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Censorship by Language Reform

If the word "Mankind" is objectionable because of its masculinity, "Humankind" is no better.

Theodore Dalrymple


April 5, 2010 - 12:05 am
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Of course the change lacks logic. If Mankind is objectionable because of its masculinity, Humankind is no better. It still contains the dread word, or should I say syllable, “man.” Nor would “Hupersonkind” be better, because of the masculinity of the syllable “son.” To eradicate all sexism from the word, it should be “Huperoffspringkind.” This is clearly ridiculous. But censorship by language reform is not a matter of logic, it is a matter of power. As Humpty Dumpty said, it is a question of who is to be master (if one may still be allowed the word), that’s all.

I am not alone the victim of the monstrous regiment of sub-editors. I get to review quite a number of books published by academic presses, British and American, and I have found that the use of the impersonal “she” is now almost universal, even when the writer is aged and is most unlikely to have chosen this locution for himself (or herself). It is therefore an imposed locution, and as such sinister.

I cannot say my role in resisting this tiny tyranny has been or is an heroic one. On the contrary: I now simply avoid the use of certain ways of putting things so that the question does not arise. I do not want to have a blazing argument with editors or sub-editors each time I use the word “Mankind” and it is changed without my permission, nor do I not want to stop writing altogether; and the matter, after all, is a very small one. How petty one would look to argue about it, how foolish to cut one’s nose off to spite one’s face if one refused to write any more because of it!

And so the censors have achieved a small victory. They will seek out new locutions to conquer.

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Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His new book is Second Opinion: A Doctor's Notes from the Inner City.
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