Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Calm down man!

In the Telegraph, Christopher Howse is still ranting about advice to avoid the use of the word "man" to encompass both sexes. (We know, he's male because unlike some people, he doesn't just call himself Chris.)

Howse helpfully quotes the Oxford English Dictionary:
The dictionary now adds an explanatory note. "Man was considered until the 20th century to include women by implication," it says. "It is now frequently understood to exclude women, and is therefore avoided by many people."
You might think that would be the end of it, but Howse's argument is really a traditionalist one - that because people used man in a particular way in the past, we have to keep doing so:
If we remake our language, literature risks being misunderstood. So when Hamlet exclaims: "What a piece of work is a man!" Shakespeare is made to sound like a sexist instead of a Renaissance humanist.

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