Monday, March 10, 2008

Lying feminist ideologues wreck English, says Yale prof

The danger when encountering a misogynist prescriptive grammar rant as extreme as the one just published by David Gelernter in the Weekly Standard (vol. 13 no. 24, 03/03/2008) is that one might get as angry and fired up and beyond reason as he is. That would be a pity. I will try to remain calm (it's not exactly my forte, though I have occasionally tried it). The right reaction for this one is sadness rather than indignation. Gelernter is a distinguished computer scientist at Yale; yet here he makes a complete fool of himself.

His claims are apocalyptic. Although English "used to belong to all its speakers and readers and writers" it has now been taken over by "arrogant ideologues" determined "to defend the borders of the New Feminist state." A major "victory of propaganda over common sense" looms: "We have allowed ideologues to pocket a priceless property and walk away with it." The language is on the brink of being lost, because although the "prime rule of writing is to keep it simple, concrete, concise", today "virtually the whole educational establishment teaches the opposite". This is the mild part. Soon he gets more seriously worked up, calling his opponents "style-smashers" and (I'm not kidding) "language rapists", and claiming that "they were lying and knew it" when they did what they did.

What, then, is the terrible thing that the style-smashers have done? The following is (and I stress this) a complete list of all the facts about English usage he cites:

* Some writers now use either he or she, or singular they, or purportedly sex-neutral she, instead of purportedly sex-neutral he, to refer back to generic or quantified human antecedents that are not specifically marked as masculine.
* Some people recommend the words chairperson, humankind, and firefighter over chairman, mankind, and fireman.
* Some try to avoid using the phrases great man when speaking of a great person, or using brotherhood when making reference to fellow-feeling between human beings.

That's it; we're done. That is the totality of the carnage to which he directs our attention, the sum of all his evidence that we have "allowed ideologues to wreck the English language".


Read the whole article on the awesome blog

Language Log