[eDebate] Wom[a/e/y]n with a Y
Brian M. Smith
Tue Oct 25 01:44:46 CDT 2005
three quick points (certainly not a complete discussion of language, gender, and agency)
1. etymology : woman is not derived from "male superior being who controls wife". jeron is correct that the old english "wif-man" is the origin. but "wif" in the Old English did not mean "subservient female attached to male by bonds of marriage." it merely meant female living being. man did not mean male, but rather human of either gender. so a wif-man was a female human, not "wife of male."
also, this notion of remaking of words because they resemble other words which relate to issues of gender explodes ad absurdum.
in a related note, I have discovered the origin of stereotypes regarding HISpanic culture and subordination of women.
I am also considering petitioning the AMA to rename hysterectomy to histerectomy to recognize that the root of insanity or hysteria is not actually the uterus.
To me, the etymology seems largely irrelevant. people who use the word woman now in a derogatory way (as in "get over here, woman") do so because of the way they feel about women, not because of the word's etymology. whether the word is being used negatively depends on the context now, not the context 1000 years ago. the contested etymology of the word "cunt" is further proof of this. If there is a word in the english language so historically derogatory that it cannot possibly be used in a non-demeaning way, that word is not "woman."
2. pluralization by changing the first vowel (wymyn, stytesmyn, brynksmyn, pylicemyn, etc) borders on ridiculous. Although part of me is sympathetic to "its fine if you explain it," the ridiculous proliferation of non-standard spelling changes to thousands of words poses problems for effective communication. Don't think this is limited to gender issues.
3. language is only what we make of it and we are all constantly remaking it, so I can't say that people are wrong to remake words as they see fit. Words only mean what they do today because other people used them in that way previously. As much as I hate "irregardless" and agree with this usage note (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=irregardless), regardless is only correct because of a tradition of people who made up totally arbitrary rules that none of us ever formally agreed to. This however, is not a justification for speaking jibberish. If we want to have our thoughts, be they feminist or otherwise, understood and respected by our peers we must stay true to some traditions of language. Maybe I'm just behind the curve on the next revolution in language (which is so obviously AIM speak, btw), but I feel like battles could be fought elsewhere.
More information about the Mailman