Gender & Usage

Language Group
@ K. 2002 04 30

Yesterday I began a piece on language usage which I now find unsuitable and inefficient: so I postpone mounting the complex piece and put this construction sign up in the meantime:

Language is my trained field as well as my most conspicuous talent. With regard to usage, my training matches my disposition: I’m a descriptive English scholar; not a prescriptive language policeman. (I don’t care if the speaker splits his infinitives; I do care that a speaker know what a split infinitive is before he* starts worrying about them.) I resist usage police: the more so as the regulators are routinely ignorant. I resent that media blather about usage is invariably political and not scholarly. Interference with the language is fueled by Something-Or-Other’s Defamation-League, not by poets, dramatists, or novelists.

One year everyone says “n-“; the next year everyone says “colored”; a year later the writers have to script a capital “C”; then it’s “Negro”; then “Black”; then suddenly “African-American.” [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 03 Offensive terms go dosido in fashion.]

I’ve already committed the political solecism I wish to discuss here: above (*) I wrote “he” where the gender is arbitrary. That is, the biological gender is arbitrary. The English might have chosen “one” where I used “he.” American English has shunned the seeming formality of “one.” “He” is far more casual. Now we’re told that it’s sexist: a new work invented for the purpose. Grandfather laws don’t apply where the language GESTAPO is colonizing: it’s doesn’t matter that I’ve always said “he” or that I was trained in school to say “he.”

My fuller piece will go into this from a variety of historical and other standpoints. What I want to publish rapidly is an at least brief explanation of a change I intend to execute at Knatz.com: I’ve already begun to change my normal “he” to “they.” Now we have a problem in plurality rather than gender. So what? Language is not logic. Language is not reason. Language is not science. Language is not biology. Any linguistic tautologies are invented after the fact.

My decision is activated by my son’s researches on the subject which tell me that usage used to allow “they”: that an earlier generation’s GESTAPO prescribed the “he.” I haven’t done my own research to confirm or to deny: I am going to believe it provisionally: and change my usage in the meantime: back-tracking and back-dating.

My rewrite will point out that if “sexism” is a legitimate concept, that then English is a sexist language through and through, and so are other languages: other Indo-European languages for sure: I don’t know any languages outside that family. The culture is sexist. The law is sexist. This is not something that can be cured by changing usage with regard to one or two words. If we don’t like it, we should invent a new language, invent a new society, buy land on another planet, and move there.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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