Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 18 Nov 1996 to 19 Nov 1996

Subject: Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 18 Nov 1996 to 19 Nov 1996
From: Amos Jessup <jessup -at- VISICOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 1996 19:19:38 -0800

One person's opinion: the hypersensitivity to anything related to gender
is a useless and overblown pursuit, redolent of fear and the assertion of
victimization as a substitute for plain effective living. As far as the
origins of -man, the argument that it was not gender but species is
supported by the fact that in older English it was not the suffix -man
which distinguished gender at all! The suffix -man meant person, and the
gender was tacked on in front. In any case racing around bending the
language out of shape in order to accomodate everyperson's paranoia is just
a little silly. A better solution would be to stick to agreements about
definitions and overcome extreme self-consciousness, vanity and paranoia in
ordinary social dealings based on language. The problem is not the
language, it is in the idiotic misinterpretation of the language. To
construe "male" as applied to a plug to be somehow embarassing or impolite
is just plain ... small-minded and frivolous, to avoid cruder words.

As an offering, consider the following from the American Heritage Usage Panel:

Note: Traditionally, man and words derived from it have been used
generically to designate any or all of the human race irrespective of sex.
In Old English this was the principal sense of man, which meant "a human
being" regardless of sex; the words wer and wyf (or w¦pman and wifman) wer
used to refer to "a male human being" and "a female human being"
respectively. But in Middle English man displaced wer as the term for "a
male human being," while wyfman (which evolved into present-day woman) was
retained for "a female human being." The result of these changes was an
assymetrical arrangement that many criticize as sexist. Many writers have
revised some of their practices accordingly. But the precise implications
of the usage vary according to the context and the particular use of man or
its derivatives. * Man sometimes appears to have the sense of "person" or
"people" when it is used as a count noun, as in A man is known by the
company he keeps and Men have long yearned to unlock the secrets of the
atom, and in phrases like the common man and the man in the street. Here
the generic interpretation arises indirectly: if a man is known by the
company he keeps, then so, by implication, is a woman. For this reason the
generic interpretation of these uses of man is not possible where the
applicability of the predicate varies according to the sex of the
individual. Thus it would be inappropriate to say that Men are the only
animals that can conceive at any time, since the sentence literally asserts
that the ability to conceive applies to male human beings. This usage
presumes that males can be taken as representatives of the species. In
almost all cases, however, the words person and people can be substituted
for man and men, often with a gain in clarity. * By contrast, man functions
more as a generic when it is used without an article in the singular to
refer to the human race, as in sentences like The capacity for language is
unique to man or in phrases like man's inhumanity to man. But this use of
man is also ambiguous, since it can refer exclusively to male members of
the human race. In most contexts words such as humanity or humankind will
convey the generic sense of this use of man. * On the whole, the Usage
Panel accepts the generic use of man, the women members significantly less
than the men. The sentence If early man suffered from a lack of
information, modern man is tyrannized by an excess of it was acceptable to
81 percent of the Panel (including 58 percent of the women and 92 percent
of the men). The Panel also accepted compound words derived from generic
man. The sentence The Great Wall is the only man-made structure visible
from space was acceptable to 86 percent (including 76 percent of the women
and 91 percent of the men). The sentence "The history of language is the
history of mankind" (James Bradstreet Greenough and George Lyman Kittredge)
was acceptable to 76 percent (including 63 percent of the women and 82
percent of the men). Such compounds were acceptable even when the context
required that they be applied chiefly to women. Thus, 66 percent of the
Panel (including 57 percent of the women and 71 percent of the men) accepts
the word manpower in the sentence Countries that do not permit women to
participate in the work force are at a disadvantage in competing with those
that do avail themselves of that extra source of manpower. * A related set
of problems is raised by the use of man in forming the names of
occupational and social roles such as businessman, chairman, spokesman,
layman, and freshman, as well as in analogous formations such as
unsportsmanlike and showmanship. Some condemn this use categorically;
however, these words remained acceptable to a majority of the Usage Panel
when they were used to refer to a role or class in the abstract but were
rejected when they were used to refer to a woman. Thus the general use of
chairman was acceptable to 67 percent of the Panel (including 52 percent of
the women and 76 percent of the men) in the sentence The chairman will be
appointed by the Faculty Senate. But only 48 percent (including 43 percent
of the women and 50 percent of the men) accepted the use of the word in
Emily Owen, chairman of the Mayor's Task Force, issued a statement assuring
residents that their views would be solicited, where it is applied to a
woman. * Several strategies have been suggested for replacing the
categorical use of compounds formed with man. Parallel terms like
businesswoman, spokeswoman, and chairwoman are increasingly used to refer
to women. Also in use are common-gender terms coined with person, such as
businessperson, spokesperson, and chairperson. For occupational titles
ending in man, new standards of official usage have been established by the
U.S. Department of Labor and other government agencies. In official
contexts terms such as firefighter and police officer are now generally
used in place of fireman and policeman. * A majority of the Panelists
rejected the verb man when it was used to refer to an activity performed by
women. The sentence Members of the League of Women Voters will be manning
the registration desk was unacceptable to 56 percent of the Panel
(including 61 percent of the women and 54 percent of the men).

Amos H. Jessup
Information Manager
VisiCom Labs
jessup -at- visicom -dot- com
My company dsavows any opinion uttered in my name, as well it should.
" imagination in pursuit of excellence".

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