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Passions in Poetry

Do we really look at writing like this?

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Ratleader
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25 posted 11-17-2003 08:12 AM       View Profile for Ratleader   Email Ratleader   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ratleader's Home Page   View IP for Ratleader

Why should we bother with people's "issues" at all? This language works. It's vibrant and useful the way it is. If it's radically altered because a few people choose to have "issues" about pronouns, then it stands to become less vibrant and useful. Worse, the most valuable and beautiful works produced in its history -- like those of Shakespeare -- would become less accessible, less understandable. It's not worth that.

There is a trend these days, to seek "issues" that we can be disturbed about, not because they're actually distressing, but as a tool with which to flog the people around us, and make ourselves feel important by doing it. I think that's the source of the gender issue in language, and in a lot of other things.

I used to have a workmate who would come to work early every single day. He would pull out a container of Lysol, and sterilize his desk and everything on it, including pens and pencils, before starting his day. If anyone touched anything on his desk during the day, he would ostentatiously pull out his Lysol and re-sterilize it. I rate his "issues" at about the same level as I rate gender pronoun "issues."

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Ron
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26 posted 11-17-2003 09:01 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I'm not sure I can agree, Ed. Just because a language is already vibrant doesn't mean it shouldn't change. More importantly, I think those who have been victimized by stereotyping and prejudice have a very valid complaint. How we talk and write impacts how we think, which obviously, in turn, impacts how we act towards others.

The other night I heard I a commercial promoting some fancy new drug, at the conclusion of which they gave the mandatory list of possible side-effects. "XYZ may, in some cases, cause such-and-such in African-Americans." In my lifetime, blacks have undergone numerous name-changes, and apparently we still can't quite get it right. Unless, of course, the copywriter was suggesting the side-effects don't apply to European or Canadian blacks? Yet, in spite of the confusion, can anyone really doubt that the more disparaging labels are a festering wound in our language that needs to be healed? Words have power.

I sincerely wish gender discrimination could be eliminated from our language, as perhaps one step in eliminating it from our society. I just don't think it's possible. Unlike race or class, gender is too deeply ingrained into our sex-driven genes, and I don't believe we can ever truly "think" of another human except as a he or she. Larry Niven, a writer renown for his ability to create detailed science fiction worlds, once wrote a whole novel about an intelligent species composed of three genders. It was a great story, but when I closed the book, I still could think only in terms of he and she, with everything else just a mixture of the two.

Oh, and your workmate?

In California, my best friend's wife developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and like prejudice, it's not an issue that should be trivialized. OCD, if left untreated, destroys lives.
Essorant
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27 posted 11-17-2003 01:15 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

"Unless, of course, the copywriter was suggesting the side-effects don't apply to European or Canadian blacks?"

Hey, aren't Canadians part of America -- Americans -- too?!    
  

[This message has been edited by Essorant (11-17-2003 01:28 PM).]

Ratleader
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28 posted 11-17-2003 11:11 PM       View Profile for Ratleader   Email Ratleader   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ratleader's Home Page   View IP for Ratleader

I think that’s a false choice, Ron. We don’t have the choice, either of trying to force the language to hold still or of allowing pressure groups try to alter it to suit their own agendas. We can also allow it to develop naturally, as a tool for the communication of ideas. If that communication becomes easier with a neutral gender application, then that change will happen, by the same process that the need to simplify communication in an increasingly complex society has led to the near-demise of our familiar pronouns (thee, thou etc). Like you I think that the language would be better if there were such an option, but I am not willing to let it be coerced, which is pretty much what is happening right now.

Words do have power, and the way we use them does influence the way we think. If we force someone to speak in a different way, we are forcing him to think in a different way. Your own illustration is a good example of that, and of the negative consequences that can come from trying to force an alteration rather than letting the change occur naturally. By that I don’t mean we can’t introduce changes as a way of trying new forms. Of course we can. But allowing a group -- any group or movement – to force a change, which will then affect the way people think, is wrong on its face. The fact that the move to eradicate our language’s default to masculine pronouns was started by a group which actually favors coercive gender discrimination is beside the point. Letting any group affect things to that extent is inherently destructive.

Yes, I’m agonizingly aware of OCD – I don’t need instruction and I would never trivialize it. But – my workmate’s hang-ups were not my problem. The fact that he felt a need to live in a sterile environment did not constitute any kind of justification for him or anyone else to force me to do the same, any more than someone’s real or pretended discomfort with masculine pronouns is justification for using social, economic or any other kind of pressure to sterilize my language. I never forced him to sit at my desk, and I never force anyone to read what I write.
Severn
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29 posted 11-20-2003 02:56 PM       View Profile for Severn   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Severn

quote:
The fact that he felt a need to live in a sterile environment did not constitute any kind of justification for him or anyone else to force me to do the same, any more than someone’s real or pretended discomfort with masculine pronouns is justification for using social, economic or any other kind of pressure to sterilize my language. I never forced him to sit at my desk, and I never force anyone to read what I write.


I don't have much time so I have to keep this short and sweet. Two things here - perhaps if your colleague suffers from OCD he is not actually able to make a rational choice about whether he forces his sterile environment on others. It's not a rational condition is it? What makes you think he can choose rationally, Ed? Secondly, I fail, truly fail, to see how attempting to include the feminine in our language contributes to a sterilisation of it. That's rather harsh. Hm, I wonder if you would feel that way if you were female? Yes, that's a very loaded question. The bottom line - language will change - whether by choice, force or a 'natural' process. (I have a severe problem with the word 'natural' in many cases. If that isn't one of the most abused concepts I don't know what is).

K


[This message has been edited by Severn (11-20-2003 02:58 PM).]

Essorant
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30 posted 11-20-2003 10:16 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

It may be relevant to keep in mind that all the third person pronouns were fairly close in "shape" to begin with in early English.


He   (he)
Heo (she)
Hie  (they)


Which may account somewhat for our inclination to the only one that stayed the same from the beginning.  That to me, would make some of it natural.  Ammend me if I'm wrong

[This message has been edited by Essorant (11-21-2003 06:02 PM).]

Robtm1965
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31 posted 11-21-2003 09:14 AM       View Profile for Robtm1965   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Robtm1965

"Ammend me if I'm wrong"

Lose an "M" Ess.
And I agree totally with K and Hush
 
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