Observations on Language (Mostly)
by Martin Green.
Before getting to our main subject I have to say something about
this LLA (Lifes Little Annoyance). Observations readers know
that I consider todays airplane/airport experience to be on a par with
the bubonic plague. Nevertheless, taking a plane somewhere is sometimes
necessary. This was the case when we were invited to visit Beverlys
brother Lawrence and his wife Carol, who live in Edmonds, Washington, near
Seattle. We checked out flights coming and going and then called the airline as
wed accumulated a lot of air miles using our credit cards and wanted to
use them. First, getting through to an airline person required a wait of over
an hour, during which time we had our phone on speaker. Id almost
forgotten the call when suddenly a voice came over the speaker. I rushed to the
phone before the airline person could hang up. Refraining from asking if she
was the only human being still being employed by the airline, I asked about
using our air miles.
The airline person, a woman, was very nice. First, she informed
us that for our less than two-hour flights we needed 50,000 miles each. Ouch!
She checked the miles we had (less than 50,000 each), then the dates we wanted
to fly, then alternate dates, but found no flights for which we could use our
miles. So its true, you can rack up frequent flier miles but dont
expect to be able to use them. Just another reminder of our friendly skies,
like cramped seats, late flights, fees for luggage, pillows, blankets, peanuts
and using the rest rooms (this last is bound to come). At least our legislators
have responded to the outcry against the phony air controller cuts and have
found a way to keep them on the job. Guess the outcry made them afraid they
wouldnt get re-elected, or maybe their own air travel plans were being
Okay, with that out of the way, on to a subject that, as a
writer, has always interested me, the use of words and language. You may have
noticed that in reporting about any crime our illustrious media just about
always has to insert the word alleged, as in the alleged
murder or the alleged murderer. Now I understand that under
our judicial system a person is presumed innocent unless found guilty. Nothing
wrong with that. But what about a murder that was on video and to which someone
has confessed. Do we still have to say alleged? Evidently we do
because thats whats done. I think what brought this to mind was the
recent Boston Marathon bombings when I heard them referred to as
alleged although I saw them on television and when the bombers were
referred to as alleged when one was killed and the other one
wounded and has since said he and his brother did it.
I think that the use of alleged is just one instance
of something thats affected our language for some time and that is PC,
political correctness. We must be careful not to label a person as a killer,
even when hes confessed, lest we somehow infringe on his civil rights.
Incidentally, to go back to the Boston Marathon bombings for a moment, I know
that your first thought when the younger brother was captured and not killed
was, Gee, I hope his civil rights are not violated. It wasnt
your first thought? Well, in any case, there was no need to worry as some judge
interrupted his interrogation to read him his Miranda rights and, surprise,
surprise, he immediately clammed up.
Uh oh, I see from re-reading the previous paragraph that
Ive broken the PC rule about gender by writing even when hes
confessed, lest we somehow infringe on his civil rights. The PC way is to
write even when he or shes confessed, lest we infringe on his or
her civil rights. Otherwise, were implying that a female is less
capable of being a confessed killer than a male and that of course would be
denigrating women, something we certainly dont want to do. By the way, it
used to be understood that the word man meant man or woman and the
word his meant his or her, so that writers, myself included,
didnt have to resort to such clumsy usage as man or woman, he or she and
him and her.
This brings us to another item that recently caught my interest:
the state of Washington has passed a gender-neutral language law. Any word that
might possibly be considered to have a gender bias is to be eliminated.
Examples are: fireman is replaced by firefighter,
ombudsman becomes ombud, journeyman becomes
journey level, freshman is first year, and
policeman is shortened to police. The article I read
quotes a senior adviser to the National Womens Law Center as
saying This is important in changing hearts and minds, although
about what and how the change is effected is not clear.
What seems clear is that our language is being further confused
in the cause of PC and that any use of man is now evidently
illegal. So I suppose that in Washington you cant say Man, oh
man, anymore. And what about manhole cover,
penmanship, Man the lifeboats, and
Superman, not to mention mandate, manifest,
manage and so on and on? Well, I guess the only surprising thing
about this is that our state of California hasnt thought of such a law
yet. As mentioned above, we are going to the state of Washington later this
year. When there Ill have to remember not to refer to our cat by his full
name, Shandyman, but abbreviate it to Shandy. Otherwise, I guess the Washington
PC police will come and get me.
Faithful Observations readers know that I usually
steer clear of controversies so if this column has offended anyone of any
gender, Ill just say that I allegedly wrote this
alleged column. That should manage to get me off the hook.
Manage? Cant win.
Read old page 94s here.