevant. It's just never been an issue. That's one of the reasons I'd like to see more philosophy grad students use generic 'he'. You can tell they wish they could but are afraid.

Todd, that's an outrageous story. Departmental policy???!!! What the deuce? I've seen a lot of nonsense but never heard of a departmental policy like that. Tim will flip when I tell him. Gets all my fighting blood up. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it was sociology.

Gadfly, I should just mention (I'm sure you realize this) that there is no more question of _translating_ Russell than of translating Winston Churchill or any other writer of the English language. Russell wrote English, and imitation-worthy English at that (most of the time, anyway, when he wasn't blathering about "confident despair," or whatever it was). That's why a revision of him is so outrageous. For a mid-20th century author to be deliberately _changed_ in this way is to falsify the history of the language rather seriously.

Phil, I'm glad at least you giggled over "Gentlefolk." It gets exceedingly ridiculous. As for your question, my recollection is that the real power and sweeping success of the gender-neutral language movement came distinctly _after_ the feminist movement in the professions had already succeeded overwhelmingly. You can think this a good thing or a bad thing. I am not a feminist so I think both movements to be bad things. But that's not the point. Historically, it was just a joke at the time to imply that in 1988 (which is when arguments about this were still taking place) women needed some sort of special reassurance via pronouns that they, too, could be lawyers or doctors, because otherwise they might feel that they couldn't. It was just ridiculously late in the history of successful feminism for such a claim to be credible.

This reminds me of a story I once heard about a reviewer of an article in which there was an example of a driver who got lost. The author troubled to refer to the driver as "she," and the reviewer (a rare reviewer) said that this was distracting and seemed to have no point except to remind the reader that women, too, can get lost while driving.

Speaking for myself, Phil, when I talk about doctors, lawyers, or lost drivers, I want to talk about doctors, lawyers, or lost drivers, not about whether they, too, can be women.

In re Gadfly: What is wrong with saying "Someone has forgotten her umbrella" instead of "Someone has forgotten his umbrella"? After all, some of the people who forget umbrellas are female. What is wrong is that "his" is the singular of the common gender possessive pronoun, and "her" is not. Yes, the singular of the common gender possessive pronoun has the same appearance as the singular of the masculine gender possessive pronoun. But in languages with inflected forms, different cases, or genders, or numbers will often have the same appearance. People learn to distinguish by context. Those who think it somehow unfair to use a form that has the same appearance as a masculine form are fanatics.

Roger D brings up the good point that people on the other side of this issue try to make a false tu quoque. That is, they try to insist that it is just as much a matter of politicizing language to use generic 'he' as to use the newly invented pseudo-generic 'she'. Now, that this is not true is first of all a matter of history. Everyone understood that 'he' was just a generic pronoun to be used when referring to an antecedent of unknown gender or which could be of either gender. (Interestingly, feminists object just as much to the use of 'she' to refer to an unspecified nurse or first-grade teacher on the grounds that this implies that most nurses and first-grad teachers are female! This despite the fact that most nurses _are_ female.) In other words, there was no political issue until the feminists most deliberately _chose_ to create a political issue. The upshot is that one is inserting a political statement into one's statement about some totally different subject when one uses either the hideous pseudo-generic 'she' or when one carefully uses 'he or she', etc., but one need not be doing so by using generic 'he' consistently throughout.

By the way, as far as forgetting umbrellas and the like, I believe that in some magazines now there is a rigid adherence to the rule that one alternates 'he' and 'she' paragraph by paragraph, so I gather that "someone forgot her umbrella" might well arise under this childish, egalitarian scheme.

I tend to take the scientific route. Males being XY contain the totality of genetic material. Thus the use of the masculine pronoun is INCLUSIVE of both genders. The attempt to create a generic "she" in fact genetically EXCLUDES half the population.

I vividly remember, during my first year of college in 1979, a conversation with a female professor. She taught poetry. It was a fun class, I liked her. We were chit-chatting one day after class and I asked her what sorts of things she was interested in in her research career. She mentioned "sexist grammar." I remember being completely dumbfounded -- it was the first time I had ever heard of this concept -- and scoffed at the notion. How on earth, I asked her, could grammar be "sexist"? She explained the idea -- limiting opportunities, etc., and I simply rejected it. It seemed ridiculous to me then, as it does now. She was plainly annoyed, and our friendship cooled a bit.

I wish I'd had the stones to stand up to it during my college years, but I went along to get along. I regret that now.

Speaking for myself, Phil, when I talk about doctors, lawyers, or lost drivers, I want to talk about doctors, lawyers, or lost drivers, not about whether they, too, can be women.

This discussion reminds me of my annoyance with the phrase "gay and lesbian." Since "gay" is not a term exclusively reserved for males, I've always found it redundant to mention gay females separately. It's like saying, "This store sells shoes for people and women."

But whether an individual speaker intends to imply that women are inferior to men when they use the generic "he," it's true that this convention arose in a society which had no problem with the notion that women were inferior to men. It's naive to pretend that the convention now cannot possibly have unintended sexist overtones. The real issue, Lydia, seems to be that it's impossible to separate your grammar issues from your social/political views in this matter. (This is true for me as well, and probably lots of other people; I'm only singling you out because I'm responding to you.) You find it implausible that it might not have occurred to girls to become doctors and lawyers, etc., in the era preceding the advent of "non-sexist language." But you indicate that it doesn't bother you that fewer girls chose those professions, and you seem to indicate that it wouldn't bother you if more men went into those fields in the future. You imply that feminism has "succeeded." That's a statement that even moderate and conservative feminists would disagree with.

I'm a fan of the singular "they." It reflects common usage, it has historical precedent, and the modern listener/reader knows exactly what a writer means when they use the term.

I find it interesting that Dorothy L. Sayers, who used linguistic terms to criticise anti-female prejudice ("Man is always dealt with as both Homo and Vir, but Woman only as Femina"), whenever she wrote about "the author" referred to this creature as "he", even when she was giving highly specific examples from her own experience.

I recently heard someone (a man) make some remark about "mankind" and then, after a pause, follow it up with "and womankind". Now that really is offensive. Certainly, "mankind" can mean "men" the way "womankind" means "women", but here it had already been used in its dominant meaning of "humanity". It's like saying, "All animals of mammalian dignity - well, and cats, of course."

I too use the "singular they", but changing a scriptural passage from third to second person for the sake of inclusion seems not just excessive but ineffective. One of the important things about this particular passage is that the way Jesus phrases it helps the listener to do something with it. The original reads like a statement of fact: "This is how it's done." The "corrected" passage tells me to deny me while reminding me of me (by calling me you). I can't imagine how this would help anyone. Moreover, in some people (myself included) it is likely to produce a psychological "deer in the headlights" effect, which will only serve to make us feel weird and not particularly equal.

The substitution of "friends" for "brothers", in the NRSV, also alienates me. Jesus called his disciples his friends, but then they really were friends. Fellow (ha! "fellow") Christians are my adopted family, and while I may have many duties towards my family, my friendship isn't one of them.

Re: "Where no man/one has gone before": I initially thought that Kirk's self-correction at the end of The Undiscovered Country had something to do with his earlier pseudo-argument with Spock about whether Vulcans were human. But now I come to think of it, the "no one" version is either speciesist (aliens aren't "someones") or untrue; they're always meeting nonhuman people who have gone there before them.

The so-called "singular 'they'" was previously used only in informal speech and possibly very informal writing, and not even consistently then. It is often distracting and confusing and always un-euphonious, particularly in writing. In your last sentence, for example, it initially sent my eye searching for a plural antecedent earlier in the sentence.

I'm surprised that you shd. say that I seem unable to separate political views from grammatical views, given that logically and historically there are two quite separate questions--"Is it a good and important thing in itself that so many more women are in this or that profession now than were in this or that profession fifty years ago?" and "In the late 1980's when gender-neutral language was being rammed through, did it hold women back from entering various professions if the generic 'he' was used?" It is entirely possible that a person should answer "yes" to the first and "no" to the second. Indeed, one's arguments for the two would be quite different in type. I maintain that it is ludicrous to answer "yes" to the second. I remember quite well the frantic scramble of affirmative action, already _well_ underway in the 1980's, to get "more women" doing this or that. I knew quite well that if I chose an academic career, my gender would be an advantage to me. This is a matter of objectively evaluating what was actually going on, whether one happens to think it the triumph of good over evil or an ill-considered bit of forced social engineering.

I'm not sure what sort of "conservative feminists" you have in mind who still think feminism has not succeeded in getting "enough" women in the professions. The only thing the phrase "conservative feminist" conjures up in my mind is something like that Independent Women's Forum, I think it is called, the Christina Hoff Summers group, that claims to laud the achievements of and necessity for earlier feminism but to deplore the excesses going on more recently. I do not identify myself with them, but I doubt they would disagree with the statement, "The generic 'he' did not hold women back from entering professions in the 1980's and hence did not need to be eliminated as it was by main force, even by the standards of those who would hold it to be a bad thing if women were held back from entering the professions."

Mariken, I thought of the very same thing and have said it many times about non-human beings that the Star Trek crew was meeting. Hadn't they already "gone before"? The only answer I can see their giving is that "gone" means "gone from Planet Earth on a voyage of discovery," and therefore cannot refer to aliens, but that seems to be stretching it a bit. Here was the reason for Kirk's self-correction: You probably remember that Next-Gen had already been playing for a while at that time. I forget how many years, because I didn't have a TV and saw it only occasionally. But Next-Gen had just quietly changed "no man" to "no one" _already_ by the time the final movie was made. So Kirk's self-correction was a deliberate bridge to the new series which had already made the change. That seems to me pretty clear from the order the things went in. That's how I remember it, anyway.

Yeah, I know how it went. I got acquainted with both series simultaneously, and when I saw ST VI I liked the idea of handing over the baton, so to speak, but there was an awkward sense of "the young people are more enlightened than we are" about it, especially with that film's rather heavy-handed lesson about racism (so heavy-handed that at least some of the actors considered it character derailment). Anyway, the TNG opening was the reason external to the story. The argument with Spock just seemed like an internal, not-strictly-logical connection to something that was perhaps the captain's log, and therefore semi-internal. But the whole thing makes little sense in any case. And when you think of the Prime Directive of non-interference, except when we do interfere, which is most of the time...

What was particularly amusing was that The Undiscovered Country was apparently conceived originally as an allegory about the wonderfulness of Gorbachev and the evil Reaganesque war-mongers, and then by the time it came out in the theater, the Soviet Union had fallen, and it was irrelevant. Or so I gathered from what's-her-name's (Ohura's) remarks during the big anniversary thing on television. Not, of course, that she mentioned that it was outrun by history by the time it appeared, but that she talked about the great contemporary significance it had to the "two superpowers." It was amusing, in fact, that she didn't see how silly that made it look, given the way things had turned out. Time-stamped propaganda has a way of getting outdated real fast.

The change to "where no one has gone, before," in Star Trek VI, although a meta-nod to ST:NG, really comes form the rather silly dinner discussion between Kirk and the Klingons when one of the Kilngons objects to a comment by one of theEnterprise crew using man or some reference to humans. The, "no one," is supposed to be Kirk learning his lesson at the end of the film. The reference is a type of way of saying, "no one of the species we know". It is silly because the word, "man," can be used to refer to any sentient reasoning being (assuming man is seen as sentient and reasoning). It may sound a bit chavenistic to the Klingons, but hey, the Klingon Colonel quotes Shakespere in the "original" Kilngon, so they should talk.

The Chicken

Yep, it's "Chernobyl in Space". Try to be up to date, and you'll be forever out of date. It can turn a story set in the here and now into a period piece, but Star Trek is supposed to be about the future; inevitably informed by the present, but not supposed to be about the present except by accident.

What used to bother me most about this film is Spock mind-raping Valeris for information. What bothers me most about it now is that in the audio commentary on the DVD, the writers call that scene "erotic" and "sexy stuff". Male blind spots on display.

The Masked Chicken: You're right. (And I used to know that; apparently I forgot what I forgot!) "Inalienable - if you could only hear yourselves. Human rights - the very name is racist." That was the real internal connection.

Diane Duane in her Star Trek novels calls all sentient reasoning species "the humanities". (I wish space explorers would come across more planets called "Earth" by their native inhabitants.)

Have you ever noticed that those foolish persons who use the word 'she' when English grammar calls for 'he,' for instance, when speaking of a hypothetical generic philosopher, never seem to use ‘she’ when speaking of a hypothetical generic mass-murderer?

To be fair, I don't know how often I've read such people talk about a hypothetical mass murderer at all. But I think the point is well-taken and is related to the fact that they are very annoyed over numerical disparities between men and women among, say, engineers or physicists but are not bothered in the least about the enormous numerical disparity (more men) on death row.

It makes some sense though. If you believe society is biased against your group, you want positive (but especially neutral*) representation to increase before negative representation; otherwise the negative representation is just going to be taken in a way that reinforces the bias.

I think I've heard someone say something about the crime thing (on TV, I think); that it would be a sign that women's emancipation was complete when... as many men were murdered by women as vice versa, or something like that. The speaker added that it would be sad, though. (He didn't seem to think of the - admittedly remote - possibility that male violence against women would decrease to the current level of female violence against men.)


*) Some of what is considered positive is just as dismissive as the negative stuff. Putting you on a pedestal, saying you're an inspiration (in some undefined feel-good way), complimenting you on doing something regardless of how difficult/easy or (un)important it was for you, etc. (These things do not reflect my experience as a woman.)

Well, that too, Mrs McGrew; though I was focusing on the narrower point that the "gender neutral languagists" seem never to use 'she' (in the improper way they use it) in a "negative" or "low-status" situation.

Have you ever seen a "gender neutral languagist" refer to a hypothetical generic plumber as 'she?' Of course not. Being a plumber is both a dirty job and has low status.

On the other hand, do they not invariably refer to a hypothetical generic CEO, or lawyer, or professor, or philosopher, or mathematician, etc, as ‘she?’ And, they'll sometimes refer to a soldier or a cop or a fireman as 'she.'

I see that Mr Beckwith's post of Aug 3 on "Verbal Plunder" is about the same point as my comment here.

I don't know whether Mrs McGrew is a reference or only a rhyme. I also don't know much about the pronouns which proponents of gender neutral language use for hypothetical generic plumbers, which may have something to do with my not having read many of their texts, the fact that grammar-only issues seem very unreal to me (so that I can't fix my mind on them and keep wandering back into the real world, as I did above and will doubtless do again), the facility with which I can imagine a hypothetical specific female plumber, and my high regard for plumbers as people who do very important work.

What I have read is a phrase like "One woman's X is another woman's Y." Perfectly appropriate in the context of a group of women, but otherwise! In this case it really surprises me that the writer didn't use "person" (except for the somewhat less fortunate consonants), because that's what the word "man" means in the original expression. "Man" is like "angel": one word, two concepts. (In my native Dutch, each concept has its own word: man-human is mens, man-male is man. In the Creed, God became mens, or a mens. This is how I knew from the start that the English "God became man" does not exclude women from the kind of thing God became. Perhaps the grammar-feminists need more Latin.)

I've also read about the use of examples (not "the professor" in a text on the duties of professors, but "professor Bell"). It makes sense to me make half one's imaginary people female, and to distribute good and bad behaviour, high and low status jobs, etc., equally (or, failing that, according to credibility) among the sexes. But this usage is on the level of stories, not on the level of grammar.

I'm afraid I'm rambling again. I read the newer post and see its and your point. Funny thing that, about the devil.

It makes sense to me make

It makes sense to make
or
It makes sense to me to make

It's my understanding that Lydia McGrew is a Mrs.

Yes, in ancient English, as in German and Dutch, 'man' meant 'person' or 'human being.' Thus, the word 'woman' comes from 'wyf-man' ... meaning roughly "female person."

Thanks, Ilion. I was going to let it go, but that's really my name. Not a pseudonym. And anyone who calls me "Ms." of course gets blasted. :-)

"Man" is the most similar English word to Latin "homo" because "homo" is grammatically masculine even though, unlike "vir" it includes both males and females of the human species. It is perhaps unfortunate that English does not have a separate word equivalent to "vir," but when we keep sight of the fact that "homo" (and "anthropos" in Greek) take masculine adjectives, the parallel there is fairly clear.

Oh, sorry, I thought Ilion was talking to me. I think it was the rhyme that did it. (And my general tendency to be easily confused in multi-person conversations.)

Homo, anthropos, anima, psyche. Hebrew has nephesh (m) and ruach (f). Lots of virtues (from "vir") are grammatically feminine. English really is an unfortunate language; not just with the man/man thing, but every "thing" is called "it". Easy to learn, but it also makes it easy to forget what grammatical gender is (and isn't). No French male is confused or offended by being referred to as une personne.

English *used* to have a "homo/vir" distinction similar to Latin's. For instance, the word 'werewolf' contains a a fossil of this -- OED: werewolf. The 'wer' portion of 'werewolf' is a cognate of the Latin 'vir.'

But even if 'Lydia McGrew' were a pseudonym, it's the name you're going by here. And, since that name (unlike the one I use) includes a surname, it strikes me as possibly disrespectful, or at best overly familiar, to refer to you as 'Lydia.' Similarly, I don't refer to or address Edward Feser as 'Ed' or 'Edward,' but as 'Mr Feser.' In the context of a more indirect or third-person reference, I might refer to him as 'Feser,' and to you as 'McGrew.'

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