Monday, December 8, 2008

"An X-treme Proposal"

This is a postscript to my earlier comments on political correctness.

The title of this post is a quote, since it exactly matches the title of a Boston Globe article published January 5, 2003*.

I assume no one has taken this proposal and ran with it, since it was made nearly six years ago, and I've never seen it in action, nor does a web search turn up any application of it.

In a nutshell, it addresses the problem of how to refer to a non-specific person without resorting the the sexist "he", "him", and "his". Personally, in spite of that disability that makes it difficult for me to be politically correct, I tend to use "she" for one non-specific person and "he" for the next one to appear in a dialog, and so forth. Ladies first**.

The proposal coins three new words: "xe", "xem", and "xers" (pronounced "zee", "zem", and "zayrs") to be used instead of "he/she", "him/her", and "his/hers", respectively.

The usage that seems to be gaining ground is to use "they", "them", and "theirs" for a non-specific person. Interesting, that if you pronounce these words with a mild French accent, you get something like "zey", "zem", and "zayrs".

Mostly, when I have occasion to write about non-specific persons, it is a technical document, so I'll tend to write it up like this:

When the system administrator receives such a request she will go to the user management page, enter the user identifier, and click "Search". The necessary information will then appear on her screen. She'll read this off to the user and ask him if he understands. If not, she will go on to the next step.
This does double duty. Not only are "her" and "him" given equal time, but by carefully choosing, I can even have "her" being superior to "him". Isn't that the ultimate in political correctness? Or have I misunderstood the intent?

*The Boston Globe wants $2.95 to let you read the article, even though it is now hardly news. You can get the first few lines here. Or, if you google the title you can find a site or two who copied it verbatim (thus violating copyright--but the sites are not in the U.S.A.).

**That reminds me of an awkward experience that I had a few years ago on the WordPerfect technology park. As I was leaving the cafeteria, I held the door open for a woman who was right behind me. She snapped at me that she was perfectly capable of opening the door for herself. Ouch. Okay, so ladies first; obnoxious women can take care of themselves.


Nancy said...

I wrote for the 100 Hour board at BYU for a while. They use the term "werf."

It really is a dilemma in this day of PC, though. I find it almost impossible to be PC 100% of the time. Or even 50% of the time.

Nancy said...

I'm not sure if PC is supposed to have females superior to males, but it sure does seem like that sometimes.

I for one think "women's rights" has gone too far. We are not men. We will never be men. And that's okay. I'm all too happy to stay home with the kids and send my husband out in the workplace...but maybe I'm the only one left who feels that way...

I just typed "shure" twice and then backspaced to take out the "h." How silly!

Myrna said...

It seems that in Canada they often use s/he in place of he or she, and I liked that, but it hasn't seemed to have caught on in the US.