Re: Gender

Subject: Re: Gender
From: Mary McWilliams Johnson <mary -at- SUPERCONNECT -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 27 Sep 1998 01:39:45 -0500

At 06:35 PM 9/26/98 PDT, Jeff Hanvey wrote:
>How far do we push the genderless language issue? Will we no longer
>have any words that contain "man" (there goes "mantle" and "semanitics"
>or "master?" (there goes our masters degrees).

I trust you're being facetious here, since no one attaches a gender
connotation to the words you've mentioned.

>Whatever changes do come into effect should be easy to use and well
>defined so that people who don't use language like we do can make an
>easy switch. <snip>
Remember, too, that the change would be required
>both in written and spoken English. A lot more work for the average

The axiom "Usage makes correctness" holds true, whether we like it or not.
The answer would seem to be to be to convince those who write "style
guides" to set up some good styles and promote them vigorously so that they
would come into widespread usage. What those styles are, I can't say. I've
noticed that many modern writers bend way over backwards to counteract the
sexism of past generations. For instance, they will refer to a hypothetical
bank president, doctor, plumber, or programmer as "she" and a hypothetical
secretary, teacher, or nurse as "he." Which seems a bit silly to me. I'm
much older than most of you, and I am not offended by the use of "he" as an
all-encompassing pronoun. But time marches on, and it seems we must find
politically correct personal pronouns.

>I say we should allow "they" in the singular to avoid the gender issue;
>it's used in spoken English anyway, and sneaks into written English by
>those who haven't learned , or just plain didn't understand, the rule. It
>could be just another quirk of our language.

Let's try to think of something better. Our language has been mongrelized
enough, I think, without practitioners of the language arts contributing to
its degeneration. I rather like using "s/he", and while him/her and
his/hers seem a bit awkward, I still use these configurations. (That is, I
use them when I can't figure out a way to rewrite the sentence to avoid them.)

We should be able to invent some words that do the job well and then
popularize them. Once we all (or a lot of us) agree on such words, we could
easily spread their usage far and wide by way of email and by using them on
our Web pages.

Ali Khatir suggested:
>>>'e instead of he/she;
>>>'es instead of his/her(s);
>>>'e instead of 'man (as in fireman -> firee, manhole cover -> ehole
>>>cover, to man something -> to 'e something, etc.)
I don't object to words like "manhole" at all, since I have always looked
upon "man" as short for "mankind." For the same reason, I don't object to
"manhours" or expressions like "man the door." When it comes to "manpower,"
however, I have to find a substitute.

Your ('e) suggestions are interesting, but, like you say, such words would
be hard to pronounce.

Mary McWilliams Johnson
McJohnson Communications
Documentation Specialist
Web Site Design, Development and Graphics

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