aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

The Problem of PC

Years (and years) ago, when I was a young minister in my second full-time appointment (as an Associate Pastor in a collegiate parish), an intense woman came up to me after I had preached my first sermon. "I just want to thank you," she said, "for using inclusive language." I was nonplussed. "Thank you," I said, "but I wasn't trying to."

Now, I was aware of the problem of using language -- and not just pronouns, but imagery in general, including illustrations -- that direct the mind of the hearer. You don't want to over-direct the hearer, for if you paint too specific a picture (young/old, male/female, hero/victim, whatever), many of your hearers will not be able to put themselves into the picture -- they'll think it doesn't apply to them. On the other hand, if you under-direct the hearer, you wind up speaking in abstractions, and nobody pays attention. The trick of speaking to a large, mixed audience is to make the hearers do your work for you. You have to be specific enough that they put themselves into the situation, and then not use any overly specific stoppers that will make them mentally drop out. It's tough to do. I do it well.

At the same time, however, I am a stickler for speaking correctly. I mean, if you ever hear me say "ain't," it's because I chose to be folksy. I can do that. I have several styles. But I'm choosing to do what I do; I am not limited to speaking in cliches, slogans, or buzzwords. And there are certain things I routinely do or say because I happen to think they are good speech or writing, and which make me cringe when they're mangled.

1. Agreement in number is a biggie for me. When I was a kid, we were taught to use the generic masculine pronoun: Everyone ate his lunch. This is still technically correct, though becoming archaic. I re-read some G.K. Chesterton some time ago, and the exclusive use of masculine pronouns bugged even me. Well, what to do? The PC mavens say we should stoop to using Everyone ate their lunch. Now, I know we all talk like that when we're just nattering and grommishing, but I cringe when I see it in polite speech or writing. So, I tend to use, Everyone ate one's lunch. The neuter (or at least, neutral) pronoun seems tailor-made for this.

2. De-genderization is a mess. Admittedly, English no longer has grammatical gender outside of pronouns, but the PC police rail even against notional gender. Notional gender is the idea that certain things are referred to in gendered ways. "Mother Earth" is a good example. But I like to use feminine pronouns for otherwise genderless nouns like ships and bells. A real sailor will say, in referring to the USS Abraham Lincoln, she's a seagoing terror. Abraham/she -- perfectly correct in this instance. Likewise, the Church and the soul are considered feminine, because they are constrasted with Christ our God. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and the individual soul partakes of that same relationship. I will refer to The UMC as "it," because any particular religious body is just an organization (like General Motors); however, when I speak of the Church (with a capital 'C') -- the transgenerational, hidden-yet-known-to-God body -- the Church is "she." I think this elevates my discourse and shows that I can write or speak above the level of jargon.

3. The false inclusive gets my goat. The various newer translations of the Bible routinely use "brothers and sisters" to translate Grk adelphoi. In Greek, the masculine "brothers" (older English "brethren") was generally understood to be inclusive. "Siblings" would be the true (if emotively flat) translation, not "brothers and sisters." "Brothers and sisters" leads one to look for parallelism that isn't there (two subjects might have two verbs, or be understood as two different aspects of what is being talked about). Sometimes, in order to avoid this problem, the false inclusive is applied reductively, with stupid results. The gawdawful rewrite of Let There Be Peace on Earth in our hymnal rephrases the line, "with God as our Father, brothers all are we" as, "with God as our Parent, children all are we." Again, "siblings" would be the correct translation, however dull that would be. Changing to "children" does two bad things. It switches the relationship being talked about from a horizontal one (brother to brother, living in peace) to a vertical one (parent to children -- who are probably squabbling like ducks over a crust of bread). It also drains the power out of the sibling relationship (an adult one of reconciliation and increasing responsibility for each other) and substitutes one of dependency and immaturity (a parent with children).

4. Changing words always changes meaning. There is loss as well as gain, even if the change is well done. If it's NOT well done, then the loss can be irredeemable. The most catastrophic example I can think of comes from the idiots who want to avoid masculine references to God, especially in trinitarian formulations. They think "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" will do for "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and thus fall into a kind of modalism. Heavens! If you WANT to avoid gendered references to God, you can use the technical talk of First Person, Second Person, Third Person, or even talk about hypostases -- assuming that the speaker knows what these concepts and terms mean (which I doubt).

The end of the matter is that those who want to impose political agendas on our speech typically are poor speakers. They leave us impoverished. Those who WANT to communicate will see the barriers and attempt to remove them. But those who only want to indoctrinate will murder language so as to make it a lifeless tool.

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