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English: Language Demands Integrity
Words, Words, Words
If man did not have language, I fear mankind would not have made it as far as the Dark Ages.
More aptly, without language, yours truly would have no means of penning this meager effort, which is intended to point out a contemporary absurdity related to the English language.
Nor could I pound the keys of this computer keyboard to impart my view about language to the readers of The Hour newspaper.
A Necessary Evil?
Many otherwise intelligent men and women see language as a more-or-less necessary evil, but, personally, I'm the kind of guy who has fun reading the dictionary -- despite the fact that some of the listings and definitions in modern editions give me pause.
Language, for me, is fun -- or, more accurately, the English language (I've made forays into French and German, but came up woefully short of as much as a rudimentary knowledge of either.)
While I enjoy grammar, spelling, vocabulary, etymology and the rest, achieving proficiency -- as in my golf game -- remains elusive.
Respect for Language
Although there are myriad words I am unable to define or spell, and a number of grammatical constructions I'll never master, I have at least attained an abiding respect for language. It is certain that civilized societies need to maintain the integrity of their languages.
In recent years, efforts -- successful to some degree -- have been made to politicize the English language. The effort began about the same time as the so-called Women's Liberation Movement was founded.
Dictionaries, Others Cave In
It is unfortunate that dictionaries, wire services and other respected organizations have caved in to political pressures by accepting as standard words that are substandard. The failure to hold to high standards comes at the expense of the language, and thus, of future generations.
Virtually any word that contains the word "man" has come under attack by some, in the misguided belief that such words as chairman or spokesman are sexist. Unequivocally, they are not!
Natural Word Formations
Language developed historically, not politically. Words were formed in the context of the day, and such words as mankind and men-at-arms as well as chairman were natural formations.
Such anomalies as chairlady, Ms (in place of Mrs. or Miss) or councilwoman not only politicize our language but attempt to make it sexist as well.
Fortunately, there's been something of a backlash among Americans, including many women, to efforts to force linguistic changes by political, artificial means.
We're Stuck With 'Chair'
If we do not remain alert to the need to preserve our language -- which grows and changes slowly over time -- we could end up with such inappropriate words as peoplekind, personpower or womanhandle. We're already stuck with "chair," not the kind one sits on, but rather the kind that sits (at a board meeting.)
Believe it or not, my dictionary (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate) lists the word (?) chairwoman with the following definition: A woman who acts as chairman. Need I say more?
Any further move toward destruction of the English language could lead to anarchy. Remember the biblical story of the tower of Babel?
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Oct. 25, 1997. The problems discussed, of course, remain problems today.