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The Semantic Whoredom of the Left

In another land, a long, long time ago, I was a student of languages. It was there that I came across the American left’s obsession with corrupting the language.

In my last year in college, I had American Literature taught by a Fullbright exchange professor. I will never forget the moment the poor man – talking to a class of 36, all women as such classes often are – let slip the innocent word “him” to mean an indeterminate gender. He paused, went white, his eyes widened, and he said, “I mean, I mean, he or she.”

Meanwhile, the class of 36 was staring at him in puzzlement. It took us a while to take it all apart and realize he thought we’d be offended by the use of “he” to mean someone generic, of indeterminate gender.

I think we patted him kindly on the shoulder and told him that no, really, we weren’t offended. The usage was the same in Portuguese and we’d been told it was the same in most Indo-European languages. And who on Earth would get offended over semantics? The language was the language. It meant nothing about us personally.

This was of course before I married, came to the U.S. and found that for the American woman circa 1985, the language was not just personal, it was personally offensive.

I remember standing in horror underneath a bookstore section proudly labeled Herstory.

Of course the etymology of the word history is not his + story, the sort of pseudo-clever deduction about language that I was used to from the near-illiterate elderly people in the village. (It would be too complex and involve Portuguese, but there was this old farmer who had somehow deduced from the Portuguese word for farmer that farmers were the only ones who would be saved at the end of time.)

History, of course, is not originally an English word. It comes from the Latin historia — meaning a relation of events — by way of the French estoire, meaning story. Note please that in neither of those languages does “his” mean “belonging to him.” And that making the same sort of illiterate assumptions about the French word, we’d get “It is oire.”

I thought that the store must have hired an illiterate employee, but no, over the next ten years, in various circumstances, and possibly still except for the fact that I’ve learned to silence such fools with a death glare, I’ve come across the same smug-idiot assumption and “corrections” of the English word, so as to “fight against the patriarchy.”

That this is done by people who paid more money than I make in a couple of years for a college degree, and who, doubtlessly, think that etymology is a dish made with onions, or perhaps a conspiracy of the patriarchy, fills me with a sort of dull rage that has no outlet.