Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The lesser of the two weevils

The Académie Française takes a dim view of écriture inclusive – the proposed script reform that attempts to make French gender-neutral in spite of itself. The Times last week referred to a "mid punctuation  point", a glyph that French keyboards are soon to include. And they gave as an example cher⋅es amies [HD: their impoverished fonts presumably don't go as far as an è]. You can sidestep the Infernal Firewall by looking at this Indie article.

Their one English academician, Sir Michael Edwards, calls the result "gibberish"  – missing the point rather  (écriture – the clue's in the name); I don't think the words with the mid punctuation point are supposed to be read aloud – any more than the solidus is supposed to be read aloud in our "his/her". It just lets the reader's mind skip over the gender variation without missing a beat. So when the university of Nancy addressed imminent graduates as Futur⋅es diplômé⋅es it was simply doing them the courtesy of accepting that they might be of either gender, rather than, as heretofore, even in a class of 99 diplômées and a single diplômé, addressing them all as men.
<silly_aside>
Perhaps those more sexist times should be evoked as "as hisetofore". He is certainly to the fore.
</silly_aside>
One sententious self-important windbag, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, speaking on Europe 1 Radio, denounced it as "an attack on syntax by egalitarianism". 
<observation>
Generally, I've noticed that people who complain about "an attack on <abstract_noun>" tend to be blowhards.
</observation>
But language  is pretty insidious stuff. George Orwell (pace David Crystal, as I've said before) was right on the money when he warned about the influence of language on political power; Big Brother and Donald Trump have a lot in common: if something you want to be true isn't, say it is and keep saying it. If the existence of someone in history doesn't suit your politics, make them an unperson; people will stop talking about them if their identity has been erased... If you want to change a social reality, changing language is a good place to start.

And one system that has been thriving for millennia is the undervaluing and belittling of women. Which brings us to another topic (which turns out to be part of the same story). Harvey Weinstein got away with his pitiful predatory behaviour for so long because the system facilitated it; a pretty significant part of that system (hmm, "significant"... What would de Saussure have to say about that?) is language. If you want to excuse or ignore something, hide it behind a jokey euphemism, like 'casting couch', say. Many a protégée turns out to have been a victime. Disrespecting women ...
<tangent>
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn from Etymonline that "disrespect (v)" pre-dates "disrespect (n)":


1610s (v.), 1630s (n.), from dis- + respect. Related: Disrespected; disrespecting.
Just because I met the noun first, just because I heard the verb as a bit of a newcomer, I assumed the noun had greater "validity" in some way (not a way that a linguist should take any pride in). Of course, 20 years one way or the other in a word that goes back about 400 years is neither here nor there. But still...
</tangent>
...is something that involves language, and the language of patriarchy (at best – a more appropriate word escapes me at the moment, that's the thing about something being unspeakable) underpins the male-dominated status quo, not only in La La Land but...well, just about everywhere.

And physical assault is just the tip of the iceberg the visible loathsomeness that is supported by a raft of tiny acts of disrespect. The other night I saw a repeat on BBC 4 of a programme made nearly ten years ago – a fascinating account of where we come from (<spoiler alert>: out of Africa) . Dr Alice Roberts was treated to this amazing exchange (about 16 minutes in to The Incredible Human Journey):
REWOP from The Incredible Human Journey
Woman:
That's like a little spearhead.
Man:
Yes that's exactly what it is. We think it's actually the ... [looking for the right word, to avoid blowing her little mind with the AWESOMENESS of his findings]  ...TIP to a ...SPEAR.


Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive here; perhaps there was no slight. Almost certainly there was no slight intended. (They were two specialists, repeating something for the benefit of a less well-informed public.) But it just felt a bit patronizing to me.

It was 20-odd years ago that English-speaking female actors started to complain about the term actress. A Quora article, basing its conclusion on the Guardian's archives, said
In 1994, the word actress appears 1150 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 2418 times, so about 2:1.

In 2003 the word actress appears 1173 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 3948 times, so about 4:1. That dates the change to 10-20 years ago.
although AMPAS (as the Oscar-dispensing organization is called – not without irony ...impasse?)  has yet to catch up. But if actors in France want to be addressed as act⋅eur⋅rice⋅s what's the problem? OK, it looks a bit ugly; but there are worse things.

b

Update: 2017.10.17.15:50 – Added PS

PS – And here are a few clues:

  • I‘m muscular (or perhaps something like it). (10)
  • Editing...editing.., until smoke began to rise? (7)
  • Trees that bear fir cones. (8)

Update: 2017.12.31.15:35 – PPS added.

PPS: The answers: SIMULACRUM, IGNITED, and CONIFERS (which, last, may have taken as long as 5 μs to get).

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