Language is interesting. I just learned, uncited on Quora, but I choose to believe it because I want to…
The modern word female is not derived from the modern word male. In fact, female derives from the latin word “femina,” from which we retain the idea of feminine; male derives from the latin word “masculus,” which similarly gives us the idea of masculine. (BTW, for clarity, I’m going to use “feminine” and “masculine” in this essay, since that’s less confusing.)
It gets more intriguing. The modern word woman is also not derived from the modern word man. If you go back far enough, the word man was basically what we now call “human;” there were two derivates, “wif-man” for “feminine human” and “wer-man” for “masculine human.”
So we have been working to change the language over the last several decades, but we’ve been changing it wrong! The problem isn’t that we have a “chairman,” “postman,” and “garbageman.” The problem is that “man” should be equally able to refer to a feminine or masculine person. In old English, “wif” was “feminine married person” and “wer” was “masculine married person.” We’ve kept the “wif,” but we’ve lost the “wer.” The language is the poorer for it.
So let’s fix it. Let’s stop gendering the unmodified version of the word “man.” Instead, let’s agree that we’re all “men” – we’re all human. But I’m werman. A white CIS werman. And anybody can be chairman, both women and wermen.
It’ll never take. But it saves so much poetry!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
…both wermen and women.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance wild,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my child!
…because Rudyard Kipling’s “If” should sing to both wermen and women.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more…
So, when the guy says “I always wanted to see a Merman” in Cabin in the Woods, he might have been referring to The Little Mermaid? Somehow, that doesn’t seem to make it any righter.
<// malformed closing tag resulting in terminal snark
Yes, lovely analysis… but history.. This is reminiscent of the idea of reclaiming the swastika as a Hindu religious symbol. Nope.
Geoff, in case it wasn’t clear, this was intended largely tongue-in-cheek. I don’t actually think I have the ability to change American English usage, even with the concerted help of both of my friends. I find the evolution of language interesting; this was particularly fascinating. We are investing a ton of effort to accelerate the evolution of our language; in this case, all that effort is needed to undo a change that linguistically speaking happened quite recently.
I can log in to comment, but not seeing comment links on articles. FYI. -b.