Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 07:42:00 EST

At 01:38 PM 3/14/96 +1100, you wrote:

>I don't consider myself an angry feminist, nor a particularly ardent one.
>however I do find that I don't relate the pronoun His to me. I don't
>think of the word mankind as being sexist, but I definitely find his or
>he or the use of male examples only as annoying. I also find it
>interferes with my comprehension, instead of taking in the data I find
>myself saying "don't they think computer operators can be female?" I
>much prefer using their, you, them or any of those words which don't
>denote a sex. From talking to some of my other female colleagues, they
>feel the same way. In other words you end up noticing the language
>rather than the message. Which from a technical communicator's point of
>view is bad.

>I believe that political correctness can be taken too far and often is,
>but I think that many females do not consider the pronoun "his" to be
>gender indeterminate.

>Something else to consider: Whether a field is male or female dominated,
>using sexist language; either his or her, makes it more difficult for the
>minority sex to "break" into the field, it risks making them feel even
>more alienated. Again not something I as a technical communicator want
>to do.

Sorry, Colleen, but I'm always suspicious of a proposed change to a
language's basic structure that's endured since at least the days of William
the Conquerer and quite probably as far back as the birth of Christ. It's
not because I'm male and feel superior. It's because I don't trust studied,
deliberate attempts to change the way a language has developed of expressing
a thought. It smacks of revisionism. Language evolves, and if English
speakers eventually drop the indeterminate pronoun "he" or the indeterminate
possessive "his" then so be it. But such a change will take decades, or even
centuries, to complete, and it won't happen because women are displeased
with it or find it hard to read around. I'm frankly surprised that it's hard
to read around, since that's the way we're all taught to read from our very
earliest days in letters. Besides, our more poetic constructions wouldn't
flow very well if we changed the pronoun structure. "He who would be wise,
would do well to listen to the sounds of the earth," would sound silly with
some unisex substitute.

It's not that I'm advocating rough-shod neglect of your feelings, but
whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it's
going to be bad for the pitcher. We'll not change the face of language in
the near future. It's best to ignore what bothers us. I hate certain current
usages, too, such as "insure" to mean "ensure." I grit my teeth as I type
it. But I don't complain about it. Much.

We've talked about this sort of minority-by-minority language flushing on
the list before. "Being in a black mood" would surely not appeal to
Afro-Americans, and "Sitting at the right hand of God" may well be
irritating for lefties. Still, would you excise those too? The government
has already made itself look ridiculous by banning real estate ad language
that discriminates against imagined hurts, such as "Great view" supposedly
irritating prospective blind buyers. To avoid this, would you advocate an
ad that says "House. For Sale. Come See"?

As to "breaking" into a did our industry become overwhelmingly
female if the very language we're using makes that so difficult? The "field"
I used in my original message referred to a computer interface field, not a
field of endeavor.

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice)
317.899.5987 (fax)

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