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Subject:Re: Pet Peeves From:Geoff Lane <geoff -at- gjctech -dot- co -dot- uk> To:TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> Date:Wed, 14 Mar 2007 08:39:33 +0000
On Wednesday, March 14, 2007, Avram Baskin wrote;
> I agree with Dori. I recently posted a questionnaire on TECHWR-L. One of
> the questions asked if the respondent had a "rule of thumb" they followed to
> determine the optimal number of items for procedure steps or lists. An
> early respondent replied with an explanation of the sexist connotation of
> "rule of thumb". I did a little research and found some of the same
> "debunking" web sites that have been referenced in this discussion.
> However, I opted to change the question (I changed "rule of thumb"
> to"guideline") because right or wrong, it was clear that some people believe
> the term has a sexist connotation.
My pet peeve is the way that some borrow an expression, unilaterally
change its meaning to give a new connotation, and then express outrage
when another uses that expression with its original meaning. The
ridiculous onslaught of "political correctness" in recent years has
(IMO) done much to dilute and pervert English (and probably American).
It seems not a month goes by without yet another innocent word or
phrase becoming politically incorrect. I've even seen a circular that
claimed "history" shouldn't be used because of an imagined sexist
connotation. (i.e. "his story" while the word is actually from the
Latin "historia" - an account). It's bad enough that the PC bunch want
to ban master and slave cylinders or drives, and ban male and female
mating components - even though these have been industry standard
terms for ages - <fe>but it seems that they've run out of targets and
are now making things up!</fe>
"Rule of thumb" is a technical term that means 'a method of obtaining
a very approximate dimension or quantity' and predates any reference
to domestic violence, probably by centuries. Its origins are in the
way an artisan would select a piece of wood by using a thumb as a rule
to measure both the job and the material. In many languages, the word
for "inch" is the same as the word for "thumb" - which gives a lot
more credibility to this derivation than the one that relates to
domestic violence that appears to have originated in the late
IMO it's high time that the arrogant PC bunch got their facts straight
and stopped polluting our language. Personally, I'll continue using
terms like "master" and "slave", "male" and "female" for as long as
they continue to be industry standard - and as a rule of thumb I won't
give a stuff for the PC bunch unless the style guide backs them up.
BTW, in the message that started this, Dori Green wrote:
> Everybody who makes their living using language really should take it upon
> themselves to become informed about sexist and racist language, and delete
> it from their vocabulary.
and in another message scored a wonderful own goal:
> If somebody doesn't like something I say or the way I say it, that's
> fine. But play nice, sheesh.
Thereby committing blasphemy and probably offending a lot more than
would be offended by the use of "rule of thumb"!
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