Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Sexism (5).

Sexism (5). Today: Words with “man-” and “-man.” Throughout the English-speaking world, writers’ awareness of sexism rose most markedly during the 1980s. American businesspeople and journalists have begun to write in more neutral language, sometimes obtrusively neutral — e.g.: o “The ice cream mixture is placed in the frozen canister and turned automatically, thus eliminating the use of salt, ice and personpower [read ‘labor’ or ‘toil’].” Vivian Taylor, “A Passion for Ice Cream,” Fresno Bee, 14 Aug. 1996, at E1. o “The University of Iowa Office of the Ombudsperson [read ‘Ombuds Office’?] saw 386 new clients during fiscal 1996-97, up 7 percent from a year ago.” “More Clients Visit U of I Ombudsperson [read ‘Ombuds’],” Des Moines Register, 16 Aug. 1997, Metro §, at 5. As a nonsexist suffix, “-person” leaves much to be desired. For every *”chairperson,” *"anchorperson," and *"tribesperson," there is a superior substitute: “chair,” “anchor,” and “tribe member.” Words ending in “-person” are at once wooden and pompous. Many words that ended in “-man” have been successfully transformed without using “-person,” among them “police officer,” “firefighter,” and “mail carrier.” Some of the extremes to which the trend has been taken seem absurd, such as *"herstory" (to avoid “his”), *"womyn" (to avoid “men”), and the like. For the more ardent reformers, the line-drawing often doesn’t seem to be tempered with good sense. For example, in 1992, Time magazine reported that “NASA will no longer refer to ‘manned’ flights but will describe the missions as ‘habitated’ and ‘uninhabitated,’ or ‘crewed’ and ‘uncrewed.” Female astronauts find these linguistic aerobics foolish. Says one: “Common sense is the victim of all this rhetoric.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Next: Differentiated Feminine Forms. *Invariably inferior forms. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “For some centuries, . . . linguists and other commentators on language have allowed their opinions of women to color their views of women’s language and the many connections between grammar and gender. Even the term woman has been incorrectly derived from ‘woe to man’ through folk etymology.” Dennis Baron, Grammar and Gender 5 (1986).
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