Re: Mixed Message

Subject: Re: Mixed Message
From: Stephen Victor <svictor -at- HOUSTON -dot- GEOQUEST -dot- SLB -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 1996 10:58:05 -0600

David Dvorkin wrote:

> Read more carefully. I pointed out that -man means -person, not -male,
> and is therefore already inclusive. It was specifically the habit of
> creating ugly neologisms in order to avoid an ending that already means
> what the neologism-creators want that I called silly.

> This isn't my opinion. This is etymology.

Actually, David, you didn't point out anything other than your own
opinion. Forgive me for not making my point more clear (I won't accuse
you of not reading carefully). My point was that your statement of what
you believe to be etymology is in fact simply the opinion of opponents
of inclusive language.

Here's the etymology of the -man suffix. Its history is strongly rooted
in the male-dominated world in which men held (hold?) virtually all
public positions of power. The man (male person) who headed (let's say)
the English Department was referred to as the chairman of the
department. The man who maintained public order was the policeman.
Likewise with the "generic" pronoun. "He" and "his" and "Man" referred
to the male people ruled the world (the only human beings who mattered).
All these terms became firmly grounded in the language.

As times changed and women began to move into these positions, the
people who held the titles changed (in terms of gender), but the titles
themselves did not because they were fixed in the language. As more and
more women have become policemen, they have begun to look around and say
"Hey, we're not men, so why are we called men?" And so, the insidious
onslaught of ugly neologisms: policewoman (dreadful) or police officer
(particularly hideous).

I suppose the human race tends to be a bit conservative. We like to hold
on to the past, to things that are comfortable and familiar. Many people
object to the encroachment of inclusive language. I'm sure the reasons
for this are varied. Perhaps many, like you, appreciate the beauty of
the language and don't want ugly new words creeping into it. Another
reason could be that the good old boys don't like having the power
structure threatened. Whatever the reason, we look for ways to retain
the established forms of these words. "These words include both men and
women," we say, "they always have" (since, no doubt, the word
"policeman" must have been used to name the hordes of female peace
officers who roamed the streets of Victorian London).

Quite frankly, this "justification" for retaining gender-specific
terminology just doesn't wash (sideline: what's the etymology of that
term, I wonder?) for the simple reason that it's historically

And so, to make my point perhaps even clearer, you stated the position
of one side of the inclusive language debate as if it were fact. It is

And now I'll close and wait for my "off topic" rebuke from Eric.

Stephen P. Victor Phone: (713) 513-2552
Technical Writer, Software Training Fax: (713) 513-2019
Schlumberger GeoQuest svictor -at- houston -dot- geoquest -dot- slb -dot- com
5599 San Felipe, Suite 1700
Houston, Texas 77056 USA

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