mistaken etymology
April 7, 2003 04:22 PM

People tend to place judgements on words and assign their own etymologies to words based on sound and spelling. I have no idea why we do this, but it bothers me.

Specifically - and I know I've talked about this in other fora before, but not all consolidated like this - feminists in the 1970's who were otherwise logical, passionate, and many other things approaching brilliance nevertheless came up with a whole new view on language that twisted etymology in frightening ways.

I do realize that the overall premise of rethinking pronouns and suffixes and the like was good. I like s/he, his or her, actor in liew of actress and such. The assumption of male gender in pronouns does, after all, exclude 50% of the English-speaking population, and it really is silly for genderless English to have invented the suffix "-ette". Complete agreement here, even with the now ubiquitous "everyone get their jacket" that we were told over and over was wrongbadgrammaticallyincorrect.

What I have never really grasped can be summed up in two words: wimmin (or womyn) and herstory. All the writing I've seen on these two words either ignores etymology or misrepresents it.

A "woman" is not a man with a wo, but a wo-person (well, actually a "wif-person"; a man was once a "waf or wap-person"). I can see making an argument for calling men something non-neutered, but keeping the pronunciation of woman and spelling it to avoid the word man strikes me as totally unnecessary.

And "herstory" - well, I'll accept this when used to refer specifically to women's history. It's rather cute, I admit. But using it because you don't like the word his in your history is just annoying. It's Latin, people. A language with gender, yes, but a language that doesn't include any gender-based pronoun sounding or spelled remotely like "he".

What I'd like to see is something more radical around our gendered nouns.

For instance. What if everyone became a person? It would eliminate any need for gender hedging by anyone in a sexual preference closet; you'd refer to the "person I'm seeing" or your "companion" no matter what their gender and your preference. Can you imagine a world where it actually didn't matter?

I'm serious here, people. Substitute "person", and you eliminate the duality of gender (which is at least partially cultural, and just doesn't fit some people). Because the feminists who came up with the "womyn" concept did have something right: the way you use language influences the way you think about other people. If you didn't hear constant, casual references to gender in your daily conversation, how would it change the way you think?

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your wicked thoughts

"Partner" is another good one. I've noticed a lot of people (gay and straight, male and female) using in the department I'm in. There's one couple who refer to eachother as "partners"--one male, one female, both with different last names. You hear the word "partner" and you start wondering if they are married or not, if they are gay or straight, etc. and no one really knows (unless they want to tell). I guess that's the point. I might try it sometime...When does a "person I'm dating" qualify as a "partner" though?

these are the thoughts of Jordynn on April 8, 2003 09:42 AM

I think a "person you're dating" becomes a partner when they move in. ;)

When you think about it, it just makes sense to take some of the gender out of our conversation - it eliminates certain awkwardnesses, levels the playing field. And it could be a show of solidarity, on a certain level.

these are the thoughts of april on April 8, 2003 11:50 AM
















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