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Jack Smith

For what shall it profit a person, if he/she shall gain the whole word, and lose his/her own goal?

April 03, 1986|Jack Smith

Though I know that the language seems to favor men, especially in such occupational terms as hit man , hangman and trash man , and in the generic pronoun his , as in "Let every person do his duty," I still deplore and wage constant war against the use of person as a suffix in general--as in councilperson --and against such hideous hermaphrodites as s/he , which no sensitive person could ever write.

I applaud and support the presence of women in every walk of life, at every level. I believe that in pursuit of such equal opportunity the language can and should be desexed in many ways--for example by reconstructing sentences to read, "Let us all do our duty," instead of "Let each man do his duty"; but the awkward substitution of person for man in such monstrosities as freshperson and person hole covers can only make feminism seem foolish and retard its progress.

One word that does seem to have become established is chairperson , though many sensible feminists reject even that. For the last several years, the National Assn. of Parliamentarians has resolved that its members must use the word chairman instead of chairperson . Chairman has served both sexes for many years without confusion.

Of late, evidently in a misguided attempt to escape the sexless chairperson , some chairmen are calling themselves chairs , a chair being, of course, an inanimate object.

What brings me back to this unresolved question is a letter from Quentin Riggs of Huntington Beach, reporting on the peculiar desexing of hymns at a Garden Grove church whose choir he sang in for 10 years.

It seems that, despite the presence of a full-time director of music on the staff, the minister's wife had to approve the words of every hymn before it could be sung.

"The words man and men (meaning mankind) appear frequently in hymns and choir anthems," Riggs explains. "For example, 'Rise Up, O Men of God,' and 'Once to Every Man and Nation,' 'Turn Back, O Man,' 'Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men,' etc.

"About 10 years ago (the minister's wife) started changing the words to eliminate the despised man and men . Eventually it got to be ridiculous. We had an anthem that contained the line, 'The wise man built his house on a rock,' and we were told to sing, 'The wise one built a house. . . .'

"I protested to the choir director, saying that we were not singing about a woman who was being called by a masculine appellation. We were singing about a man, so why not call him a man. My complaint fell on deaf ears.

"Things deteriorated even further. We had an anthem that referred to Jesus as 'the Son of God.' This was deemed to be inappropriate, and the phrase was changed to 'the Child of God.' No joke!

"About this time the soprano soloist mentioned that she was scheduled to sing 'Sweet Little Jesus Boy' in a forthcoming service, and she wondered if she would be required to change it to 'Sweet Little Jesus Person.' I resigned from the choir shortly after that. . . ."

Just recently a quotation of mine was among three for which the Pasadena Journal of Business was rudely castigated and blackmailed (with threats to boycott its advertisers) by the National Women's Political Caucus/Pasadena. (Lunatic feminists love the virgule.)

The offensive quotation was one I wrote long ago when the feminists seemed to be boxing themselves into a hopeless position by trying to eliminate man from all words:

"I have always wondered how the feminists could accept the word woman itself, since it ends in the hated man and originally meant wife person ."

That's still a good question.

Anyway, the caucus wrote a 2 1/2-page single-spaced philippic against the Journal and its editor, Robert J. Kelly, and broadcast it to his advertisers.

It said: "The members of the Caucus will continue to read the Pasadena Journal of Business, and if the members become convinced, by future issues, that the three randomly placed quotes in the July 29 issue represent an ongoing, continuing, real sexist bias on the part of the Journal, the members of the Caucus may exercise their personal prerogatives to withhold patronage from the advertisers in the Pasadena Journal of Business. . . ."

Kelly wrote me:

"Help! The big, bad wolf is out to get me and part of it is your fault. Actually, WOLF should be all caps. It's my acronym for Women Of the Lunatic Fringe."

Kelly said his wife was especially outraged, being a feminist and president of the corporation that publishes the Journal.

He said, "This ill-advised attempt at blackmail can only bring discredit to the big, bad WOLF, a fate it richly deserves."

As promised, Kelly printed an editorial titled "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad WOLF," and his wife wrote one, as "a card-carrying feminist," pointing out the Journal's support of women "in the work force, in business and in general," and decrying the caucus' letter as "truly representative of the lunatic fringe of women's liberation, which . . . makes all sincere, thoughtful feminists appear stupid and petty."

I just wonder why, if woman once meant wife person , that the man in postman , oarsman , ombudsman and freshman couldn't also mean person .

The irony of all this is that the women of the Pasadena Art Alliance have designated me a Saint.

I do think I deserve it more than Junipero Serra.

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