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  1. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    Politcal Correctness

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by dwspig2, Oct 21, 2007.

    Okay…this is going to be a rant, but it’s something that irks me horribly!

    I’m all for being politically correct. Women are entitled to their rights just as well as any man is entitled to his. That is not the point of this complaint. What I want to address is the usage of “she/her/hers” in reference to some general person.

    Perhaps an example would make my point more clear:

    e.g. The writer must keep her audience in mind while she writes.

    A few decades ago, had I encountered that same thought in print, it would have read like this: The writer must keep his audience in mind while he writes. I assume the use of the masculine pronouns “his” and “he” was to remain consistent with the acceptable practice of using “he/him/his” to refer to the indefinite pronouns such as “anyone,” “someone,” “somebody,” and so on. All in all, the sentence seems just fine to me, and there isn’t much to complain about. I’ll concede that a writer doesn’t necessarily have to be a man, but the sentence isn’t making a political statement about gender; it’s manifest purpose is to convey some idea - namely, that a writer must bear the interest of the audience in mind.

    Then comes along the movement to include “she” in reference to the indefinite pronouns. That’s all fine and dandy, because the pronouns are indefinite; they could therefore refer to anyone, and that anyone could perchance be of the feminine gender. Therefore, let’s say that “someone” should be replaced by “he or she/him or her/his or her.” Those constructions don’t normally cause too much headache, for they usually fit into a sentence rather easily.

    Now we have gone one step further, however, and have started to make all non-specific references to people feminine, completely forgetting about the masculine possibility. Now a writer is automatically assumed to be feminine, regardless of the fact that men can just as well write an article as women. I see it as a weak attempt at trying to make up for centuries of ungratification towards women by a masculine society, but why do today’s women need to be compensated for the mistakes of society’s forebears? No reason exists why people today need to rectify that mishap, yet it seems that many people have taken on that task. It irks me horribly.

    I wouldn’t mind this change so much perhaps, if the change of the masculine pronoun to feminine weren’t so obvious. But when I’m reading along and something simple such a pronoun jumps out at me like that - so as to make me write a quasi-essay on it! - I believe something is awry. It’s a pronoun for Christ’s sake!!

    I’ve also encountered times when subjects have changed gender in the opposite manner as well - albeit much less commonly. Nurses have become men as have receptionists. What’s so wrong with sticking with time-honored and well-worn gender associations for the sake of clarity? What difference does it make if a nurse is a man or a writer a woman? If it’s not of paramount importance, my vote is to let things remain the way they are. I don’t normally advocate for the status quo, but this is one time that I’m doing just that!

    Rant complete.
     
  2. Funny Bunny
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    Funny Bunny Contributing Member

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    I was in "writing school" a decade ago. The same confusion existed then as now, so it is not something that has suddenly popped up. It really depends on what you are writing. A woman's magazine might assume a mostly female readership, and a sports magazine might assume a male readership. Certain jobs assume one gender or other as the majority, (Ballerinas vs. race-car drivers) even though there are women and men in both. I think you would only come across this problem in manuals, school books and the like. In a book for general audiences, often now, any "examples" can be either female or male. Often they switch every other example. You didn't mention the third alternative, which would be to use plural pronouns and subject. "All People are created equal, they have the right to liberty and so on." I think when writing specific cases, it is better to at least symbolically include all potential readers. I have not seen that "all" female gender is used for the indefinite pronoun. I also thought "indefinite" pronouns referred to a specific rank of words like: everyone, no one, someone, and such. I don't think inclusion is a bad thing. I don't take offense when I see male pronouns used either.

    English is a living language. What was relevant years ago is sometimes not relevant today. Sticking to time worn traditional usage is simply another opinion. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is trivial.

    On a more liberal note. Men are still paid more for doing the same jobs. They are given the best characters in books and also the juiciest roles in cinema (and have longer careers because they are not aged out at 30). I don't see why allowing a female pronoun to teach you how to put a bookshelf together is going to disrupt the status quo.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It has been an awkward time. No one is willing to use neuter pronouns whenreferring to people, because objectifying them is even worse than straight gender bias. Still to always use "he or she" or "him or her" (notice the convention that the masculine pronoun goes first is rarely challenged) is awkward. Using "they" or "them" gets a throat-clearing when used with a singular verb form, but if you choose a gender at random, that will not make everyonehappy either. There have been attempts to synthesize gender neutral but non-neuter pronouns like "sie" or "hir", but those have fallen flat as well.

    I usually try to swallow the awkwardness and use "he or she" / "him or her", but sometimes default to the old standard of the masculine pronoun for brevity.

    But really, I think we are still waiting for an acceptable new standard.
     
  4. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    i was going to say, a lot of the time it depends on the audience you are writing for. if you are writing something that is mainly going to be read by women, then say she, her etc. if males, then say he and him. however, when it comes to an article that both will be reading their is a problem. you can either say

    "The author must keep their audience in mind when they write"

    i see nothing wrong with saying the sentence like that to be honest with yiu. another thing you could try is by giving and example and making the exmaple male or female. that way you can keep reffering back to the example that yo used throughout your article.

    also, i think that it can depend on what gender the writer is. being female, i tend to use "she and her" as my general pronoun rather than "him", which is probably because i am a lass. a man would more likely use "he and him" i think. to be honest with ya, when writing something like that though, i don't think people look too closely for you being politically correct; most people realise that you are meaning a general person, and not just a male.

    hope this helps any, and yea, i can see your problem.
    Heather
     
  5. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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  7. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to use personal pronouns and 'one'...
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what 'we'?... i sure haven't, and i'm a 'she'!... and i haven't even seen this being done anywhere, so where did you get the idea it's a foregone conclusion and universal, as you seem to be saying?
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but you are wrong. The use of they in a singular context is grammatically incorrect, even though its usage that way is on the rise. Refer to article 27 in the Little, Brown Compact Handbook Fourth Edition, or Chapter 15 of the Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers.

    The issue of geneder agreement is resulting in a movement to loosen this rule, but to date, I am not aware of any formal references on grammar which endorse it.

    Much of what is in Chaucer and Sjakespeare does not follow modern usage rules. Although these are marvellous works of literature, they are not canonical references for correct modern grammar.
     
  10. Scavenger
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    Scavenger Senior Member

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    *snicker* If I had my way, Shakespeare would be canonical.

    I've had this argument before, and in the process been accused of being unfaithful to my sex, but...here goes. I've never had a problem with using masculine pronouns to define something indefinite. I don't find it sexist, or bigoted, or trying to put women down, or anything in that manner. Its simply a general term that has been accepted into mainstream culture and has stayed there for centuries. Certainly, a couple hundred years ago the masculine pronouns referred exclusively to men, and that was biased, yes. But today, they are nothing but pronouns, and convey the same general term.

    If you know the correct gender, use it. If you don't, then I'm fine wiht the masculine one.

    On the subject of "they," I don't mind it, but it does get awkward. Not as awkward as "he/she," but awkward nonetheless. I do hate "he/she" though, mostly because my Lit teacher last year would mark me down everytime I didn't use it and then yell at me about it for a couple minutes.

    Cheers.
     
  11. Weaselword
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  12. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    ermm, can i just ask, why does this matter so much anyways?? i mean, if you are going to have the idiots who want you to be 100% politically correct then i say stuff them, they are only causing problems for themselves. just aim to get your messgae across as best as you can and most popel will be listning to what you are saying, not what pronoun you are using.
     
  13. Weaselword
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  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are grammar references used in the UK, and in most respects they say the same things as the grammar references in the US.

    It's fine to go ahead and scoff at the style guides, and regard them as irrelevant. But if someone asks what the grammar rules are, then definitive guides are where the answers are to be found.

    Any writer has a choice whether to adhere to the grammar rules or to pretend they don't exist. And every publisher has the choice of accepting or rejecting work on any basis, including adherence to formal grammar.

    There are legitimate differences between countries, as to what is proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. When you believe such a difference exists, please cite a definative reference.

    And please dispense with disparaging remarks about other writers in other countries.
     
  15. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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    If Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen, Wilde and the King James Bible all agreeing are insufficient, then I have to ask: What is a definitive reference? Can the author of a style guide credibly contradict these people?

    In the US, yes. Style guides are authorities, so in practice the US has a prescriptive grammar. Not so elsewhere, for the style guides are descriptive in nature.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A definitive reference is a contemporary grammar guide written in and for the UK. They do exist.

    As for the three notables, please attend the word contemporary. Grammar and style rules do change as language evolves.

    If you believe grammar and style guides are irrelevant, then ignore them. Just do not expect everyone else to do so. And if a question about grammar arises, the answer is found in those style guides.

    Comments like:
    are out of line.
     
  17. Weaselword
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    Weaselword Banned

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  18. ap Oweyn
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    ap Oweyn Member

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    The question is whether it would have irked you horribly had this issue never been tackled. If the decisionmakers had said "you know, it's fine as is," many of us would never have given it any thought. You said yourself that "he" is understood to mean "he or she." But that being the case, then "she" is also understood to mean "he or she." In which case, the implication is NOT that only women can be writers, anymore than "he" would indicate that only men can do any of the things the masculine pronoun has been applied to for years.

    It's the most elegant solution I've seen actually. "He/she" is ungainly and takes up a lot more space than needs be. "They" is technically wrong because it's plural (though that's another solution that's been floated over the years).

    Either it matters or it doesn't. It can't not matter so long as the solution is one that we're comfortable with but suddenly matter when the solution is one that annoys us. If the word choice carries meaning in one case, then it has to carry meaning in the other.

    The wisest thing I've ever heard on the subject of multicultural affairs (gender being a culture in a broad sense) is that we'll never understand another culture or viewpoint as long as we're afraid to be changed by it. Now, "afraid" in this case is actually "annoyed." But the net effect is the same.

    It seems to me that, generally, when someone says a thing "isn't a big deal" and "was working fine," it means that things were going comfortably for them and working in their favour.

    I mean no insult by that. I think it's habit, not maliciousness. And we all do it.



    Stuart
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is not contrary to US practice. Grammar rules are based on common usage, but usage changes are only adopted when the practice is sufficiently widespread to be considered "accepted practice". What publishers will accept plays a large role in the decision.

    Even the OED you cited considers the use of "they" to represent a gender neutral singular pronoun to be an emerging practice, and still controversial. Did I not say, "even though its usage that way is on the rise?"

    Please note, a dictionary is less authoritative when it comes to grammar rules than is an accepted scholarly reference to grammar, usage and punctuation. The Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar and the Penguin Guide to Punctuation appear to be widely accepted reference texts to grammar and punctuation in the UK. The OED, of course, is a primary reference to correct spelling in the UK.

    The approaches are not different in the UK and the US.

    Such assertions do take place, and it's easy enough to point out that the spelling differs according to what dialect of English is being adhered to. It can be responded to respectfully.

    Let me again clarify. I have no objection to anyone pointing out national differences in the rules. I will be more easily persuaded if an authoritative reference is provided to back it up. There are some differences from one country to the next, but they are not as wide as some would claim.

    I welcome information anout those differences, and I'm sure everyone else does too.

    However, what cannot and will not be tolerated is ridicule and sarcasm directed toward those with whom you don't agree. Respect for other members here is not optional.
     
  20. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    have you actually enetered a piece to a publisher and had it sent back because it was not politically correct like?? we are writers, as you said, part of our job is to communicate in our way, saying what we want to say and making sure everyone understands. we are not polititians who need to be all politically correct or anything, only writers who's job is to write. and anyways, if the publisher does have a problem with it, simply ask them do they have any preferences, as each publisher probs has a differnt attitude towards it.
     
  21. Weaselword
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  22. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    yea but grammer is differnt though isn't it? i dunno, i just guess the way i see it is that it aint such a big deal if you say "he" instead of something including both. people shouldn't be so picky i don't think. like i said, if in doubt, ask the publishers
     
  23. Karpi
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    People!!!!! nobody cares if you say 'they'
     
  24. dwspig2
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    People should care...

    Furthermore...I know lots of people who will hold such a conversation with an aquaintance and not bat an eye:

    Person 1: "How are you?"
    Person 2: "Good. How about you?"
    Person 1: "I'm good."

    The correct usage is "well" in that instance, and reading it you probably agree. Usage would say that "good" is the right form, but grammar is that "well" is the right form. No one has changed grammar rules to reflect this idea, so there shouldn't be any reason to adopt "they" as a reference for "anyone" or the like. It just doesn't make sense. People also say a lot of other things that are wrong. "I laid under the tree all day." That's not correct. "I seen it." That's not right either. I suppose we should allow them to slide though, because that's how people talk and use the words - languages live and there shouldn't be any rules for that living.

    And...maia...I've read the instances of "she" for a while now. The last example - the one that caused me to write the rant - was found in "The Writer." When I went back later last night to read another article in the same magazine, the same situation happened again. It's happening. I wouldn't make it up.
     
  25. Funny Bunny
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    That is a really great quote, and totally true as far as I am concerned.

    Oh and I don't think style guides in the US really matter past Grammar/High School (K-12) and also for formal business writing, in that case most fields have their own style guide. Obviously they are great for looking up "rules" a writer may have forgotten. Writing fiction at College level and beyond is not that perscriptavist, except to say, most sentences should have some sort of subject and object, and yes, there are punctuation rules. (Other Rules like getting rid of Adjectives are actually not rules-- they are suggestions). In fact, one of the reasons I say that I don't really listen to random critiques is that often they are from perscriptavists, or lower-level (grade) students. The Best writing schools (like Iowa Writer's Workshop) accept (only) students who think and create for themselves beyond the tethers of perscriptavism. They look for individualism, not conformity. I think, in fact that if it is too conformist, you may as well not call it Art, creative, individual or any other tag which sends it outside mindless drudgery, because reading perscriptavist literature is pretty much like cleaning pots and pans.
     

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