Congratulations on your efforts to improve engineering writing. However when we have to deconstruct a word like "penmanship" in an effort to assess whether it's gender-neutral, we are reacting to and trying to compensate for the decreasing depth of understanding and appreciation of our written and spoken language. Perceived offense arises out of ignorance of language and its origins.
Will we also put speech traffic cones around words like "seamanship" and "workmanship"? If I have a two-member team, Jill and Joe, working on a breadboard prototype and they are being slowed due to sloppy assembly and soldering skills on their part, do I have to stumble over using the word "workmanship" in talking to them together about their efforts? Having to have an adaptive filter in place impedes spoken communication.
If a reader or hearer understands that the root of a word has gender-specific origins, they should also understand that adding a prefix or suffix can remove a gender reference.
As an aside, Max, you must realize that sensibilities can be offended by using gendered descriptions of engineering and design components like connectors, referred to as male and female, where male connectors have pins and female connectors, sockets, because of obvious human anatomical comparisons. The analogy is extended when we speak of 'mating' the connectors. Such male-female descriptions are common in other trades also like plumbing, ductwork, and for mechanical fasteners. I think these are whole new areas of possible offense if viewed as originating from a male's view of the world.
Back in the eighties Augat introduced a PCB IC pin socket they called the PV socket, for 'perpetual virgin' because it had an elastic membrane within the socket opening that the IC pin pushed through. When the socket had no pin in it the membrane closed over and kept contamination out of the socket. It always seemed to me that this product took the male-female anatomical analogy too far. I suppose that some male designer or marketer thought such a description would be instantly understandable, but isn't that a function of language, to evoke an image by spoken or written word that closely conveys the meaning?
But again, such analogies could be interpreted from a female perspective as showing that the male views the world from a position of dominance. However, female sensibilities might be mollified somewhat when it is pointed out that in electrical/electronic connector mating the female connector usually is the source of the signal or power and the function served by the male connector is unrealizable until mated to the female.
In my career I tried to impress on coworkers the importance of clear writing. In one such experience, I was at Lockheed managing a system procurement. Among other things I reviewed documentation provided by the supplier's system engineer, who had an acknowledged problem with using the correct letter order in spelling, particularly when to use "i" before "e". This state of affairs led to a recurring joke about his being spelling-challenged when I reviewed documentation submissions. So I was moved to write the following and present it at one of our on-site program reviews. It's a dialogue between a spelling-challenged writer and a spelling mentor.
I Sue The Girth Letters
I sue the girth letters, but it's wrong, what I write
So use the right letters in order, you'll be right.
In order, like "a" before "o" except when there's snow?
No, no, no Sr. Marie Thomas wouldn't think so.
How about "u" before "q", is that very smart?
It might be very smart until you want to say "quart".
If I spell it with "a" before "e" will you think less of me?
Unless using Latin I wouldn't think highly of thee.
If I use "b" before "m" would that be contrary?
It would if you have lambs, just ask Mary.
How about "i" before "e" except after "c"?
Close – you'll do better in your next spelling bee.
So there's more to the rule – is that what you say?
Yes – there's also "when pronounced /ei/ as in "neighbor" and "weigh".
I get it. Spelling has rules – the letters need order.
Exactly! Spelling without rules is like a fish without water.
I think it is all quite overblown. Creating a gender-neutral first-person pronoun would solve the problem, but until then I wish we'd all relax about it. You aren't going to create a gender-neutral society by being uptight about pronouns.
Second, do we want a gender-neutral society? Viva la difference! Everyone should get to freely choose their job. If you encounter unfair gender discrimination from a company, that company probably isn't where you want to stay anyway and it will be their loss for not taking advantage of the full pool of talent.
Thanks for your comment, @elizabethsimon. I sort of gave up on the gender neutral editing and mostly just let the author decide what he/she/it/they prefer(s). I gave up after I once changed all the "he"s to "he/she"s in a columnist's blog. The columnist -- a man who was not American -- emailed me and told me to cut it out and that the gender-inclusion thing was annoying, distracting, and unnecessary because he (the columnist) was a dad who changed his baby's diapers as much as his wife did. After that reasoning I gave up and said OK -- have it your way.
Garcia-Lasheras wrote: A political party proposed using the "@" for ending a word that could be gender biased. e.g. instead of using "ingenieros e ingenieras", you should use "ingenier@s" -- luckily enough, this is not very common today ;-)
Very amusing. How are you supposed to pronounce '@'?
They could also have used the Scandinavian 'å' as in "Ångström". 'å' looks like an 'a' but is pronounced with a long 'o', so it ought to satisfy everyone, n'est-ce pas?
Update: You have a Minister for Gender Equality? That's actually pretty cool. We have nothing like that in the USA. We don't even have Silly Walks.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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