By Ray Hudson
In this day and age when there is greater gender sensitivity than ever before, I wondered about the Political Correctness of traditions which refer to ships, volcanoes, storms and even the earth herself in the female gender.
From a ship launch, “Bless this ship and all who sail in her” or the famous anthem, God Bless America, “stand beside her and guide her.” While in Canada we have our own gender issue with our anthem but on the opposite side, “in all our sons command” but I digress.
The female nature seems to be ascribed to a wide variety of things, “Luck be a lady tonight” goes the song, and there’s Lady Liberty. Why? That one may be a little simpler because the statue of Liberty is a statuesque woman who is carrying a torch. And for my money a much better rendering than something that looked like Woody Allen.
At least the weather office has stopped applying only women’s names to storms, although there seemed to be an effort in that direction in the song Mariah, from “Paint Your Wagon.” “The rain is Tess the fire, Joe and they call the wind Mariah.” Well, one out of three ain’t too bad considering Alan Lerner wrote that lyric in 1951.
So I looked at common words to see if there was any gender corruption and sure enough I found the sneaky people who created our language are definitely male oriented. Case in point: woman – womb-man; fe-male; man-ager; hu-man; (eh? what’d I tell you?) s-he; his-story (his conservative: his-tory), and the most diabolical of all, the subtle inference in chocolate as a lure – how else can you explain the name her-she? Oh sure they tried to disguise it with a “Y” on the end, but we’re more clever than that up here in the great gender non-specific north. They can’t sweet-talk that one by us.
A little more checking however indicates that before the modern age of enlightenment (that is before Twitter) the word “man” was originally seen as gender neutral, referring to humans. They say the change to the gender specific started about a thousand years ago. Man, that’s a long time dudes and dudettes!
Interestingly I found that before “man” meant… man, the word “wer” was used to denote the male. That died out about 1300 (so I’m told) but still survives in the minds of Steven King and other horror writers who harbour visions of the werewolf, which means man-wolf, Jack! At least it’s apparent in all that American graffiti.
As for woman, it’s less more a tack-on than werewolf, and from the same time period. As wer or wermann, stood for male, wif or wifmann was the female equivalent, and is believed to have evolved into woman. It’s also believed to have evolved into the word wife. As for s/he, history indicates it evolved from an old English word seo, which meant “that one” and fulfilled a need for a female pronoun.
As for the prefix fe on male, or let me put it another way, fe preceding male, we can blame that on the Romans. The female gender was femella or femina. The words for male were mas and masculus.
We’re making progess. We’ve developed work-arounds for all those “men” words. Fishermen became “fishers,” mailman became letter carrier (although not many people are writing anymore) fireman became fire fighter, alderman became city councillor.
We have one more inelegant (in my opinion) word to wrestle with and that is Chairman. Chairperson has too many syllables, and referring to someone as just, the “Chair” seems ludicrous. Imagine that taken to the extreme: The Chair, and two End Tables, along with the Couch from Accounting will be the executive committee this year. So fellow hu-persons, we must find a solution for that.
Finally, there’s one that I’m not prepared to throw over the transom, and that’s Mother Earth or Mother Nature. We all must pay homage to that which nurtures us (and I don’t mean Big Pharma). So cuddle up with Gaia, and don’t mess up that relationship, because it’s been proclaimed in at least one ad, and generations of common sense, that it’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.