Comments from Brabec Bulletin Subscribers
on Gender Word Changes
Page 2 of article,
“The Move to Change the English Language”
Prior to publishing the above article on this site, I “tested the wind” in July 2019 by sending a Brabec Bulletin asking my subscribers how they felt about changing the English language to make it gender-neutral. I got several interesting responses that are shared below. One addresses several issues no one is currently talking about.
Here’s what I wrote at that time:
You’ve surely heard how, to be more inclusive, the city of Berkeley, CA has adopted an ordinance to replace gendered language with neutral terms in the city’s municipal code. No more he, she, her, and him; now the terms will be the grammatically incorrect “they” and “them.” Can’t say “man” or “woman” any more, which means a “manhole” must now become a “maintenance hole,” which naturally leads to the “postman” becoming a “mail carrier.”
Okay, I can live with that, but do you remember the movie, “The Postman Always Rings Twice?” Now substitute the new gender-neutral word for “Postman” to see how we’re losing the “music of words” when we start messing around with the beautiful English language that has been developed over the course of 1,400 years. Granted, some words do go out of style and need to be changed as our culture continues to change, but in my humble opinion many people are carrying this gender issue too far.
In regard to changing a “pregnant woman” working in Berkeley to a “pregnant employee,” I would ask, “What about a pregnant woman who isn’t employed? Must she then be called a “pregnant person?” Sadly, this seems to be the way we’re going since Thomas Beatie made global headlines in 2018 when he became the world’s “first pregnant man.” God must be grinding his teeth by now.
While a few cities and groups of people may try to change the language, it’s only going to cause more divisiveness in this country. What speaker, broadcaster, teacher, politician or writer worth his or her salt wants to mess with the English language when all the other Indo-European languages in the world (some 4765 in number) are using masculine and feminine pronouns?
Following are some of the remarks my readers emailed to me in response to this Bulletin. (I’m so glad to now have an interactive website so my readers can easily add their comments to this or any other article I write. To protect the privacy of some of these readers, I’ve omitted their last name.)
• “You’re right, Barbara. Writing in a PC manner can be colorless, confusing, clunky and sometimes even grammatically incorrect. I just finished reading a novel in which single individuals consistently were referred to as they. Drove me a little nuts and kept me grinding my teeth.” – Beverly M.
• “Like Rhett Butler, in one sense, “I don’t give a d. . , but it is annoying to say the least. Who are these self-appointed ‘wordsmiths’? Bah humbug!” – Sylvia H.
• “Indeed. Can’t use ‘people’ any more either. It’s the plural of perSON. And, oh, what shall we do with old reliable manufacture, man-made, maneuver, and many (oops, can’t use that one either), and a plethora of others.” – George B.
• “The pronoun stuff and gender neutral stuff is surely just something that makes God want to cry. As a labor and delivery nurse for so many years, every single woman (no pregnant men yet) wanted to know if they were having a boy or girl, and none of them have ever said they wanted a gender neutral child. I am getting too old to switch in my writing or talking to gender neutral, so these snowflakes can just be offended. I’m not going to worry about it.” – Sandy C.
Below are the thoughts of Myrna Caceres at Swing Dance Swing, a new friend I was corresponding with in 2019 about chair exercises. (She got me interested in chair dancing and linked me to several videos on this topic.) Myrna had a lot to say on points no one else was addressing, and some of them are sure to hit your hot button.
“Barbara: I agree with you that this situation is definitely getting too drastic. Here is an important issue nobody talks about. When calling for an ambulance or at the hospital, gender neutral terms will only delay proper care since men and women’s bodies being different may require gender-specific care re medications and treatment. Hospital records need to be gender specific too, but writing ‘Gender neutral, born female patient,’ for example, is too long to keep repeating when documenting a patient’s treatment.
“One reason I’m opposed to parents being able to purposely have their newborn’s birth certificate listed as ‘gender neutral’ is because this can set up the child for an identity crisis early on in life. The activists go after the youth since at that age they are exploring their identity, so what better age to help encourage the movement? It is unfair because they should decide for themselves as opposed to being peer pressured, which is sometimes the case.
“I went to an office recently where the bathroom door said gender neutral. A woman walking in front of me almost went into the men’s room because she did not notice the cartoon next to it of a silhouette man in pants, while the women’s room simply had a skirt focused only on the words. I stopped her in time within seconds of a man leaving the male’s room. This is also a safety concern regarding males or females who could take advantage of the gender neutral bathroom signs.
“There are times when we need to say ladies and gentlemen (women and men). When I teach, I use the terminology of males and females (guys/ladies) because teaching (let’s use swing dance as an example), was traditionally male as leads and females as follows. Millennials have challenged me to only use the terms ‘leads and follows,’ but I defend the fact that I am preserving the history of the dance.
“It’s a running joke when students ask if I am a boy or girl when I am demonstrating with my assistant Ben, who helps demonstrate either role as needed. The humor would be gone if I cave in to just use lead/follow gender-neutral terminology as well as the classic etiquette of being able to say ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ which I’m sure many appreciate. I can’t imagine a dance book without specifically mentioning males and females, which goes back to the original topic of writing.
“No matter how much the activist for a gender-neutral world changes the terminologies, men and women will always be different mainly because our bodies are different as well as how we process our thoughts. And when it comes to clothes, they will not fit the same on both sexes no matter how neutral they try to make them.
“Gender neutral is definitely something that needs to be addressed so it does not get out of hand. Especially for those like us who would like to preserve the right to our own female or male identities.”
After reading Myrna’s thoughts, I wrote back sharing a couple of other reader responses with her, and her follow-up was just as interesting:
“The reader you told me about who wrote about changing huMAN into huTHEY or huTHEM made me laugh. Reminded me of a joke on a TV show, forget if it was “The Jeffersons” or another comedy. But they were discussing the word ‘Men’ in health-related words where women were concerned and how they could make these terms gender neutral: MENstration, MENopause, and also MENtal breakdown. Who knows how far this gender thing is going to be taken.
“It is very unfortunate that the more this world is forced into ‘gender neutral,’ the more it will affect writers. It would drive me crazy to read an article or a novel where ‘they’ is mentioned with no other reference or minimal reference as to gender. It’s in a way reverse discrimination catering mainly to the gender-neutral group, which goes into loss of identity for the rest of us.
“Maybe there should be a way for writers to challenge their rights of being able to write without being at the mercy of gender-neutral terminologies 100% of the time. For example, when writing is based on past times, it would not make sense with today’s gender-neutral terminologies.”
Thoughts to Ponder
“A pronoun, too, will aptly reflect the number of its antecedent: ‘they’ does not refer to one person, no matter how many personalities she or he has, or how eager you are to skirt the gender frays.” – Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed
“One of the undoubted virtues of English is that it is a fluid and democratic language in which meanings shift and change in response to the pressures of common usage rather than the dictates of committees. It is a natural process that has been going on for centuries. To interfere with that process is arguably both arrogant and futile, since clearly the weight of usage will push new meanings into currency no matter how many authorities hurl themselves into the path of change.” – Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
P.S from Barbara: When attending my city’s annual “Joint Big Bands in Central Park” in 2019, one of the jazz tunes, “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” had lyrics that cracked me up, and these words from the tune gives me an amusing way to end this page: “A woman is a woman and a man ain’t nothin’ but a male.”