George Walford: Homo? Homa? Homess?

It is no longer acceptable to use “man” to cover both sexes, leaving “and woman” to be understood. One must explicitly give¬†women their proper place. The English language having developed as one aspect of a male-dominated society this new demand is often difficult to satisfy; “his or her” remains clumsy, and “s / he” is not English. Living languages, however, are flexible, and English is coming to accept “their” as a singular, gender-free pronoun. This or some other adjustment usually provides an acceptable solution.

But what about the dead languages? We do not have the right to alter these, or in fact the power to do so; nobody is going to re-edit the whole corpus of Latin literature – not merely the relics of the ancient world but most serious European thinking until around the Mid-Seventeenth Century – and reprint it all to bring it in line with modern attitudes. For the most part it can doubtless be forgotten, but there are exceptions. How can homo sapiens, with its implication (at least to the modern ear) that only men (and not women) are intelligent, be adapted to suit a society in which women play a more active public role? Any suggestions? Alternatives?

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY claimed to know of a cure for cancer. It would also cure insomnia, terminate remorse, avoid bankruptcy and offer an exit from intolerable positions: a Smith and Wesson pistol. (Sunday Times 23 Aug 87)

from Ideological Commentary 30, November 1987.

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