Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Guys and Dolls - a Quick Gripe

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, bulls and cows, boars and sows, and a long etcetera.

As is probably quite obvious, I am an avid listener of BBC Radio 4. When I was younger - a lot younger - I imagined that R4 was a station for crusty old colonels, probably listening in from Cheltenham or Tunbridge Wells who, when not listening to the radio, were snapping off letters to the Times or Telegraph bemoaning the inevitable decline of our nation's standards since the loss of Empire and the disappearance of its culture under a tidal wave of American products, idioms, ideas etc.

Habitual listening to R4, however, soon disabused me of the above image but now it turns out that it is I who is becoming crusty and scandalised by some of R4's content. Not a lot of content, I admit, but the following grates:

Why oh why do so many people insist on talking about males and females?

What is wrong with those completely acceptable words man and woman?

Obviously I have no complaints if we are using the words male and female as adjectives. "Female bank robber" or "male model" for example are fine, but sentences such as "two males were seen running away from the scene" or "if you are a female, then..." are, in my opinion, plain ridiculous.

Man and woman can only be used to refer to humans. Have you ever heard of a "man toad", for instance? Or a "woman fish"? No. Obviously not. Animals are male or female. People are men and women. Is this political correctness gone mad? Would we rather compare ourselves to animals, fish or plants than to other members of our own species?

Please in your own writings and speech, try to avoid the use of male and female and use the proper nouns man and woman. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these two words.

1 comment:

  1. Language, like all living organisms, continually evolves. One consequence is that today's neologisms, slang and incorrect uses may tomorrow become an accepted part of the day's standard English, much as we may deplore this.

    I too have my pet hates, one of which is the use of "decimate", which in a majority of mouths has come to replace "destroy" or "wipe out", its original meaning of "to kill one in every ten" having been forgotten or not understood in the first place. Another is the use of "criteria" as a singular noun.

    A tendency I have noticed in recent decades (though where it comes from I am not sure - possibly from the nation's brief love affair with NASA at the time of the moon landings - is to use "technical" language even in non-formal situations. Quite often this technical language isn't technical at all but simply consists of replacing common words with less usual ones.

    Self-appointed experts love to do this because they think it gives them an air of authority. The police do it too when making public announcements about crimes though I think in their case it is an attempt to give an appearance of objectivity - to this mindset "male" sounds more objective than "man".

    These misuses and abuses of the language are annoying but there seems to be little we can do to stem the tide: complain and you are likely to be dismissed as a "pedant" and your views ignored.