Also in Commentary

For a decade I’ve been a chairman. Last month I got a new ID card that declared I was now a chairperson. Since I believe in the inexorable march of progress I’m sure that this appellationary alteration will serve a noble end even if I’m clueless as to what it might be. So, like a true academic, I’ve decided to help purge the language of bad words although I don’t why I’m doing so or why the words are bad. While I’ve researched many sources, I am especially indebted to The American Journal of Bowdlerization for much of what follows and which I hope can be expanded into a sabbatical proposal.

Let’s start with the obnoxious chairman. Two alternatives are offered by the AJB, chair and chairperson. Neither is good enough. A chair is an inanimate object, a piece of furniture. Now I readily admit that a lot of chairmen resemble inanimate objects, but it’s not nice to rub our faces in it. That leaves chairperson – person? – SON? No way Jose. That’s as bad as chairman. Persit, that’s the only solution. It will offend no one not given to foolish introspection. Thus instead of being inanimate or gender-specific one can be the chairpersit of the department.
Now for some tough ones. What are we going to do with man and woman? The AJB proscribes man but is mute about woman. Are they mad? Don’t they know that woman means ‘of man’? Besides being linguistically offensive, woman is anatomically incorrect. With the exception of the first couple (I refer to Adam and Eve, not the Clintons), men are of women, not the other way around.

So consider woman. The second syllable is obviously outre. If we can’t have policeman or fireman or salesman, we can’t have woman. What to put in its place? Wopersit though inoffensive seems charmless. Wo— admits to lack of imagination. I think we must eliminate all vestige of the hated three letters and use wo – one wo, two wos.

Man, thus, is a snap, duck soup, a cinch. Wowo for man, meaning of woman-oops, of wo. The AJB has good intentions but keeps slipping up. They recommend huMANity for mankind and perSONpower for manpower; these changes are, of course, no changes at all. The correct words should by now be obvious. Girl and boy are problems to many thoughtful persits. Just think how offensively these words are sometimes used. Some would replace girl with prewoman, which of course should be prewo and eliminate boy altogether. While I sympathize with this view, I would retain girl and boy provided the persit in question has a medical certificate documenting that puberty has not commenced. We should avoid even the appearance of unreasonableness.

The AJB advises Happy Holidays for Merry Christmas. This is the ‘Put the X back in Xmas’ approach. Sober persit I am, I would allow Merry Christmas provided that a baptismal certificate is available from the persit to whom the salutation is addressed. In addition, I would limit the expression solely to the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Holiday should be avoided since it means ‘holy day’ and might offend atheists.

The third person singular is another thorny issue. He/she and he or she are recherche as is mixing singular and plural pronouns; eg: “Whenever a person (sic) says they are innocent.” We need a new word, a gender neutral third person singular pronoun.

Having come up with persit, I am reluctant to try for a home run again. I suggest a federally funded task force to supply the lacking word. In general, however, I find myself in agreement with the AJB’s guidelines for revised speech. Thinking-impaired for stupid, sex worker for call girl, land of one’s birth for fatherland or motherland (naturalized citizens will have to tough it out), height-deprived obstructor for shortstop, etc.

Now there are those who say that all this mucking around with language has to lead to some demonstrable good to be justified and that no one has provided any such evidence. To which I reply balderdash. The search for the mot juste is a justifiable end in itself. On a more practicable level, policing the language provides work opportunities for ability-impaired academics who might otherwise be employably-challenged.

We must not give offense. Therefore the safest course is never to say or write anything. Humming and doodling are okay. Reading should be closely regulated, for obvious reasons.

Aristophanes, Swift, and lesser satirists should be expunged from the curriculum since the purpose of satire is to offend and that’s not nice.

By the way, my editor has just informed me that the last syllable of my last name has got to go and so do I.

Originally published:
Kurtzman NA: Everything’s Got a Reason If Only You Can Find It. Lubbock Magazine
(Dec):27, 1995.