Thus Spake Zuska

The latest issue of Smithsonian arrived today, in time for my dinner. There are few things more pleasing than reading and eating on a fine summer day, sitting on the back patio with a light breeze blowing and the perfect toasted cheese sandwich, not burned this time, sitting on my plate.

But even a perfect toasted cheese sandwich can have its charms diminished when you find your sex so blithely dismissed in the opening lines of an article that caught your eye:

Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a craftsman sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…The man picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that he – or she, no one knows – had polished. With a stone point, he etched a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

So, it was a craftsman. The man picked up a piece of stone. He had polished it. He etched a geometric design. Okay, this is the kind of exclusive language, When We Say Man We Really Mean You Too, Dear crap we’re all so used to we don’t even see it. But see, there’s that little sop to gender inclusiveness tossed in there – “or she, no one knows”. How cute! No one knows! But really, we do know, don’t we? He did it. It was him. We just had to add that bit in at the last edit to pacify the hairy-legged feminists.

This is almost worst than nothing at all. It says, “could be women – but no one really knows, do they? The safe bet is on men.” It’s the equivalent of saying “the PC police are always watching, so we’d better pretend like there is an actual possibility that we are including women in this discussion, even though we know we’re talking about Man, i.e. men, not women.”

It would have been trivially easy to write those opening lines in a way that really, truly, included men AND women as potentially equal players in this early civilization scenario. Here’s how:

Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a craftworker sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…The human picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that he or she had polished. With a stone point, that early human etched a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

Doesn’t that give you a different feeling? My version is three words shorter, and doesn’t have that awkward “no one knows!” exclamation throwing off the flow of the prose. Science writers, take note please: gender inclusive language can make your writing better.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian Utterback
    June 24, 2008

    Sorry, but I don’t agree at all. Your replacement prose sounds very awkward to me. I think that the “or she” stuff might have been moved forward and blended in better. I know the “craftsman” thing bothers me as well, with the “or she” appearing to be thrown in as an afterthought. But “craftsworker” and “human” just don’t work either. I agree it could have been better, but I don’t agree that it is a trivial thing to do.

  2. #2 Academic
    June 24, 2008

    I personally find the use of “craftsman” (and “craftworker”) a bit odd. Why was it necessary to give this individual a title that sounds like a trade? Wouldn’t person have sufficed?

  3. #3 speedwell
    June 24, 2008

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an early human sat in a cave in a limestone cliff…They picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that they had polished. With a stone point, they etched a geometric design in the flat surface…”

    I’ll give up my historically-attested, Shakespearean, King-James-Biblical, Victorian-novelist singular “they” when you pry it from between my cold dead teeth. :)

  4. #4 Dr A
    June 24, 2008

    I definitely prefer your re-write. The fact that it sounds awkward to other readers only affirms the point you are making, we can’t underestimate the importance of gender-neutral language. In this particular example and in many others I witness everyday, the use of gender specific language minimizes or even removes the participation of women in culturally significant events in history.

  5. #5 ScienceWoman
    June 24, 2008

    Mind if I give it a try?

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an early human sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…This person picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that he or she had polished. With a stone point, the person etched a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.”

    Ok, I failed to get rid of the he or she (but I think it’s fine), but I did abolish the craftsman/worker thing which was sort of odd. If the author needed to give the person a trade, wouldn’t artisan have been shorter and equally appropriate?

  6. #6 Jonathan
    June 24, 2008

    I agree that in most cases being inclusive isn’t that challenging, but sometimes a writer wants to craft a sentence in a certain way and they hit a wall because they don’t have any gender neutral pronouns (in the singular) in their toolbox.

    Yes, they could tie themselves in knots to rewrite the sentence a certain way, but sometimes, aesthetically, being inclusive isn’t always desireable (avoiding the passive, etc.).

    I wish we had a new pronoun that a lot of writers would embrace, but let’s face it, the number of people that care about this sort of thing are in the minority. It’s just not seen as that big of a deal. We need some more consciousness raising, but people are going to prioritize, right?

  7. #7 kevin
    June 25, 2008

    Here, Jonathan, let me fix that for you:

    I agree that in most cases being inclusive isn’t that challenging, but sometimes a writer wants to craft a sentence in a certain way and he hits a wall because he doesn’t have any gender neutral pronouns (in the singular) in his toolbox.

    There, all better.
    -Kevin

  8. #8 Penny
    June 25, 2008

    This is just as plausible a scenario, no?

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a child sat bored in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…The child picked up a polished piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long, left over from an adult’s abandoned project. With a stone point, the child etched a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

  9. #9 Jonathan
    June 25, 2008

    Thanks Kevin, I feel a lot better now.

  10. #10 csrster
    June 25, 2008

    I like speedwell’s version. I especially like their comment on on grammar :-)

  11. #11 hk-reader
    June 26, 2008

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, someone sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…Having polished a three inch long reddish brown stone, he or she used a stone point to etch a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.” (60 words, down from original at 68)

    In addition to removing the non-gender neutral langauge, I got rid of the

    “picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long”

    Awkward! It’s a three inch long reddish brown stone.

    “With a stone point he or she etched…” – sounds like a very German construction w/ the verb at the end.

    Penny, I like your scenario!

  12. #12 Rr
    June 26, 2008

    speedwell’s version is great, and I adore Penny’s version. Less ageism FTW. Haven’t some companies hired groups of children as problemsolvers, because they’re more purely logical instead of relying too much on preconceived notions and traditions?

  13. #13 speedwell
    June 26, 2008

    Hey, I’m glad you liked it :)

    Haha, csrster… after years of steadily campaigning for singular “they,” I’ve managed to make it standard for documentation in the IT department where I work. It’s inclusive, intuitive, historical, and people whose native language is not English catch on readily. It’s already an English word and a pronoun. Nobody ever complains that it’s ungrammatical, believe it or not.

    Here’s a collection of blog posts in support of singular “they” from the respected linguistic blog Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?cat=27

    I’m happier than you know that nobody has proposed the self-conscious, ridiculous made-up pronouns like “se” and “whe”, by the way. Stupid stillborn things.

  14. #14 Drekab
    June 26, 2008

    I much prefer ‘they’ to ‘he or she’. ‘He or she’ should only be used by lawyers. In general, I prefer the style where the the writer picks a gender at random and goes with it. It seems to work a little better when you’ve got a bunch of examples so people can see what your doing, though.
    Instead of trying to come up with a new gender neutral pronoun, why not just give up ‘she’ altogether. ‘He’ is used often that most people won’t notice unless you’re talking about a specific person, and I think its much more likely to catch on than anything else. Instead of trying to get everyone to think about gender neutrality, just make it harder for them to be gender specific. Three cheers for Orwell.

  15. #15 Zuska
    June 26, 2008

    Let me add to the chorus of praise for speedwell and Penny! Kevin, excellent riposte!

    In case you had any doubts about the gender non-neutrality of that crappy language in the article, here’s another quote from just a few paragraphs later:

    When the migration was complete, Homo sapiens was the last—and only—man standing.

    For Christ’s sake, how hard would it have been to use the word “human” there, if it’s humans we’re talking about? And don’t give me that crap about how the language is more poetic and so on when it’s sexist. That’s just ’cause you’re used to hearing it that way. It doesn’t sound poetic to me – it sounds exclusionary.

  16. #16 Temaharay
    June 26, 2008

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a crafter sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean… They picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that had been polished. With a stone point, they etched a geometric design in the flat surface – simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

  17. #17 Temaharay
    June 26, 2008

    In the book Language Matters Janet Holmes devotes two chapters to gender issues.

    In the chapter “sexist language and linguistic sexism” she makes the case that due to common generic usages of man and he men are treated as “the paradigmatic case or norm;” thus rendering women invisible.

    I don’t necessary agree with some of her arguments but it did alert me to the usage of sexist language that always creeps up.

  18. #18 Graculus
    June 26, 2008

    “He” is gender neutral? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!?!

    The problem with using words like “human” instead of a pronoun is that it distances the audience from the subject. That’s why there are words like “they”. The reason that it is grammaticaly correct is 1) that it replaces “he or she”, which is two things, and therefor pluarl and 2) because English works that way, deal with it.

  19. #19 Azkyroth
    June 26, 2008

    Heh. Personally, I use “they” about 98% of the time and mentally categorize people who object to this usage on grammatical grounds next to people who think it actually matters when you say “No problem” instead of “You’re welcome.”

  20. #20 PhysioProf
    June 26, 2008

    I think “they” is perfectly good! Fuck those tight-ass prescriptive grammarians. People did just fucking fine using language for tens of thousands of years (or howeverthefuckold language is; I have no clue) without any grammarians, so why all of a sudden do we need them? Fuckwads.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    June 26, 2008

    Two items worth considering:

    1) The craft of stone knapping and related grinding and so on dissapeared so quickly and so universally that there are virtually no cases of ethnographic observation of who was doing what, by age, gender, even level of expertise. The entire “stone age” became observationally invisible so fast it was like the light inside the refrigerator. .. we can’t really know if it was off before we opened the door. So gender in relation to stone tool technology is a virtual unkown.

    2) Almost all innovation regarding tools, including stone, in chimps is by females.

    70K is well on the human side of the chimp-human split. The first stone tools of the stone age are ca 2.6 mya. For the first 1.0 mya, the technology is, in my view, well within the abilities of a somewhat modified chimp (modified hands, to be exact). For that million years, I would assume that females were the main or only stone tool user.

    So, in my view, we have females (I assume) in the beginning and eventually probably both males and females, though certainly doing very different things with the stone tools. (Males clearly were into phallic imagery and stuff).

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    June 26, 2008

    OH, and the subtitle of the article about “the great human migration” (whereby, in a migration, people go from point a to point b):

    Why humans left their African homeland 80,000 years ago to colonize the world

    So, if humans left Africa (point a) 80K ago, who inhabited this vast continent thereafter? Who lives there now? Oh, right, black people. (IOW, this article, to those tuned in to race as much as you are to sexism, is still very annoying…)

  23. #23 BAllanJ
    June 26, 2008

    I like “they”… but I wish you’d replace 3 inch with 8 cm.

    I’m old enough to remember when person-year replaced man-year as a unit of work here in Canada….awkward then…. not so much now.

    If you want to go back in language farther….I’ve heard that way back, man referred to all of us,womb-man to females and vir-man to the males… and girl used to refer to children of either sex.

  24. #24 ramaek
    June 26, 2008

    My native language does not have gender-specific pronouns (actually the entire language is gender neutral). I don’t like gender-specific elements in languages precisely in instances like this.

  25. #25 Azkyroth
    June 26, 2008

    Fuck those tight-ass prescriptive grammarians.

    That sounds deeply uncomfortable.

    and vir-man [referred] to the males

    I’m pretty sure there’s a cheap joke in there somewhere. x.x

    Hopefully, the last of the “he or she” fans will die out when genderqueer and associated movements develop enough visibility that the enlightened would feel compelled to add “he, she, or other.” On the other hand, some people seem to have a bizarre fondness for hideously awkward grammatic prescriptions; that’s the sort of English up with which I will not put.

  26. #26 Adam
    June 26, 2008

    Ramaek, the abundance of gender-specific singular pronouns is not the problem, but the lack of gender-neutral singular pronouns is.

    “They” works with certain singular indefinite pronouns like “each,” “everybody,” and “everyone.” However, I really don’t think it works with the passage from article.

    “Two days ago, a plumber sat under my sink. . . . They picked up a wrench that they polished.”

    That’s really awkward.

  27. #27 Zuska
    June 26, 2008

    So say
    “Two days ago, a plumber sat under my sink and picked up a polished wrench.” If it’s really necessary to say who polished it…well, presumably if the plumber really sat under your sink, you know if the plumber was a he or she. So in that case, gender specific would make sense, no?

  28. #28 speedwell
    June 27, 2008

    Well, of course you don’t use “they” where the sex of the individual (people–and the personified–have sexes, things have genders) is known, or in constructions where it causes any other sort of normal pronoun ambiguity. Singular “they” and its forms is obviously incorrect in the following cases:

    *My daughter was talking to their husband yesterday, and they told them they might have to work overtime this week.
    *Tom made an appointment with their doctors for their regular prostate examination.
    *My kitten batted their jingle ball to my older cat, who crouched with their tail lashing as if they were going to pounce on them.

    Perfectly acceptable constructions might be:

    My daughter was talking to her husband yesterday, and he told her he might have to work overtime this week. (Or, “she told him she might”, or “he told her she might”, or “she told him he might”.)
    Tom made an appointment with his doctors for his regular prostate examination.
    My kitten batted his jingle ball to my older cat, who crouched with her tail lashing as if she was going to pounce on him.

  29. #29 JHebblethwaite
    June 27, 2008

    Hmmm, intriguing comments. Let’s see if I can make mine just as opinionated. Poster 3, when your seemingly antecedentless “they” first appears, it makes me wonder how far the single sitting person is from those two-or-more people –the ones who picked up a piece of reddish brown stone (must have been dense because it took more than one of them to lift it even though it was only a few inches long). The mere inclusion of a point of grammar or usage in Shakespeare’s works or the KJB is no guarantee that it will be (or should be) acceptable today. Though I was born in 1943, I didn’t encounter a single singular “they” until about 1968, when it was part of the movement to desexify English. Then post 13 ends with “‘se’ and ‘whe’, . . . . Stupid stillborn things.” — UNLIKE “co.” “Co” (possibly from “coworker”) is a unisex pronoun-adjective that seems to have originated in a commune in Louisa, VA, and is used like this: “Co picked up a piece of . . . . [And perhaps later on in the story] Co’s finished work was not immediately accepted by the others in the settlement. . . .” Number 20, you must have way too much time on your hands for investigating the asses of all those prescriptive grammarians! Language, like many other human endeavors, gradually becomes more organized and, one might hope, more clarified. As an example, look at the chaotic spelling of the 18th century (and earlier) for comparison with today’s perfected (well, not quite) spelling. Number 25: “Co” could just as easily be substituted for “he, she, or other” as for “he or she.”

  30. #30 MTran
    June 27, 2008

    I got here a bit late, but can I jump in?

    The Smithsonian pays its writers and has editors, proof-readers, and experts on-call, so its not just a case of a writer being a bit thoughtless; it’s an institutional lack of insight.

    How about something like:

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an ancient human sat in a cave on a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean, intent on trying a new sort of stone work… A piece of carefully polished, reddish brown stone -no wider than the palm one’s hand- was chosen for its color, shape, and workability. It would take a another stone, though, sharpened to a point, to cut through its flattened surface. The cliff dweller selected the hardest, sharpest stone from the collection, then etched a geometric design of simple crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle. Millenia later, its spare beauty still speaks highly of its creator.

    Yeah, I know, too wordy, too mushy, but I’m not getting paid by the Smithsonian!

  31. #31 MaruMaru
    June 27, 2008

    To the best of my recollection, I have never been confused by the use of “they” to indicate an individual versus a group, unless the remark was taken out of context.

    I don’t understand why it’s use is considered problematic. It fills a need, fills it neatly, and fills it well. It is not a stretch for a word to describe a group of people versus a single person. Example: you.

    You can tell, in context, whether you are being addressed as a group, or singly. You can tell whether you are the subject or the object of a sentence. Does you confuse you?
    :P

    O.K.
    Maybe I crossed the line when I referred to you as a non-person noun. But up until then you understood you, right?
    %D

  32. #32 Ian
    June 27, 2008

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an alien…

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an enslaved Neanderthal…

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a prisoner from a tribal battle…

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a naughty kid…

    “Seventy-seven thousand years ago, an artisan…

    The only truth about it is that we don’t know who did it or why, or what their age or gender was.

    The only fact is the stone. Everything else is a Hollywood embellishment to make us humans, who love a good story, feel better about our ignorance. Although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t designed by any god….

  33. #33 daenku32
    June 27, 2008

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, some a-hole on the coast of the Indiana Ocean picked up a 3 inches long brown stone and ruined it with some crosshatchings.

    Silly human.

  34. #34 Samia
    June 27, 2008

    Hey Greg:

    “So, if humans left Africa (point a) 80K ago, who inhabited this vast continent thereafter? Who lives there now? Oh, right, black people. (IOW, this article, to those tuned in to race as much as you are to sexism, is still very annoying…)”

    Language like that has ALWAYS irked me. Thanks for mentioning it.

  35. #35 Cherish
    June 27, 2008

    I actually prefer the “he or she” thing. I don’t necessarily prefer it because it’s grammatically correct, but I do like the fact that it is more precise.

    However, after so many years of reading things that used “he” and “mankind” to be used in a gender neutral way, I still tend to read “they” and think “men”. When using “he or she,” the writer is actively pointing out that the person could be a women and doesn’t allow you to slip into the status quo thinking that the subject is mostly likely a man. You are immediately prevented from falling into your own socially cultured bias. It shakes you up a bit.

  36. #36 MTran
    June 27, 2008

    Ian, I think you really hit the mark. There is only the stone!

  37. #37 Coriolis
    June 27, 2008

    Not to set off a firestorm, but since english is not my native language, I kind of find this focus on using gender-neutral language somewhat overdone. In Bulgarian (my native language), it is standard to say something equivalent to “people” (which is gender-neutral) in many of the situations where one would use “he”, “she”, or “they” in english, like nearly all of the ones in the excerpt. We also almost always say “people” or “person” in places where in english “man” is commonly used (i.e. “one small step for man, …”, “mankind” and the like).

    Yet, I certainly don’t find any huge propensity for being less sexist in Bulgaria. Actually during communist times there was in many ways less sexism, but the situation is rapidly deteriorating after the fall of communism.

    Now one may argue that so long as the language is always used with such sexist overtones it will always help solidify existing sexist prejudices. And that that, is a good reason to try to change the way we usually use English – and I would agree with both of these sentiments. But it seems to me that this is if anything the symptom of a sexist society, rather then a cause (if that, since as far as I know cultures with more gender-neutral language aren’t necessarily more gender-neutral). As such too much fixation on the language rather then all the other issues around sexism (and there are plenty) isn’t going to be of much use, I think.

    But well, I guess it’s good for some exercise in how to try to make a gender-neutral and not completely awkward-sounding paragraph.

  38. #38 Zuska
    June 27, 2008

    Coriolis: you are absolutely right in noting that the particular manifestations of sexism can and do vary from culture to culture. However, just because sexism in language is not a problem in Bulgaria doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem in the English language. It is certainly less than an ultimate cause, but also certainly more than a symptom. Language does affect the way we think; it’s not possible to get around that. There are a gazillion studies that show how the supposedly “universals” of man for men and women and he for he and she are really read by everyone as just men and he. And that verbal erasure of women affects the way people – men and women alike – think about what women do and don’t do, what women’s abilities are and aren’t, what is right and proper for women and what isn’t.

  39. #39 An outspoken employee
    June 28, 2008

    In a meeting the other day, my (male) boss called for a volunteer to be the final member of a “four-man team.”

    “Oh good,” I said, acting quite relieved. “That means I’m ineligible.”

    “I meant ‘man’ in the general sense.”

    “It’s not general to me,” I replied. “No matter what is meant by ‘man,’ you are still included, but I am not. So, from your description of the requirements, I consider myself ineligible.”

    “Oh, give it up,” he said in exasperation.

    “For the modest cost of one additional syllable, you could have avoided this whole situation — your sentence would have been inclusive and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to give you such a hard time.”

    I think next time he’ll say “person.”

  40. #40 Angel
    June 28, 2008

    I recall a sentence used to challenge whether or not default male words like man/men truly convey a genderless sense of reference to human beings as a whole, or a specific sense of maleness.

    “Development of the Uterus in Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Men.”

    Oh, how I laughed.

  41. #41 Edmund Schlossnagel
    June 28, 2008

    An outspoken employee: “I think next time he’ll say “person.””

    Or, more likely, he’ll make a mental note that you’re pedantic and petulant, and pass you over for promotion.

  42. #42 Zuska
    June 30, 2008

    Edmund Schlossnagel: I have made a mental note that you are irritable and whiny, and should be ignored.

  43. #43 Coriolis
    June 30, 2008

    Oh I am sure you are entirely right in noting that people view words like “people” which are technically gender-neutral as male, in America or other cultures. In a way that was my point – even if the language is changed, without a corresponding change in the reality of women’s position in society, new ways of speaking will mean the same thing they always did.

    However, that is not to say making a point out of language may not be a good tool in raising awareness – it probably is. But I can’t see it as anything more then a tool.

  44. #44 Theo Bromine
    July 1, 2008

    quoth Angel: “Development of the Uterus in Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Men.”

    My favourite: Like all mammals, man breastfeeds his young.
    (Now someone is going to point out stories of lactating men.)

    Re the suggestion of random pronoun picking – I’ve seen that work ok in baby/child care books, where the chapters alternate. However, a book on cats that I am currently reading uses “she” for the pronoun throughout, and I find it jarring, as all three of my current cats are male. Count me in with speedwell for the singular they.

    As for “outspoken employee”, a good manager would appreciate such a correction, evidently made with good humour. It is an employee’s right and responsibility to speak up for themselves and their colleagues on such issues. Ideally, the goal of ethical behaviour would motivate attention to inclusive language, but even pragmatically speaking managers should make every effort to avoid alienating or annoying their employees in the interests of maximizing productivity.

  45. #45 bug_girl
    July 2, 2008

    I like the rewrite.
    And this is definitely one of my pet peeves, since it happens way too often in scientific literature.

    Papers about male insects just use the species names–but it’s really only about half the species.

  46. #46 Sago
    July 2, 2008

    “They” of course.

    Its the answer.

    Don’t let decades of bad school teaching tell you anything different, it is just like ‘you': singular or plural.

    Like the crappy teacher who must have spent at least an hour telling us it to write “an hospital”.

  47. #47 Mike Fox
    July 3, 2008

    I have made the writing gender neutral (largely from memory), so now no one may be offended!

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a person, who lacked ice cream or bananas, sat in a limestone cave pondering the meaning of gender. Looking out over a rocky cliff of what is now the Indian Ocean, the person picked up their well polish stone that was about three inches long – no one really knows – and etched a geometric design. To reflect the aforementioned ponderings on gender, they carved a geometric design that is widely believed to be the first pornographic image in the flat surface – a simple crosshatching framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

    Sometimes content is more important than context. Try approaching feminism with a little more humility and you won’t alienate people into thinking you are who they want you to be.

    You have great perspective, don’t lose it.

  48. #48 beeskness
    July 5, 2008

    Oh no Zuska! You must be kicking yourself over the thought that you might be “alienating” pompous asses, like Mike Fox.

  49. #49 Zuska
    July 5, 2008

    Right you are, Beeskness! I was planning on spending the entire July 4th holiday working on my approach-to-feminism-with-humility shtick, but I was too busy working on my humorless-and-shrill communication skills.

  50. #50 Bad
    July 5, 2008

    The latest Futurama movie has a stab at gender neutral language. “shkle” “shklim” and “shkler”

  51. #51 Kadath
    July 23, 2008

    I think the problem with inclusive language is that it often simply sounds ugly and awkward. The focus on rooting ‘man’ out of compound words changes the emphasis or stress pattern of words. Chairman (pronounced more like Chai’r-mun) becomes Chairperson or craftsman becomes craftsworker. And then sometimes you get monstrosities like ‘person-hour’ from the perfectly sensible ‘man-hour.’
    On the other hand, singular they fits with the language fairly well and doesn’t sound too bad; but that’s because it evolved with the language and wasn’t imposed on it in a fit of politically inspired pique.

  52. #52 Zuska
    July 24, 2008

    Yeah, those words sound “perfectly sensible” to you just because you are used to hearing them all your life…and not thinking about how they exclude half of humanity. They aren’t sensible, in that they don’t adequately describe what they set out to name. Calling the insistence on having all of humanity represented in the language we speak a “fit of politically inspired pique” is trendy and fun, no doubt, and yet completely wrong.

  53. #53 harmony
    January 28, 2010

    Seventy-seven thousand years ago, a craftswoman sat in a cave in a limestone cliff overlooking the rocky coast of what is now the Indian Ocean…The woman picked up a piece of reddish brown stone about three inches long that she had polished. With a stone point, she etched a geometric design in the flat surface – crosshatchings framed by two parallel lines with a third line down the middle.

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