Gender Bias (was Evolving language or laziness)

Subject: Gender Bias (was Evolving language or laziness)
From: Beryl Doane <BDoane -at- ENGPO -dot- MSMAILGW -dot- INTERMEC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 13:10:00 PST

Enough already!!

The debate about s/he, he/they will continue. Its is
full of emotions, and for now, there is no clear winner.
It continues to pop up every few months. This fact
clearly indicates a perceived problem within our profession
and within the general English-speaking population.

Make a choice. Either you write as an innovator and pioneer
(but with restraint), or you write by the existing rules
(right or wrong).

You can choose to be an early adapter, to join or lead those
who want a change. Grammar rules will continue to lag behind
common usage. Newspapers, journals, and advertisers will
continue to slaughter the English language, no matter what
the defined or common rules are.

<Soapbox ON>
How long has it taken for new terms to become commonly
accepted? Twenty years ago, almost no one knew what a
mouse was (as applies to computers, not rodents). Mainframe,
PC, laptop, I/O card, serial port, astronaut, web page, email,
network, software, flame, spam, the Net, and hundreds of other
words and word usages did not exist in the time of Aristophanes,
Chaucer,Shakespeare, King George III, Edgar Allen Poe, or
H.G. Wells. The very word "computer" meant a *person* who
performed calculations in WWI. By the end of the Korean War,
a computer was a machine, not a human occupation.

You can choose to follow the existing rules and hold them
sacrosanct. I believe that if you want to argue from the
"this is the rule" camp, you should at least apply ALL the
rules equally, with the same gusto for each one. If you choose
to use "he" to mean "he or she," then you must also defend to
the death the rules on ending sentences with prepositions. You
cannot arbitrarily decree that some rules are bendable and others
are adaptable and still maintain that "this is the rule."

I am tired of the circular logic, as in: English has been fine
for the past 1000 years or so. Your premise is that there never
was a problem and that no one ever had a complaint with the generic
"he". Recent email shows that this is not true, at least for the past
150 years. Also consider that the (overwhelming) majority of the
existing written language before the printing press was *written*
and *preserved* by men, the same mind set that continues to see
no problem with the generic "he." Therefore, where is your historical
evidence that women ever "agreed" to this construct?

Since English did have neutral pronouns in the past, what is
intrinsically wrong with wanting to restore them? What is wrong
with trying to write in a manner that considers the impact of
word choice on the reader?

As a writer, I have a list of words that I do not use when I
write for novices. These words intimidate some readers, obscure
meanings, or simply have no meaning for that audience. I use
language, vocabulary, style, tone, layout, and art to produce
a message that (I hope) is understandable. That is my job.

<Soapbox OFF>

Beryl Doane
Senior Technical Writer
bdoane -at- intermec -dot- com

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