Browsing around WordPress.com, I happened upon The Daily Post. Which I might say, is not very easy to find, so note to WordPress, suggest you publicise it more obviously.
Now, being new to WP’s latest incarnation (ie since I first joined about five years ago), I’m still finding out what is going on with their main site – and their sidelines like the Post.
As far as I can work out, The Daily Post is a WP blog that was started a while ago to encourage people to blog every day. If you haven’t read it yet, I bored for Gibraltar on the concepts of blogging every day or needing inspiration, over at Roughseas – here.
But The Daily Post seems to have shifted its direction somewhat, as do all blogs, and now appears to be more generally focussed about blogging, rather than posing some quasi-imspirational questions for those of us who have nothing to write/post about. (In which case why blog ask I?)
So my eye was taken by a post about grammar and gender-neutral pronouns. Mmm.
It was a reasonable-ish post, that stepped aside from courting controversy. Mildly lippy but no more. Probably interesting enough to generate discussion.
However, grammar and gender-neutral/gender-specific language excite passion, emotion, arguments, disrespect etc etc
At this point I should say, that without a doubt, the most popular post on this, my blog, ie Clouds, is about what to call someone who chairs a meeting.
You can read it here, if you haven’t read it before, but I was pretty surprised to see it coming up not just in the google top ten, but frequently number one. Hmm. I would have written it more carefully had I known.
In itself, though, that search rating says loads. People are actually aware of changing language, and how much it matters to many people.
Now, reading The Daily Post blog post, I figured you could divide language people into a few groups. (I’ve just been categorising every single post on this blog after importing it from blogger so I am up to this at the moment).
For those of you who can’t be bothered to link back to TDP – I’ll quote the relevant pars (yes, nice me, has got permission to do the linky stuffs and all that).
Consider the following sentence:
A person who does not read this blog regularly may find that ____ grammar suffers.
Now fill in the blank with the appropriate pronoun. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll unflinchingly fill the blank with “his.” If you lean leftish sociopolitically, you’re more likely to provide “her” (or to alternate between “his” and “her” when using such sentences). If the thought of filling in that blank fills you with uncertainty or even dread, maybe you’d supply “their,” which makes the grammar nerds squirm.
First up, I am probably of that certain age, or certainly approaching it. Secondly, well, anyone by now should know that I am nearly falling over on my left side let alone leaning – but I never use her as the main pronoun. And thirdly, nope, I have no worries about how to fill in the blank or even, change the sentence. Which is what the author goes on to recommend.
On reading this whole post it seemed to me there were a few groups, and not the ones outlined above.
Grammar people can get pride of place, because this sentence is about grammar, right? Maybe.
Well, first off, there are the people who put grammar first and live in the past. Simple as that really. ‘What I learned back then should still be correct now and that’s how I shall continue to think.’ I can empathise with that as I have been there, done that. Such people may be known as dinosaurs or fossils or something like that.
Next, you get the grammar group who obviously want to maintain grammatical accuracy but – accept there is a little bit of change around. However, they are not willing to bend to that wicked Marxist Infiltration Movement of Political Correctness.
No, these are the people who will finally accept, an And, and a But at the beginning of a sentence. They are flexible about the boring old comma syndrome.
They probably consider themselves modern grammaticists, moving with the times, still accurate, but not politicised.
And the third group consists of the ones who still want to stick with grammatical rules, but also accept that times and language change. They will accept use of gender-neutral language. They understand etymology and because of that they are flexible about adapting to new terms and new uses of words.
That’s the grammar people out of the way.
Now. How about the spelling fetishists, (because they are often friends with the grammar group). Nothing wrong with that. Or is there?
These are the ones who object to text speak on the internet (fair enough, I concede). The ones who criticise anyone and everyone who makes a spelling mistke. The ones who don’t appreciate someone with dyslexia making the effort to write on a forum – and then get mocked for their efforts. Most of us can read a post written by someone with dyslexia, or a post by anyone who hasn’t learned to spell correctly for whatever reason, so why give them grief?
Language is an immensely powerful way to communicate. Probably surpassed by graphic images, but otherwise, language shapes our ideas, sells us products, and damages or enhances our relationships.
To treat it as some dry as dust academic study is to make a huge mistake.
Which brings me onto yet another group of people interested in language. Those interested in making change, and influencing people through the use of words.
In this group you can include feminists (like me), who don’t want to read ‘him’ or ‘man’ as the default value. You can also include the very articulate and politicised health group lobbies for people who have – for example – mental illness, a disability, diabetes, autism, HIV/AIDs etc etc.
This group realises that by trying to make changes in language they may eventually even change the way people think.
I spent some years working with various health groups – and trying to get my language clear and inoffensive. Because really, what is the point of referring, for example, to a ‘Disabled Parking Space?’
Is the parking space disabled? No. That is a lazy and sloppy use of language. It is, a parking space for someone with a disability who has a vehicle – but who wants to write that? Neat get around – parking spaces for blue badge holders.
But back to the original post – about gender neutral pronouns.
Someone posted up on TDP about zie and hir. Actually they used a variation but zie and hir are what I am used to. Zie, stands for she or him, and hir equates to his or her. Easy really, take a couple of letters from each and put them together. Hasn’t really caught on as far as I can see though. And I always got confused with it. [ETA] In fact, I have totally got the above stuff wrong, so you can see why it doesn’t catch on. [Zie must be he or she? and hir is him or her? Who knows? not me.]
The discussion on TDP died though when someone came on to dismiss anyone who wanted to consider terminology and changing use –
Shoot. He/she and all other out-of-place “they”-isms are not marks of politics or unnerdiness–they are marks of a collective illiteracy with which we feel forced to deal. Why, I shall never know, nor want to know; who cares why it is popular to be confused with the very simplest of concepts? And, please, let’s not confuse correct usage with what some might call “acceptable” or even “recommendable”. And “it” is for unnamed animals.
Actually s/he is more appropriate. Not he/she. Illiteracy? I don’t think I have been accused of that one before. And why dismiss what other people consider to be important?
And that penultimate sentence –
‘Correct usage’ v ‘Acceptable. Recommendable.’
I think that means – roughly speaking – ‘what I think is right and nothing else matters.’
I forgot the final group. Reactionaries.