Category Archives: political correctness (PC)

“I like it the way it is.”

 

 

Call Me ‘They’ – NY Times 7-10-2019

 

 

This post concerns the following op-ed in yesterday’s Times:

 

Call Me ‘They’

‘The singular “they” is inclusive and flexible, and it breaks the stifling prison of gender expectations. Let’s all use it.

By Farhad Manjoo

The New York Times

July 10, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spanish have el mano and the French la fenêtre.

Should we ban these “gendered” articles and insist they be replaced with new ones invented in the “language laboratory” / “incubator” staffed by technocrats in lab coats?

Our glorious English tongue has been around for some 1,200 years.

I like it the way it is.
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SOME SPECIFIC COMMENTS ON THIS ATROCIOUS OPINION PIECE (Quotations from the op-ed are in italics. My comments are in boldface.)

 

 

The singular “they” is inclusive and flexible, and it breaks the stifling prison of gender expectations. Let’s all use it.

‘[T]he stifling prison of gender expectations.” Is this an op-ed about children in cages? I thought we were talking about grammar.

 

 

I am your stereotypical, cisgender, middle-aged suburban dad.

What the f____ is “cisgender”? It’s a buzzword I can do without.

 

 

… most people guess that I go by “he” and “him.” And that’s fine; I will not be offended if you refer to me by those traditional, uselessly gendered pronouns.

But “he” is not what you should call me. If we lived in a just, rational, inclusive universe — one in which we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel — there would be no requirement for you to have to assume my gender just to refer to me in the common tongue.

How about moving to Laputa? You would fit right in there. Maybe you could secure a language policy making post there. … Oops, have you heard of Laputa? Did you ever read Jonathan Swift? Why do I doubt it?

 

 

So why does standard English impose a gender requirement on the third-person singular? And why do elite cultural institutions — universities, publishers and media outlets like The Times — still encourage all this gendering? To get to my particular beef: When I refer to an individual whose gender I don’t know here in The Times, why do I usually have to choose either “he” or “she” or, in the clunkiest phrase ever cooked up by small-minded grammarians, “he or she”?

No requirement is imposed. This writer is out of his (“gendered” possessive pronoun) depth. The language evolved that way. The writer probably prefers genetically engineered foods and hothouse plans. Has he ever stopped to admire a dandelion or oak tree?

 

 

… why do elite cultural institutions — universities, publishers and media outlets like The Times — still encourage all this gendering?

Before opining any further on this topic, about which you are ignorant, I suggest you take a couple of English courses, grammar and lit; and a course in a foreign language would be very helpful too. This might enable you to begin to grasp and maybe even appreciate the beauty of languages, both grammar and structure, their uniqueness, distinctive features, how precious this is, as a flower to botanist or layperson. Read a Great Book or two. (Please don’t advocate “scrubbing” them.) It won’t hurt. You will see that the King’s English — now spoken all over the world — has a glorious history and the magnificence of a mighty oak.

 

 

I suspect my call will be dismissed as useless virtue-signaling, but there are several clear advantages, both linguistic and cultural, to the singular “they.” One of the main ones is that it’s ubiquitous. According to linguists who study gender and pronouns, “they” and “them” are increasingly and widely seen as legitimate ways to refer to an individual, both generically and specifically, whether you know their gender or not — as I just did right in this sentence.

Your “call”? As in a ministerial calling? Why do I get the impression that you — a would be word maven and “word watcher” (read language policeman) — have no facility in (as in infelicitous phrase) or reverence for correct usage?

 

 

That’s probably why the singular, gender-neutral “they” is common not just in transgender and nonbinary communities, for whom it is necessary, but also in mainstream usage, where it is rapidly becoming a standard way we refer to all people. If you watch closely, you’ll see the usage in marketing copy, on social media, in app interfaces and just about everywhere else you look. For instance, when Uber or Lyft wants to tell you that your driver has arrived, they send you a notification that says something like: “Juan is almost here. Meet them outside.”

Whom should we entrust with setting language standards? Uber execs, advertisers? Heaven help us.

 

 

Other than plainly intolerant people, there’s only one group that harbors doubts about the singular “they”: grammarians. If you’re one of those people David Foster Wallace called a “snoot,” Lyft’s use of “them” to refer to one specific Juan rings grammatically icky to you. The singular, gender nonspecific “they” has been common in English as long as people have spoken English, but since the 18th century, grammar stylists have discouraged it on the grounds that “they” has to be plural. That’s why institutions that cater to snoots generally discourage it.

They” is plural! you idiot.

 
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Basta. (That’s Spanish for enough.)

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 11, 2019

pompous pontificating, clumsy locutions, a tissue of generalities; doublespeak … how NOT to write

 

 

‘The Dominance of the White Male Critic’
This post focuses on an opinion piece in Friday’s New York Times:

 

The Dominance of the White Male Critic

Conversations about our monuments, museums, screens and stages have the same blind spots as our political discourse.

By Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang

The New York Times

July 5, 2019

An opinion piece written to challenge conventional ideas and positions. To stimulate readers to rethink issues. To challenge unenlightened Establishment views.

It will get attention, but as a piece of writing it is a soporific.

It is built on a very insubstantial tissue of generalities and awkward locutions often intended to serve as code words. And which shows that the authors are preaching to the choir. They don’t feel compelled to explain and elucidate things for the general reader or for skeptical readers. They are confident that those who agree will get it (the points they are making) without them having to take pains to be clear. In fact, a certain arch obscurity, a predilection for almost unintelligible generalizations couched in faux-high-flown language, which, in their view — from their perspective as writers — fits the piece well. While it challenges conventional thinking, the op-ed is itself an example of weak, unoriginal thinking and a specimen of very poor, insipid writing.

 

 

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A header states: Ms. Méndez Berry and Mr. Yang started a program to amplify the work of critics of color.”

Quoting from the piece, below, I have provided my own annotations and comments in boldface. Excerpts from the op-ed are in italics.

I am not going to try and respond to the op-ed’s major premises. But here are some examples of what I feel is shoddy writing. Writing that obscures rather than clarifies issues and shows a tendency towards tendentiousness.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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Yet those who have for decades been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture are white men. This means that the spaces in media where national mythologies are articulated, debated and affirmed are still largely segregated. The conversation about our collective imagination has the same blind spots as our political discourse.

Typical wording for this piece. This is generic-speak. It is very portentous and actually says very little.

“those who have for decades been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture”

Awkward and wordy.

“the spaces in media where national mythologies are articulated”

Poor, imprecise, fuzzy wording. Also, pretentious.

 

Yet the most dynamic art in America today is being made by artists of color and indigenous artists.

There is nothing wrong with this sentence syntactically, but such a broad claim is not sustainable.

 


The example of “Green Book” [an Oscar-winning film, the critical reception of which the authors discuss] shows how uncritical affection for superficially benevolent stories can actually reinforce the racial hierarchies this country is built on. We need culture writers who see and think from places of difference and who are willing to take unpopular positions so that ideas can evolve or die.

Very pretentious.

“how uncritical affection for superficially benevolent stories can actually reinforce the racial hierarchies this country is built on”

More boiler plate generic-speak, a kind of language which says nothing and clarifies nothing.

“culture writers who see and think from places of difference”

This is horribly vague (and affected) wording. So much so that it says nothing. Critics write, they don’t “see and think.” They write at their desks. “[P]laces of difference”? This is doublespeak.

 

In a clickbait attention economy where more than half of visual arts critics make on average less than $20,000 per year from arts writing, the voices that are most needed are the least likely to emerge.

Something is said supposedly cleverly where the words are actually muddying the waters. “[C]lickbait attention economy” is a maladroit coinage which adds nothing informational- or content-wise.

 

In 2017, we began an initiative called Critical Minded to help amplify the work of critics of color and knock down the barriers they face. (The project is focused on racial justice in criticism, but we’re also concerned about class, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability.)

This is an example of opinions supposedly being stated forcefully, weakened by careless phrasing: “knock down the barriers” they face,” for example.

“[W]e’re also concerned about class, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability.”

In other words, the authors are concerned about everything. Way too broad and general.

 

Think of cultural criticism as a public utility, civic infrastructure that needs to be valued not based just on its monetary impact but also on its capacity to expand the collective conversation at a time when it is dangerously contracting. Arts writing fosters an engaged citizenry that participates in the making of its own story.

This is too general. The point is not sharply made or clearly elucidated. And, it is an example of how generic writing can obfuscate rather than clarify things. In my mind, criticism is just that. I know what the word criticism means: a book or film review; a review of a concert or museum exhibit. Criticism as a “public utility, civic infrastructure”? By trying to be profound and all wise, the authors stray beyond the parameters of common sense and lose the reader.

 

Culture writers are often unpopular, and critics of color doubly so: Marginalized by mainstream outlets, they’re sometimes viewed with suspicion within their own communities when they challenge a beloved artist. At their best they are unbought and unbossed, which makes them difficult to employ, and doubly necessary.

The authors of the op-ed may think this. But the point is so broad, and is communicated in such a fuzzy and heavy-handed manner, that most readers won’t be convinced. “[T]hey are unbought and unbossed” is atrocious wording.

 

We need a rigorous, rollicking culture coverage that’s uncoupled from class and credentials.

Same thing here. Supposedly en pointe, clever wording which actually says very little and shows writers trying to convince and impress who fall flat. ‘[R]igorous, rollicking” is an oxymoron.

 

We should move away from anointing a talented two or three critics of color and toward kaleidoscopic ecosystems of ideas and taste.

“[K]aleidoscopic ecosystems of ideas and taste” Another pretentious, fuzzy, and awful coinage. An example of writers violating the principle of simplicity and clarity.

 

Coverage shifts when people mobilize for change. It’s time for culture writing to follow culture to where it flows and to value the people it engages.

This is overly generic. Such overly generic writing is flabby and invariably unconvincing.

 
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Some of my own thoughts about the term “people of color” and associated or implied ideas. The authors assume that we all know and agree as to what the term means (and, implicitly, approve of its usage).

What is a person of color? It is supposed to mean, in contemporary parlance, a person other than a white person or a person (presumably white) of European parentage.

What is a white person? A person who is not a person of color.

Is a Spanish (i.e., a person born or residing in Spain) person white? Yes, according to the above definition.

Is a Hispanic person (who is presumably or with a fair degree of probability, descended from Spaniards, although perhaps — it often seems to be the case — of mixed ethnicity comprised of descent from Spanish settlers in the American continent and other perhaps indigenous races) a person of color? Yes, as “people of color” is meant to be understood. In other words, perhaps of European ancestry (wholly or partially), going back a way, but not now one of that group.

This divides humanity into wide swaths, with well over a half in the category of persons of color.

These “definitions” seem to be an example of what might be called reductio ad absurdum — in that, by the time we have made the distinctions between categories of persons based upon a nonsensical formulation or formula, we have elucidated nothing and created considerable confusion; and left one wondering why, for example, people of descent from this or that ethnic group end up being in distinct categories. Separated, arbitrarily, into two groups, which obliterates any and all other distinctions.

Does the term “people of color” have meaning and is it based upon skin color, as the words seem to say unmistakably? It must be based upon skin color, since whites are in a separate category from non-whites. But how does one distinguish between the races this way, and make sense of it? When I was growing up, we were told that there were four races: white, black or brown, yellow, and red. Do Asians have yellow skin? I have met hardly any American Indians, but they don’t, in photographs I have seen, look that different to me from white people. Perhaps their skin is slightly more ruddy, and they do seem to have distinctive features that I would not be able to categorize. I don’t know and I don’t care.

I think this whole thing about “people of color” and the rest of humanity (us whites and Europeans) is nonsense. It is a very crude “measuring device,” rule of thumb, guidepost, or whatever one wants to call it. It divides people arbitrarily with no rationale and negates our common humanity.

I will probably be accused of having reactionary, benighted opinions for saying the following. I believe that race and ethnicity do matter. A lot. What was my ancestry? My ethnicity? My nationality or my parents’, grandparents’, or ancestors’ nationality, which is to say cultural heritage?

Is it surprising that often athletes seem to have children who are also good at sports? Often the great athletes were sons of athletes of more than average ability. That great scholars and intellectuals often were raised in an intellectual milieu by parents who themselves were intellectuals? That prodigies in the arts often had parents who were similarly gifted or inclined? Offspring of singers and actors? Siblings who excel in the same area such as scholarship, sports, or the arts. And so forth. (A critic will say, the only reason the children of composers or musicians, say, are often musically gifted themselves is because their successful parents gave them lessons, or could afford to pay instructors, or had a prior interest or expertise that they passed on to their children. Perhaps so — undoubtedly environmental factors or what is called nurture were important — but I don’t think the fact can be ignored that there might be genetic factors in play by which traits get passed on to offspring: a “musical gene,” say, a baseball, basketball, or track and field “gene.”)

What does this show us? That ethnicity and heritage can mean a lot. In individual cases. Which will not lead one to jump to the conclusion, I hope, that I am a racist. I am not trying to say that belonging to a particular racial or ethnic group makes some people “better” than others in any conceivable way. But the group I was born into, which I am descended from — my genealogy — made and makes a difference to me. Meaning that, when I consider my strengths and weaknesses, my talents and proclivities, and so on, I can see that circumstances of birth and upbringing (the latter of which was influenced by cultural factors) had a lot to with the kind of person I turned out to be. Was I good at sports? music? book learning? learning languages? mathematics? dexterity? mechanical things and “practical wisdom”? Et cetera.

I have always felt that we should not leap from this — from analyzing and trying to understand how heredity and environment may have shaped and molded an individual, and may well influence his or her current outlook — to making generalizations or unfair comparisons, or setting up yardsticks. To favoring one group over another, barring anyone from competing in “the game” of life or getting an education or training in this or that field. It is my firm conviction that there should be a level playing field for all; and that race, ethnicity, color, or what have you — choose your own criterion — should not be a factor in making decisions about who is admitted, hired, gets a scholarship, and so forth. But that goes for EVERYONE, as I see it, all races and ethnicities, all nationalities: for “people of color” and the rest of humanity — there shouldn’t be any distinctions made in this regard between groups. And, generalities and commonly held beliefs are just that: generalities. For every example of behavior or achievement befitting a common assumption about differences among races — a presupposition someone has or that was once held (I see no point in enumerating stereotypes) — there are a zillion exceptions.

So (the authors note), the six most influential art critics in the country, “as selected by their peers” (this is important) are all white and almost all male. To me, this is not a problem. There would be a problem if women or minorities were excluded by policy as cultural critics and newspapers or magazines would not hire them. And, the fact of a critic being a woman or from a minority group might enable them to see things from a different perspective. But, basically, when I read criticism, I want it to be well written and worth reading, and to “educate” me in a way that is possible when the writer has a deep knowledge of the discipline. That’s all I care about. If a critic is good, he or she is good; and vice versa. I’m color blind and sex indifferent when I read criticism or anything else. Except that, I might realize that the critic is bringing to bear some of his or her own experience or background. One doesn’t have to ignore ethnic or cultural background, if it seems relevant or pertinent to what the critic is saying, somehow. That may add to our understanding, but if the critic is not, as is most often the case, a “person of color,” I feel that it is wrong of persons such as the authors of this op-ed to find that to be problematic, and to object.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 7, 2019

“hallowed be her name”

 

 

 

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is a good writer and a deep, earnest thinker whose moral earnestness and sincerity come through in his op-ed pieces and reflections upon injustices and atrocities he has witnessed in travels to places few columnists would bother to travel to.

He can also be preachy and boring in the manner of a long-winded minister, and prone to writing tendentious opinion pieces that read like an inferior Sunday sermon.

This is true of Kristof’s op-ed “God and Her (Female) Clergy” in yesterday’s Times.

 

 

“God and Her (Female) Clergy”

By Nicholas Kristof

The New York Times

March 31, 2018

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/03/31/opinion/sunday/easter-passover-god-women.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_nk_20180331&nl=nickkristof&nlid=76028433edit_nk_20180331&ref=headline&te=1

 

 

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“What we’re seeing before our very eyes is a dramatic shift; in my mind it’s as big as the Protestant Reformation [what an overstatement!],” says Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, who is quoted in the article. “We’re seeing a new day of understanding of who God is. When the people who are representing God, making God present, have female bodies, that inevitably changes the way you think about how God is [a perfect example of bloodless genericspeak].”

“[W]ith a majority of students in many seminaries and rabbinical schools now women, and increasingly leading congregations, it may become less natural to think of God as ‘He.’ ,” Kristof states. “Already, Reconstructionist Judaism … refers to God with gender-neutral language [heaven spare us] or in the feminine.”

 

 

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Today is Easter Sunday. I do not currently belong to a church. But I am a Christian. By upbringing, core beliefs, and basic makeup. The scriptures, religious figures, and religious holidays are part of me.

Take the Lord’s Prayer. If it were begun with “Our Mother which art in heaven,” this would be disconcerting to me.

Why? Because I am an ultraconservative? A misogynist?

I don’t think so.

What the zealots who are out to retool the liturgy in the name of political correctness do not understand — and have no respect for — is the importance of tradition in religion. And, sadly, they don’t care.

The liturgy is part of that tradition. The language of the King James Bible (for me, at least). Words that, over time, endlessly repeated, have an incantatory effect. I remember a priest making this point to a group of non-Catholics once. He was asked about saying the rosary every day. Didn’t it become meaningless? No, he said, it didn’t. The words, he explained, have an incantatory effect achieved through repetition.

Perhaps they (the self-appointed church language mavens) will be saying “hallowed be her name” next. To make a point. I wouldn’t put it past them.

You may say that I myself am a nitpicker. A curmudgeon who is angry about nettlesome women bent on achieving gender equality.

But, in my view, there is a deeper issue here, and it is the real one. When someone says, “in her name,” referring to God, or “her flock,” they are calling attention to themselves and what they regard as their advanced, fashionable views, and minimizing the importance of tradition, while at the same time deflecting attention from, or severely curtailing the impact of, the sacred words themselves. They claim to be religious. Their religion is only skin deep. They care much more about propagating their own views. It’s actually an in your face type of thing. It’s disconcerting to someone who is used to hearing certain words associated with scripture and religious ceremonies. It’s as if one used an irreverent or flippant phrase with an authority figure such as a teacher, elder, or esteemed person to prove a point — say, that I wanted to be regarded as being their equal — taking them aback and causing befuddlement rather than proving a point.

On Good Friday, just passed, and on today, Easter Sunday, I want to think, to the extent I can tear myself away from petty concerns of the moment, about what these days mean. Not about what Nicholas Kristof has to say, or the woman religious leaders he admires, by way of making hay with their views and using a sacred day as a pretext. With no regard for the views and feelings of most religious people.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

 

 

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Postscript:

It is the case — there is nothing feminists and the language police can do about it — that Jesus spoke of our heavenly father and my father in heaven.

I have noticed over the years, without thinking about it much, that in many Protestant denominations there has been a tendency over recent years for one to see women ministers relatively often, whereas there were none that I can recall 40 or 50 so years ago. There seems to be a similar trend with respect to Jewish congregations.

I never thought much about it one way or the other, but it is in no way objectionable, in principle, to me.

But, I feel inclined now, if women (and like thinking men) want to have us worshiping God the mother, to make a suggestion. That women who feel this way start their own church — it could be an offshoot of Protestantism, a new denomination (there have been many in the past) — in which church members would worship a female God: God the mother. A new deity is needed for such a fundamental change.

Brummagem (more thoughts about language policing)

 

 

This post relates to comments I received recently in response to two of my previous posts:

 

 

“her” instead of “him”; Ms.; and what else?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/12/20/her-instead-of-him-ms-and-what-else/

 

 

an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/20/an-exchange-about-political-correctness-pedagogy-and-language/

 

 

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Here are some of the comments made by one of my critics:

 

My sense is the people you’re calling the “language police” are people who want to change the language for various reasons, including but not exclusively politically correct types. They are not government officials as in Orwell’s Thought Police. There are no “language police,” just individuals who feel that certain things should change, and there are enough of them to make this a matter of material debate. Why isn’t this just another form of evolution?

 

Languages do change over time — don’t they? And they change for many reasons. If language can’t change, shouldn’t we all be speaking the English of Beowulf?

 

I know that you’re using the language police in a figurative sense, but there is a huge difference between a New York Transit official changing a recorded announcement, or changing “Christmas Party” to “Holiday Party,” and Orwell’s organized and government-sponsored thought police. What’s happening now (and what has happened throughout recorded history) is that individuals are deciding on their own to change their language in ways they believe is important, and therefore English everywhere is growing and evolving, just like a tree. No tree endures forever. You of course don’t have to agree with changing “him” to “he/she.” People who do like this change aren’t necessarily busybodies — they are just using language that is important to them, for whatever reasons. Your desire to keep old trees standing is no different from their desire to lop off a branch here and there.

 

 

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A random sampling of my responses to his comments includes the following remarks of mine:

 

Your point that languages do change is a good one. It’s enriching when it happens. Think about all the words English has absorbed from other languages. And, yes, we used to have “thou” and “thee.” Now it’s “you.” So, grammar does evolve. Let it evolve naturally, from the ground up, as it is spoken by living, breathing people, not as we are told to speak or write it by the “language police.” What you call “evolution” of language is not evolution, it’s a form of social engineering, so to speak, except in this case it’s not social policy, it’s language rules being imposed upon us.

I don’t see the concern about sexism in language as an “evolutionary factor.” I do see the change to “holiday party” as something the language police implemented. But, if it’s an office party or such an occasion attended by people of different faiths, yes, holiday party seems right. (Although I hate bloodless Orwellian locutions.)

What I care about, solely, and object strongly to is what I perceive to be attempts to sanitize, defang, and reconfigure the language in accord with some ideological agenda. I love my native tongue. I know that it is continually evolving and changing, but I am strongly opposed to busybodies trying to orchestrate this and to tell us, ordain, what is or is not permissible. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t like change. Let our precious language grow, develop, evolve, and endure like a tree. (The simile is apt.)

Of course, languages change — I would use the word evolve (as do species). It can be seen in English, including changes in usage. But, this is something that happens naturally, without the intervention of language police.

 

 

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Today, in my reading, I came across a word that perfectly illustrates what I mean by languages evolving — NATURALLY.

 

Brummagem

meaning something cheap, showy, or counterfeit (“a vile Brummagem substitute for the genuine article”)

 

Brummagem (and historically also Bromichan, Bremicham and many similar variants, all essentially “Bromwich-ham”) is the local name for the city of Birmingham, England, and the dialect associated with it. It gave rise to the terms Brum (a shortened version of Brummagem) and Brummie (applied to inhabitants of the city, their accent and dialect, and frequently West Midlanders and their accents in general).

Brummagem and Brummagem are also terms for cheap and shoddy imitations, in particular when referring to mass-produced goods.

 

This is true, organic language growth. Arising from variations in pronunciation, and cleverness and serendipity. Not from mandates from language czars.

Such words are rich in associations and fun to contemplate.

 

I used to love the word spokesman — it had an Anglo Saxon ring to it. (I am probably wrong about its actual derivation.) Now, it’s the bloodless locution spokesperson.

 

At the university where I worked, we had a department “chair.” Was he there to be sat upon? What’s wrong with chairman? (He was a man.)

 

We have servers now. What is wrong with waiter and waitress? The problem (I should say the issue), as see it, is that we all know what waiter and waitress refer to. Server is a much more vague term. We have a server in tennis and all sorts of people who serve, such as military personnel, civil servants, people in service oriented businesses, etc. What’s wrong with saying waiter or waitress? Oh, I forgot! Our language is supposed to be “gender neutral” now. Why? People can’t be differentiated in terms of their sex?

 

What’s next? I wonder if at some point man and woman won’t be abolished, and we will be required to say person. To say, in politically correct parlance, “I met a person yesterday,” with the listener being left to wonder — impertinently? — in the privacy of his or her poor, befogged brain: Was it (an acceptable gender neutral pronoun) what used to be called a man (a heretofore prohibited word) or (dare one be so impertinent to think that it should matter) that other banned term, a woman?

Language abuse — the destruction of our native tongue — has a life and a momentum of its own. It’s like the destruction of forests to make way for the advance of “civilization.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017

 

A Slap in the Face? Or, Reverse Racism?

 

 

See:

‘A Slap in the Face’: Pick of White Man to Lead Council Draws Fire

by Jeffery C. Mays And J. David Goodman

The New York Times

December 22, 2017

 

“For months, black political leaders watched the bare-knuckled, back-room race to lead the New York City Council with a mix of hope and trepidation. Five of the eight candidates were black or Hispanic — offering the prospect of a first black speaker — but two of the most prominent front-runners were white men.

“In the end, one of those white men, Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan, emerged victorious. Now black leaders are railing against a process that produced another white face atop the government of a majority-minority city that already has white men in the roles of mayor, comptroller, three of five district attorney’s offices and at the heads of various city agencies.”

… ‘This is a slap in the face,’ said Rev. Jacques Andre DeGraff, associate pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem. ‘People feel offended.’ ”

 

 

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

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my thoughts:

 

How far we have come since the idealism of those days. Or, should I say, how sad that the political dialogue when it comes to race has reached such depths.

Why should be being white be an impediment to being a viable candidate?

“[B]lack leaders are railing against a process that produced another white face atop the government of a majority-minority city. …,” the article states. What if I stated the opinion that there should be more whites in leadership positions for some reason or other? Think I wouldn’t be labeled a white supremacist?

And, what do “white” and “black” mean anyway? See my previous post

 

“this isn’t racism?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/03/this-isnt-racism/

 

Has the possibility that they themselves might be engaging in reverse racism ever occurred to the black leaders quoted in this article. Has the mere THOUGHT ever crossed their minds, troubled them, or caused them to do some self-examination?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 23, 2017; reposted December 26

 

 

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addendum:

 

a comment by my friend Ella Rutledge (posted on Facebook):

“I differ with you on this, Roger. How can Dr. King’s dream come true if positive action is not taken, sacrifices made? Reverse racism? So what? At least white guys then get to know what racism feels like.”

“her” instead of “him”; Ms.; and what else?

 

 

The reflections of mine which follow concern a point of grammar that bothers me. The usage which I object to occurred in the following article which I was reading on Monday.

 

“Casualties of the Cashless Society: Those Who Get Seasonal Tips”

by Douglas Quenqua

The New York Times

December 18, 2017

 

 

It is not a unique occurrence or example. The passage in the Times article was as follows:

“It’s a peculiar quirk of modern city life. The stock market is on fire, unemployment is down, and the average price of a Manhattan apartment is now more than $2 million. Yet good luck finding anyone with paper money in her purse.”

 

 

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Note “HER purse.”

I have a problem with this.

The reporter, if he wanted to be politically correct, could have used the awkward locution “his or her” (i.e., “his or her purse”), which I don’t particularly care for. (Nevertheless, I myself use it when I feel called upon by context to do so. But, I don’t feel obligated to use it. It depends upon my writerly instincts. In my opinion, that’s the way it should be. My or anyone else’s writing should be based upon personal preferences in matters of style, not a ukase from a language czar.)

But, the Times writer wants to show off his PC credentials with his in your face “her.” It is meant to produce a frisson in male chauvinist types. But, it actually amounts to “incivility,” so to speak, when it comes to conventions of language and audience expectations. By “audience expectations,” I mean those of  the Times’s readers. If you think this is an extreme point of view, see discussions of how a writer should always keep his or her audience uppermost in mind as a “first principle” of composition in books such as June Casagrande’s It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences. The unexpected “she,” rather than “he,” or “he or she,” produces a sensation of disorientation — and temporary confusion — in the discriminating reader.

 

 

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“[G]ood luck finding anyone with paper money in her purse” annoys me. I quoted the passage to a friend of mine (a male) with an advanced degree who has very liberal views on politics, affirmative action, sexism, homophobia, and other issues and asked him what he thought. He agreed with me. He didn’t like the use of “her” in this instance and said it annoyed him too.

 

 

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Re pronouns indicating gender, such as Ms.

I consider Ms. to be an abomination.

The abbreviation Mrs. signifies a beautiful honorific pronounced as Missus, and the honorific Miss, which is not abbreviated, has a beautiful sound (unlike the atrocious and downright ugly Ms., which is unpronounceable, but who cares? — we shall not have sexism in the workplace!). We are talking about ancient words embedded in our glorious language.

The French have the abbreviations M., spelled out and pronounced as the elegant Monsieur; and Mme and Mlle, pronounced and spelled out, respectively, as the euphonious Madame and the even more euphonious Mademoiselle. What a beautiful word.

What about the Spanish Srta. for the beautiful sounding honorific Señorita? Have the language police come up with an ugly substitute (one that does not indicate marital status) yet? I fear that they have.

I wonder if “Mademoiselle,” the 1970’s hit by the rock band Styx, will have to be retitled in the name of political correctness.

And what about the hit song “Adios Senorita” by Ivory Joe Hunter, which is still played? Title change? It’s never too late to correct the past sins of a benighted, politically incorrect lyricist.

More ominously, what about the musical Miss Saigon? Should the title be allowed to stand? Should it be changed to “Ms. Saigon”?

 

 

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This is not nitpicking on my part, and it is not a trivial matter. Ask New Yorker copyeditor Mary Norris, author of the best seller Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. As she says, “Pronouns run deep.” The PC types are all for conservation (of the wilderness and the natural environment). Why do they want to tear asunder our language? Like nature, it should be conserved, which does mean embalmed or ossified.

If a reader of this blog disagrees with me, she is welcome to post a comment.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 20, 2017

an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE

 

 

A reader of a post of mine from the day before yesterday

 

“Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/18/mozart-alexander-l-lipson-and-russian-1-with-professor-gribble/

 

sent me an email.

 

 

His response was complimentary. However, he did critique a few assertions I made, namely, the following:

I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction.

[Addendum] The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article: “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017

 

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The respondent to my post, a high school Latin teacher, wrote:

 

As one teaching a language today I do take issue with a couple of your assertions:

— to say the sixties was a Golden Era in American education is to assume it is now in a period of decline. Surely it is under assault (by the current administration, for starters), and educators have much to learn from successful models elsewhere (take Finland, for example). But there are many noteworthy successes that combine the best of traditional approaches with effective innovation.

— in the New York Times article to which you refer the teachers who ask for change on both philological and philosophical grounds raise important issues. To dismiss them as PC police with misguided and benighted theories is a straw-man argument. I, for example, will inform my students that 99 Roman women and one Roman man would normally be referred to as Romani, masculine gender. That is the fact. But this then invites a discussion of how ancient Roman society was patriarchal, as revealed in so many ways in their language, and what are issues with patriarchy then and today. The word virtus or “virtue” in ancient Rome meant manliness (vir = man) as shown, for example, in bravery in battle. In Victorian England virtue probably most often referred to a woman’s chastity. Gender as it pertains to language and grammar is a legitimate issue in constant need of review and revision, so while I might not agree with every position taken by the French women [discussed in the New York Times article], I respect what they are doing.

 

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I responded by email as follows:

 
I guess we have to agree to disagree.

I do appreciate that you read my blog post and took the time to respond and critique it.

I respect your opinions and how you present them.

My view is that

— critiquing current trends such as political correctness does not necessarily imply faulty thinking or a straw man

— languages and their grammars are organic — the product of a long evolution — and should not be messed with

— educational standards have declined out of a zeal to make the curriculum “inclusive” and palatable to all … you can see it in English and writing classes, math, social studies, etc.

I realize that you are a foreign language teacher with impressive academic credentials. It seems that you have surpassed me in the study of foreign languages and knowledge of linguistics.

Still, if it’s “la table” in French and “el mano” in Spanish and the “collective pronoun” in French for they is “ils,” masculine, I think things should remain that way and the language police should be shunted aside.

I don’t like change.

Languages have such complicated, intricate grammars. … I have read that this is true of languages of unlettered, supposedly “primitive” civilizations such as the Iroquois family of languages (which I read about in a classic work by Lewis Henry Morgan) … they are exquisite structures that should inspire reverence as the study of plants would.

To mess with languages to me is equivalent to uprooting a stately old oak tree and trying to “treat” it chemically to produce nicer foliage after being replanted.

 

— Roger W. Smith
 
  November 20, 2017

 

 

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See also:

 

“will ‘ladies and gentlemen’ go the way of the dodo?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/13/will-ladies-and-gentlemen-go-the-way-of-the-dodo/