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Re: unsusribbe

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 'man' centric. 

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 "virtue").

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 desk.

Richard Zvonar, PhD      
(818) 788-2202