by J. Richard Jacobs
First, understand that this is not an historical nor hysterical treatise. It is, rather, a whimsical look at one of the 20th century’s most inane attempts to change the social structure of the English-speaking nations of the world. Specifically, to neuter the English language. To reduce its gender to a mush of senseless verbiage. In short, they are attempting a sort of linguicide in the name of nameless equality.
Some years ago a group of frustrated women and a few men gathered to fix our sexist language. Oops…I suppose those words should be altered to the all inclusive “people.” Perhaps it would better rendered as “persons.” Yeah, that fits better with some of the changes that were made. Anyway, all those concerned persons got all up tight with the overtly sexual nature of our beloved language and set about making some changes to make it all better. “We’ll show’em where to go and who wears the pants around here, by golly,” they said.
That their efforts were essentially doomed from the outset had no effect, so strong was their resolve. They went ahead as if there were genuine logic hidden in their proposed changes…somewhere. The battle continues today and has extended into some areas no one could have predicted.
So, one of the many organizations to grow out of the fires of outrage then was N.O.W. Funny. They appear to have defeated their own purpose by using that name. It probably should have been N.O.P. Of course, it wouldn’t have had that nifty association with “present,” as in, “now,” and might well have been pronounced “nope” by a lot of nasty not N.O.W. persons looking to debunk them.
Anyway, they met with limited success and some of what they tried to do stuck. Thus began “politically correct speech,” or PCS. There would no longer be unmanned missions to Mars. Those would become “robotic” or “automated” missions. Hey, no argument there. The change was more accurate, too.
“Spokesman” or “spokeswoman” would be changed to “spokesperson.” A bit awkward, perhaps, but no problem.
And so it went across the spectrum of sexually specific language until a uniform protocol of sorts for politically correct speech emerged. No one noticed or seemed to care that sexual distinction remained in full force, regardless of the dubious inroads made.
For all the effort and vociferous battles that went on, our steadfast language resisted and, though some skirmishes fell in favor of the concerned people, English won the war. Why? Because we are a species separated along sexual lines in almost every avenue and that requires—demands a language that reflects that division and one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist or a linguist to see and appreciate that simple fact.
If we were an asexual species, like so many amoebae in a tank of goo, certainly language(s) would have developed along different lines. If you take a critical look at all the world’s languages, you will find that most languages make reference to gender in the same manner as English to some extent. The big difference is that English nouns, pronouns, and adjectives do not carry the gender for the most part. Indeed, many of the world’s languages are much more rigid in making the gender distinction through grammatical extension or “gender agreement.”
I write mainly SF and Speculative fiction so things of this nature are old business for me. Alien species and alien ideas, you know. Their (the aliens) physical history propels them in different (alien) directions and one must learn how that may work in order to do what I do. But, alas, those involved in redefining our language didn’t think beyond their own agenda or they, too, would understand what it is that drives languages.
Please, do not misunderstand. My argument is not against equality. My argument is for retaining the color, feeling, and nuance of the language. Without these distinctions, language becomes rather bland. Romeo and Juliet loses on so many levels.
Now, without further ado, let’s have a little fun and jump into a brief bit of fiction known as “Speculative Fiction.” You know, the old what if gambit. In this we are going to assume that things worked without a hitch or glitch. We’re going to say that the English language lost its struggle and became completely neutered. We will introduce the societal changes that would have to follow such a change. To do that, we’ll look at our Little Red Book of Chairman (Chairperson) Mao, a book of anti-everything.
A SOC FOR ONE ONE B SMITH AND THREE ONE A SHORE
One One B Smith moved through the sea of uniform gray body-suits, all properly loose-fitted, with purpose and lightness in its step. One One B allowed its thoughts to flow. They had discussed the action it was taking over the past three months with increasing seriousness and now…now it was time for it to make its commitment. It would propose to Three One A tonight and they, together, would return to the SOC office, their petition and application in hand. If all went well, they would be legally SOCked by early afternoon, it thought.
But along with the lightness it felt, there was apprehension in the periphery of its mind. It stepped through the SOC office door and queued up in a long string of the hopefuls, all waiting their turn for a SOC interview.
“You are One One B Smith and you want to SOC Three One A Shore?”
“Yes,” it said. Its voice was saturated with uncertainty.
“You don’t sound very sure of yourself, Smith.”
“Well…um…it’s just that I’ve never SOCked anyone before.”
“Uh-huh. Hey, there’s a first time for everything, isn’t there, Smith?”
“Uh, yes, I guess there is.”
“Okay, you take this chip home with you. Be sure to have the Intended Sig-Other there with you. You and your ISO will fill out the application forms together, then return tomorrow morning with your formal petition and the completed application chip. Make sure you bring your ISO with you. If all is in order, you’ll be SOCked in the afternoon. One word of warning: Reproduction rights are reserved and your are restricted from that activity without proper protection for two years.”
“Why two years?”
“Because, most SOCs are broken in that time and it is illegal to have offspring if you are not SOCked. The law requires that illegitimate offspring be recycled and we don’t want that, do we?”
“No. No, we don’t.”
“You will need to sign a SCA as well. Your choices will be Shorth or Smire. Do you understand?”
“Anything for equality. Yes, of course I understand.”
One One B Smith gathered the substantial pile of papers and stuffed them under its arm. Out in the street again, it made its way through the undulating gray wave to the local fast food outlet to stave off its hunger.
One One B called Three One A early in the evening. It was excited and scared half silly. When it arrived, One One B couldn’t wait long enough for it to come in. It just blurted it out.
“Three One A, will you be my ISO?”
“I…I want you to be my ISO. I have all the papers and…and we can be SOCked tomorrow.”
“But I don’t want to be an Intended anything and I can’t afford to be SOCked. Not yet. My career, you know? I have an opportunity to become Chairperson of the Board at Sniggler, Sniggler, and Shuck next year, and—”
“But…but we have discussed this before.”
“I know, but I’ve had some time to rethink my position and entering into a Significant Other Contract with you now would create problems at SS & S that I just can’t afford.”
Well, enough of that. I won’t bore you with any more and I’m sure you get the ugly picture by now. Without the distinction there is no point, no color. We are not intended to be neutered. To be sure, I believe in equality for all, but there are limits rooted in the foundation of what and how we are. That is why I don’t adhere to the use of “politically correct speech.” Oh, I pay it lip service now and again, but I don’t make a habit of it and I don’t particularly care what anyone else thinks of it. Um, well, with the exception of my Sig-Other. She can be…ooops…it can be rather forceful at times. Excuse me while I slip into my gray body-suit, properly loose-fitting, because it’ll be home soon and I haven’t done the dishes.