Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Black Day for the English Language

When I was growing up, there was a girl in my church congregation who used to raise her hand in a self-righteous huff any time some scriptural reference was made to "man" or "mankind". Why doesn't it ever say "woman", she wanted to know, and why is God so sexist? She remained unmoved by the explanation that "man" or "mankind" meant everyone, women included, and spent her teen years constantly miffed at this supposed slight toward females.

Of course, this was also the girl who walked out of our high school's production of Hello Dolly when the men gathered around to sing "It Takes A Woman", because it sounded all anti-feminist. Never mind that the song is meant to be a joke and makes fun of the men singing it more than it does the women they are singing about.

But, it seems this girl might now have some allies in various institutions in Europe, which are banning certain phrases and words that might be considered insensitive or offensive. Like "right-hand man" or "gentleman's agreement", which could be offensive to women on account of not being inclusive of two X-chromosomes. Also out are "racist" phrases like "black mark" and "whiter than white". Even the "black sheep" of the family is getting kicked out of the room. Because any time you use a color word in a phrase it could be offensive to people of certain ethnicities, especially ethnic minorities. Except you can't say "ethnic minorities", either, because the phrase might imply that someone is less important than someone else.

Oh, please. I swear people just don't have enough to do nowadays so they get bored and start thinking of things they can be offended about. Then they send out memos and start making rules about ridiculous things like perceived racism or sexism in everyday phrases. I mean, "whiter than white" has nothing to with skin color; it just means "clean". There is no reason to read into it any further than that.

Ironically, I'm sure these speech guidelines contain no provisions for truly offensive words like those pesky four-letter ones, especially of the "F" variety. Who has time to get offended over things that are actually offensive when there are so many innocuous phrases over which to throw a fit?

I'm searching for a phrase... what is it? Oh yes, "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel".

Can I say that? Is that offensive to camels?


foculbrown said...

When I read the original article, I wondered if you would blog about it...

This is just crazy! Now, I agree the the worst of the worst racist/sexist phrases that are completely offensive should not be used, but the phrases called out don't fall into that category. People just need to grow up, not be offended at every thing someone says, and not sue others at a moment's notice!

Cameron and Nonie Gay said...

What?! People are insane. Truly, they have nothing better to do with their lives. And I agree over those pesky four letter words, and how about the immorality and total sleaze that is becoming entertainment. Oh, and I need a name. I had know idea we went to school with someone so shallow. ;)

fiona said...

Totally agree that these people have too much time on their hands (and too few brain cells). Oh boy.