Where’s The Line? When etymologies become falsely politicized

By ANNIE BRONFMAN

In a time when being politically correct is prioritized, people from all walks of life are tiptoeing around issues and editing their words. Some hope to avoid offending others, while some want to avoid tarnishing their reputations. With modern information sharing, everyone from politicians to educators needs to carefully choose and arrange their words as if your refrigerator magnet poetry could be seen and judged by anyone with the press of a button. 

With an uprising of “social justice warriors,” phrases such as “ladies and gentlemen” are considered exclusionary As conversations of gender fluidity become less and less “taboo,” such as the widely publicized debates on non-gendered bathrooms, it makes sense that a phrase such as this would cause issue for those who don’t conform to the gender binary.  Hell, I’m a cisgender woman, and I certainly do not identify as a “lady.”

Whether you believe that the call to remove “ladies and gentlemen” from our vocabulary is appropriate or over-the-top, it is clear that the phrase excludes non-binary individuals.  However, some of the words and phrases under fire practically delegitimize this argument. When words such as “mandatory” and “mandate” are under attack and falsely branded as sexist, those in favor of sticking with gendered language get a freebie to roll their eyes. 

Let’s clear this up with a Google search and our trusty friend, the Oxford English Dictionary.  “Mandate” (not to be confused with “man date,” the term used when two cisgender males have a meal or a drink in order to build a friendship; see popular culture use coined by the 2009 Paul Rudd and Jason Segel comedy, “I Love You, Man”) comes from the Latin word manus for ‘hand,’ which is mirrored by the Greek word mane, also meaning ‘hand’. 

While the root “man-” does often signify the meaning as we know it today, (an adult person with male genitalia, or a person who identifies with cultural impositions/implications of how one feels and behaves when they possess male genitalia) the root “man-” also means ‘hand,’ which is the case for the word “mandatory.”

For those of you who will claim that Latin and Greek, the building blocks of the English language, are male-dominated languages and have thus bred gender division in modern culture, I don’t disagree. But have modern Americans become so consumed by being politically correct that the appearance of a prefix or suffix can cause fear of another “inclusion” scandal?

If you are offended by the appearance of “man” in a word, feel free to call me Annie Bronfperson the next time you see me, but please consult your other Jewish peers before adjusting their names — they may not be willing to change their identity for the sake of your comfort.

The bottom line: English, like many other languages, is gendered. The real question is, should the Colorado College community intervene and try to eliminate gendered language from “official” school published material? Absolutely! But let’s fact check before we cry sexism or exclusivity. There are legitimate arguments to be made for altering gendered language, but for those of you who would like to help develop the movement — know your stuff before you strike.

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