CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Blogosophical Investigations
Sunday, March 24, 2002  

I try to ensure that my speaking and writing are politically correct. Since my politics are completely different from those of most of the people I meet, it means that my usages are very different from those of 'PC'.


I like my dictionaries old-fashioned. They help to build plenty of inertia into my usage of words. They defend me against would-be populist linguists and usage pundits who practise shameless reverse snobbery against all notions of Received English.

My preferred dictionary is a 1972 edition of Chambers. In it my favourite definition, for its concentrated political incorrectness, is that for 'umiak':

> an open skin boat, manned by women [Eskimo]

A definition composed by someone who would have thought no-one crass enough to believe that the verb 'to man' cannot help but mean 'to crew with a man'.

In 1972 feminist linguistic superstition and revisionism played no part in Chambers' choice and ordering of definitions for 'man':

> a human being: mankind: a grown-up human male: ...

If the feminists had checked this definition they would have realized they had no excuse for forcing the bloated use of 'person' and 'he/she', etc. on us. (That would have made no difference to them, of course.)


I've heard Brian Micklethwait say recently that PC is often just a matter of politeness. Yes, it can be, Brian. It can also be a matter of insult. As when someone insults me by declaring that I'm guilty of insulting Eskimos by using the traditional English name for their people. The function of the exercise is not to defend the sensibilities of Eskimos but to insinuate a political view of the history of white–Eskimo relations. Fine: but nothing to do with politeness.


The Encarta World English Dictionary (1999) has a huge problem with 'man', of course. Since everyone's opinion is equally valuable, it has to proceed like this:

> 1. ADULT MALE HUMAN an adult male human being

Which of course is false for the minority who read a lot of literature more than 30 years old. Dictionaries should put the interests of this elite first.

> 2. PERSON a person, regardless of sex or age (often considered offensive)
> 4. HUMAN RACE the human race in general (often considered offensive)
> 5. MODERN OR EARLIER HUMAN BEING (sometimes considered offensive)
And so on and so forth. The most amusing string of words generated by this formula is:

> be your own man to have the resources or confidence to be responsible for yourself or your actions (often considered offensive)

Encarta's usage note at 'person' includes these question-begging phrases:

> In combining forms: terms that are not gender-specific have increasingly grown in prominence ... [The only such term cited is '-person'.]
> ... the powerful trend towards inclusive terms ...

But the issue is whether '-man' (in 'fisherman', 'chairman') is really gender-specific. And the answer is: it's not if you don't mean it that way. Meanings belong to users.

So why shouldn't the ideologues say what they like? (After all, I'm an ideologue.)

They're allowed to. It's a free country. But it's a hell of a bad idea deliberately and tendentiously to render the language of the past alien and incomprehensible.

And here 'bad' can sometimes mean 'evil'.


On the same page of the Encarta dictionary as the 'person' usage note, I see the definition of a 'Personal Digital Assistant' (quaint capitals included):

> a small handheld computer with a built-in notebook, diary, and fax capability, usually operated using a stylus rather than a keyboard

Unaccountably this isn't labelled '(sometimes considered offensive)'. Don't the feelings of us Psion users, who regard anything without a keyboard as a toy, count for anything?

11:27 AM

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