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Subject:Politically Correct TechDoc From:Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET> Date:Wed, 6 Dec 1995 08:49:00 EST
Did anybody see the ethics situation posed in the current issue of the STC
Intercom? In it, an eager young writer is trying to get a group of stodgy
scientists to accept her preferences for politically correct language, such
as "gender neutral" pronouns to replace the indeterminate "he." Some give
in, others don't. One sympathetic scientist, an asian Indian, seems like a
prime target for her next move, so the writer presents her with the next
linguistic victim: blind study. In the writer's experience, blind people are
insulted in varying degrees by terms such as "blind luck" and "blind alley,"
usually terms reserved for slightly negative connotations. The scientist,
while she listens attentively, proposes that this is a bit too far out on
the limb for her to go. She points out that she, herself, is the unwilling
recipient of similar terms, being a Hindu and an Indian, but that she takes
no offense and that perhaps the offended blind individuals should become
more at peace with themselves, rather than depriving the sciences of a
descriptive and useful term.
What does the group think? To prime the pump, I think the writer is, indeed,
at far end of a very slender branch. We technical wordsmiths are charged,
above all, with accuracy and precision. Even readability, in the worst of
all possible worlds, must be subordinated to those two imperatives. Written
language is, at its best, a very poor means of communicating ideas, and we
need all of the common linkages we can seize. It's not our place to force
new conventions on an unreceptive world. We follow the parade. We don't lead
it. Making a scientist learn another term for "blind study" is most
definitely a position out in front. Inventing new pronoun conventions is
another "out front" position. These and other proposed changes are "speed
bumps" in reading's fast lane. It's not our job to construct speed bumps
because we know what society must be like in another ten years. That's a
reordering of priorities that's not acceptable to me.
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training