When I heard the news on the radio, I almost ran my car off the road.
Washington state, the network newscaster said, has outlawed what it calls gender-specific terminology so that, for example, new college students are no longer are freshmen, but “first year students.” Likewise, if you have a worm on your pole, you are not a fisherman, but a “fisher.”
The last place I had seen that last term was in Matthew 4:19, when Jesus said: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Of course, he did add “men” there at the end.
I regained control of my car and safely made it home, eager to find out whether this was news or madness.
I found an Associated Press article that said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had OK’d the last part of a six-year plan to make laws “gender-neutral.”
That’s fine so far as it goes. For instance, the article says the state has replaced firemen with “firefighters,” clergymen with “clergy” and policemen with “police officers.” Most newspapers already use such terms in an effort to be fair to all two sexes.
The latest edict says to call an ombudsman an “ombuds” and penmanship “handwriting.” Penmanship and handwriting aren’t exactly the same thing, though, and as for the other, whacking off part of ombudsman doesn’t help me figure out what it means.
The Toronto Sun pointed out that “journey-level plumber” has taken the place of “journeyman plumber.” That reminded me that when I was in the service, I was a communications yeoman, but then, so were the women stationed in our building. (Except for the women who were radiomen or draftsmen.)
Now, to be sure, some terms need updating to the 21st century, and newspapers have adopted ways to make sure all their readers get invited to the senior prom. Oops, I mean fourth-year student prom; “senior” robs younger people of their birthright, doesn’t it?
For instance, it’s easy to change such terms as “manning the booth” to “staffing the booth” because it hurts no one and perhaps does a little good. But some misguided attempts at reform would make Webster burn his books.
People who can’t tell the sexes apart have become afraid of the very words “man” and “woman.” They will say someone has been named the “chair” of a department. The chair? No, that is the position the chairman or chairwoman holds. In the rare times that we don’t know whether Pat Smyth is a man or a woman, we might say “chairperson,” but “-person” words just sound stupid.
There is no shame in being a man or a woman. After all, “man” comes from a word meaning “human person, male or female.” “Woman” started out as “wife-man,” or “woman-man.” And neither is a piece of furniture to sit on. That’s a chair.
That’s one man’s view. Yours might be different. Let me know.