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Title: Re: unsusribbe
At 10:38 AM -0700 7/26/01, Bret wrote:
If Walkman, and JamMan are offensive,
what about Human, Woman, and
Mankind? Clearly these are
It's a little tricky to evaluate the "sexist content"
of some of these words, since usage changes over the ages.
"Human" is from the Latin "HVMANVS," which in turn
derives from "HOMO." HOMO means "human being"
as opposed to "beast." The Latin word for "man" as
opposed to "woman" was VIR (as in "virile" or
So you can justifiably argue both sides of the issue in these
cases, but sometimes it gets a little silly (as in "herstory"
- the "his" bit in "history" has nothing to do
with the possessive form of "he"). I personally avoid
using "hysterical" as misogynistic ("hystera" is
Greek for "womb"), and try to use (e.g.) "chairperson"
or "chair" and avoid "actress," "victrix,"
and the like, but it's not worth getting too obsessive.
Here's something amusing and/or informative:
Traditionally, many writers have
used man and words derived from it to designate any or all of
the human race regardless of sex. In fact, this is the oldest use of
the word. In Old English the principal sense of man was "a
human," and the words wer and wyf (or wępman
and wifman) were used to refer to "a male human" and "a
female human" respectively. But in Middle English man
displaced wer as the term for "a male human," while
wyfman (which evolved into present-day woman) was retained
for "a female human." Despite this change, man continued to
carry its original sense of "a human" as well, resulting in an
asymmetrical arrangement that many criticize as sexist.
*Nonetheless, a majority of the Usage Panel still accepts the generic
use of man, although the women members have significantly less
enthusiasm for this usage than the men do. For example, the
sentence If early man suffered from a lack of information, modern
man is tyrannized by an excess of it is acceptable to 81 percent
of the Panel-but a breakdown by sex shows that only 58 percent of
the women Panelists accept it, while 92 percent of the men do. A
majority of the Panel also accepts compound words derived from
generic man. The sentence The Great Wall is the only
man-made structure visible from space is acceptable to 86 percent
(76 percent of the women and 91 percent of the men). The sentence
"The history of language is the history of mankind"
(James Bradstreet Greenough and George Lyman Kittredge) is acceptable
to 76 percent (63 percent of the women and 82 percent of the men). The
Panel finds such compounds less acceptable when applied to women,
however; only 66 percent of the Panel members (57 percent of the women
and 71 percent of the men) accept the use of the word manpower
in the sentence Countries that do not permit women to participate
in the work force are at a disadvantage in competing with those that
do avail themselves of that extra source of manpower. *Similar
controversy surrounds the generic use of -man compounds to
indicate occupational and social roles. Thus the use of
chairman in the sentence The chairman will be appointed by the
Faculty Senate is acceptable to 67 percent of the Panel (52
percent of the women and 76 percent of the men). Approval rates fall
much further, however, for -man compounds applied to women.
Only 48 percent (43 percent of the women and 50 percent of the men)
accept the use of the word in Emily Owen, chairman of the Mayor's
Task Force, issued a statement assuring residents that their views
would be solicited. A majority of the Panelists also rejects the
verb man when used to refer to an activity performed by women.
Fifty-six percent of the Panel (61 percent of the women and 54 percent
of the men) disapprove of the sentence Members of the League of
Women Voters will be manning the registration
Richard Zvonar, PhD