4.1095 Words: Degendering Ombudsman (2/100)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 26 Feb 91 23:25:48 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1095. Tuesday, 26 Feb 1991.

(1) Date: Mon, 25 Feb 1991 13:16:02 EST (34 lines)
Subject: RE: 4.1080 Words: Degendering Ombudsman

(2) Date: Mon, 25 Feb 91 23:56:36 EST (66 lines)
From: Don Webb <UOG02036@vm.uoguelph.ca>
Subject: Ombudsmench?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 1991 13:16:02 EST
Subject: RE: 4.1080 Words: Degendering Ombudsman (3/52)

Ah, the ironies of adjusting our language to avoid the manufactured
sensibilities of others.

A case in point: A speaker with a hyphenated last name [the last
name of her presumably male father coupled with that of her presumably
male husband] who described herself as a feminist anthropologist--not
a personologist, but an anthropologist. Its enough to make a woperson

Perhaps we should follow the lead of Malcolm X who used the X to avoid
wearing the name of the white slave owner of his ancestors. Perhaps we
should use "*" to replace any part of any word or even any word that we
find offensive. Thus we would have "ombuds*" instead of "ombudsman" or
"ombudsperson." This would would greatly simplify the lives of those who
are fe*ists, wo*, *ologists, etc.

You may think pronunciation would be a problem, but I doubt it. My
never had problems pronouncing his
name. When people asked, he just told them the "3" was silent. :*)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* Tom Rusk Vickery, 265 Huntington Hall *
* Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-2340 *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------72----
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 91 23:56:36 EST
From: Don Webb <UOG02036@vm.uoguelph.ca>
Subject: Ombudsmench?

The current debate whether the word "ombudsman" is gender specific
reminds me of the "misandry" debate of a couple of years ago, only the
latter discussion dealt as much with content as form.

Maybe English could have come up with a descriptive term of its own
("Public Paladin"?), but Swedish got there first; now we have a Swedish
word that's been Anglicized and must fit English conventions, however
inconsistent they may be in their evolution.

The rule seems to be that a foreign word may be borrowed (stolen?
photocopied? Natalie Maynor, where are you?) to denote an occupation
but that the suffix denoting the person performing the occupation must
be in current usage.

That rules out, sadly, "ombudsmensch." Other possibilities are suffixes
in -ist, -er, -or, etc., but replacing -man with one of them would make
many words, including 'ombudsman', unrecognizable, e.g. 'fireman',
'policeman' - as mentioned in previous postings - and 'corpsman'
('paramedic' in civilian terms), not to mention 'woman.'

If your language more or less systematically marks gender, then the
problem consists in regularizing occasional exceptions, e.g. 'le
professeur' - "la professeure"; 'le docteur' - "la docteure"; 'un
ecrivain' - "une ecrivaine" the feminine forms being neologisms that
have found some favor in Canada).

English, however, denotes gender only by exception, which may help
explain why "man" has become, in some instances, a Bad Word. It's a
valid argument that in English, as in French, for example, the feminine
form is specific whereas the masculine is either male or generic. But
that is precisely the problem: the man gets two slices of pie and the
woman gets only one.

The issue is very real: language not only reflects culture, it is a part
of culture; it is both effect and cause. My friend and colleague
Alexandre Kimenyi made this point very elegantly in an article in _Jeune
Afrique_ some ten years ago, that social and linguistic change go hand
in hand and that true progress requires that we consider our language as
critically as our politics.

None of us was consulted about the language we first learned, or its
form; we took what we were given. But we are, all of us, being
consulted now. What, then, are we to do? For me, it's first of all a
matter of attitude. I'll give the benefit of the doubt wherever
possible: not all those who call for language reform are motivated by an
anti-male bias, and not all those who question language reform are
motivated by an anti-female bias. True, sexism exists in both camps; in
the egalitarian spirit of English grammar, the adjective "sexist" has no
gender. To avoid it in myself, I'll start by not charging others with

How to reform English grammar? The project sounds too much like work to
me, and I doubt my ideas are any better than anyone else's. What to do
about "ombudsman"? I hadn't realized it was a problem, but now that you
tell me it is, well, that's a tough one. "Ombudsmensch" sounds better
and better to me...

Don Webb