It’s not what you say, but how you ‘men-t’ it
When did “words” become a four-letter word?
It is, you know, at least if we’re to believe the hue and cry of so many apparently unhappy folks. Offense is taken these days at every slip of the tongue, even when the utterance is unintentional, and there are no indications that the sensitivity police will ever back off.
“Words matter,” Liz Watson, a National Women’s Law Center senior adviser, told Reuters.
Whatever happened to the old “names will never hurt me” theory? Too bad we can’t resurrect it and put it back into practice.
Instead, we’re frequently treated to idiocy in the form of new rules, created either through official governmental channels or by politically correct demand. Perhaps you’ve heard of one of the latest emanating from the state of Washington.
A while back, Washington governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that changed about 40,000 words in state statutes from their long-accepted styles to ones of a more gender-neutral nature. In short, that essentially amounted to eliminating “man” from the mix.
“This is important in changing hearts and minds,” Watson said.
“Mankind means man and woman,” Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle said in that same Reuters account of the story.
Frankly, I’m a bit surprised Kohl-Welles even used the word “mankind.” Given the circumstances, wouldn’t “humankind” have been better? Wait, that also doesn’t work unless three of the middle letters are expunged.
Truthfully, Watson and Kohl-Welles are a little late arriving to the guy-elimination party. Changes in language have gradually been occurring through the years.
For example, since both sexes now hold the job, “mailman” long ago was swapped out for “postal carrier.” And — what a shock — that happened with absolutely no intervention from should-have-much-more-important-things-to-worry-about politicians.
Personal pronouns became a two-way street some time back as well. Every writer has learned to mention both “he” and “she” when referencing an unidentified individual, even though that double-sided generality has added a clumsy element to basic sentence structure.
But that’s not enough in Washington, where descriptions such as “garbage man,” “repairman” or “policeman” aren’t the only things legislators find upsetting. No, Gov. Inslee’s move also rids his state of words like “freshman” and “penmanship,” and replaces them with “first-year student” and “handwriting,” respectively.
Oh, and there are no longer “journeyman” plumbers or electricians, only “journey-level” ones.
Amazingly, three other states — including Illinois — had already beaten Washington to the gender-neutral punch when it comes to how laws are worded. I can’t speak for Florida and North Carolina, but having lived in Illinois far more years than a rational person should, I sure wish this state’s politicians would focus as much attention on preventing lawbreaking as they do on breaking down imaginary verbal barriers.
But why stop with legal documentation?
Let’s eliminate the word “man” from all forms of communication and simply learn to effectively deal with the omission. That way thin-skinned types everywhere will be happy, at least for a few fleeting moments.
In fact, we should get rid of every reference that can in any way be construed as a male-oriented one. Of course, that will make for some interesting discussions, especially in the sports world.
Imagine the following taking place:
• “… yes, I’m the general individualager of the Winnipeg Jets, and I’m calling about the defenseperson you have on the trading block. I’m interested in striking a deal … that’s right, the Winnipeg Jets, up here in Beingitoba, Canada …”
• “ … the defense is lined up in athlete-to-athlete coverage, which could make it easier for an offensive player to play the role of hero — sorry, make that ‘her-o’ — in this situation …”
• “ … and let’s be crystal clear about this, gentlefolks: This organization will not tolerate bad behavior by any of its players. While on-field skills are certainly important, so, too, is proper conduct. I know all of you can’t be an MVP, but there’s no reason for anyone to not be a candidate for this league’s Good Sportsfigureship Award. …”
• “ … we’re following a very strict practice regipeople in order to be prepared for the season ahead. We have a citizendate from ownership that it doesn’t want to wait until next year to start winning …”
• “ … thank goodness this fighter had a capable wound repairer in his corner, or that cut on the head would have really stained the ring floor …”
You get the idea. Sad to say, there are people out there who probably think what I’ve just written isn’t a joke, but more in line with the way things really ought to be.
Fortunately, that group’s numbers remain relatively small, but who knows what the future holds? In the meantime, I’ll gladly continue referring to “freshmen” and “fishermen” and “outdoorsmen,” and be thankful saner minds still prevail in some circles.
For that, I say a hearty “amen.”