Gender in English

I have always been annoyed by those who dislike the word "man" in English, by which I mean those individuals who would rather have a "chairperson," a "congressperson," "all persons are created equal," et cetera, et cetera. Such constructions have no poetry, are incredibly flabby and grating on the ear, and disregard the weight of centuries of English rhetoric.

"Men" is a vigorous word, marching forward with the stride of a legionnaire. "Persons" is high-pitched and whining, has two syllables instead of one, and ends nearly inaudibly. Similar contrasts exist between "Man" and "Person." Compare the following (you might try reading aloud):

"Fight like a man." "Fight like a person."

"You ain't no kind of man." "You ain't no kind of person."

"Declaration of the Rights of Man." "Declaration of the Rights of Persons."

On the other hand, I can easily imagine that women would take offense at the proliferation of male language, given that English is largely neuter. One could compare it to a Jew listening to public declarations praising America's Christian charity, for example. So there is a problem to be dealt with.

Fortunately, there is a solution that does not involve watered-down language and weak, limp-wristed rhetoric. In Old English, the term "man" actually was gender-neutral. It had precisely the same meaning as "person" today, and it also included a collective sense lacking in the modern equivalent. The word for man was "wer" or "wére," surviving today in "werewolf." The word for woman was "wyf," which became "wife."

So here's a thought, which is shared by the author of the site I linked: what if we readopted "wére" in place of modern "man," freeing up "man" to return to its previous place of glory as a neutral word representing all of humanity? In one stroke, we would save the masterpieces of English rhetoric from the enervating influence of the Uberfeminist Censorship Committee, while at the same time solving the underlying problem once and for all.

There are a few practical problems, but nothing insurmountable. if "Negro" could be banished from the language in favor of "black" or "African American," I see no reason why "wére" cannot catch on. It's not as if English doesn't have any other homonyms or homophones, anyway.

I'm tempted to adopt the term on my blog for a few posts, and see what happens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Only problem is the quotes you chose (except for the third one) relate specifically to men (i.e. don't fight like a "sissy girl" -- or in California a "girly-man" -- or what is wrong with your masculinity) so in your new lexicon, it would be "fight like a wer" , etc.

Then again, some of us manly-girls are very secure with the standard use of "man" and we should just ignore the "mousy-persons" and speak English the way it should be.