Heh heh. I keep reminding my daughter that the general grammatical rule, in the languages I'm familiar with anyway, is "masculine preferred." Meaning, masculine also implies gender neutral. Being a gen X or Y, naturally, she scoffs.
These are the sorts of changes that sound ludicrous at first, but then everyone sort of gets used to them. Meanwhile, the fact that there are now more women than men enrolled in universities makes me blush in shame for my gender. You bunch of wusses!
@Dave: Doubt a non-gender change is in the language any time soon.
I agree -- but I sort of wish we could make the change -- a lot of science fiction stories have ways and words around the gender problem -- I sort of think it's time to start thinking of us all as people rather that the many ways we divide the world into "us" and "them," one of which is gender...
Max's phrase about engineers looking after tools reminds me of an old CAD paper in which the male author actually wrote (from memory): "An IC designer must become intimately familiar with his front-end tool". Depending on what one means by "tool", I guess this could be gender-specific. Ahem.
When you hear someone say "engineer" -- what's your knee-jerk reaction in terms of visualizing a character associated with this term?
A guy, no doubt. And I'm right 99.9 percent of the time, in my line of work anyway. I don't know how fast that's going to change, and frankly, it shouldn't matter. People should do what they have a passion to do. Forcing girls to love engineering is counter-productive. You can't force this sort of thing. It would just create mediocre engineers.
re "Forcing girls to love engineering is counter-productive."
Being the father of both a son and a daughter, I'd have to say it's not so much about forcing girls to love engineering. Rather, it often has to do with keeping the world around them from discouraging a love of engineering. Of course, I'm generalizing based on their experiences.
My daughter always excelled in school. She took a programming course in 9th grade meant for juniors. She took all the AP math and science courses she could, and got As in all of them. She took physics in college and got As there too. So there was no one dissuading anything.
I suggested engineering, but she knew from way back even before grade school that she wanted to become a veterinarian. No way was I going to insist. Instead, she became a vet specialist, excelling all the way through vet school, internship, residency, not to mention at least three separate board exams.
So my experience is that girls are hardly behind in any of the academic skills, perhaps the other way around is more accurate. But it takes that vocation too. Sort of a calling, if you will. Without that, you're swimming upstream.
It's interesting how much our profession has changed over the years I've been an engineer. In school and in the earlier years of my career, female engineers were relatively scarce. Today I see substantial numbers of female engineers and work on projects with them at the office every day. As far as my knee-jerk reaction or visualization at hearing the word "engineer," it's more likely to be based on a particular individual engineer with whom I have recently had a technical conversation or problem-solving session, and it's just as likely that individual would be female as male.
I grapple with the gender issue all the time. I used to di it without thinking until my daughter started making more aware in no uncertain terms. I still am not sure what to put many times, but I do catch myself about 80% of the time and actually think about it.
There is some irony in that my name "Aubrey" has become a female name in North America. This is notwithstanding that fact that it means "Father of the Elves" or some variation thereon (Shakespeare's Oberon is apprently derived from the same source.) Apparently the universe has found a way to even the balance.
Well, once upon a time the novelist Evelyn Waugh was married to Evelyn Waugh (although IIRC, in British English the female & male name are pronounced differently).
In China, wives do not take their husband's names, although the children do. Names aren't gender specific, and parents pick a name with a meaning they like (which can be like Elegant Beauty, Victory Piano, or those unfortunately born during the Cultural Revolution, Red Soldier and Every Generation A Farmer -- and the last three are real names but you can't tell the gender from them).
BTW, my daughter has no interest in engineering; she's a tomboy princess who loves reading, art, music, legos, biology, and basketball -- but not math!
@betajet: Ashley Wilkes was the one I was thinking of and I went to Wikipedia to verify Leslie Howard's name. "Epic" was the first key.
One of my father's Marine Corps buddies was Les (Leslie) Perry, who named his oldest daughter Lesley Ann Perry. At least, I'm pretty sure of the two spellings. I think Lesley was at one time the preferred spelling of the feminine, as in Lesley Ann Warren, but then, we also have Fr. Lesley J. McNair, Leslie Caron, Leslie Uggams, and Leslie Townes Hope (better known as Bob Hope).
English does have a gender-neutral personal pronoun, similar to Latin: it. Unfortunately it's usually considered a bit impolite to refer to someone as "it" in English. Hmmm, come to think of it, "Madame Chairthing" does have a certain ring to it; one couldn't mistakenly use "charwoman" and instead of "chairwoman" if we used "chairthing." ;- ) Does Max want to add that to his book?
That said, I need to make a comment about the gender French nouns: I'm not a native speaker (not much of a French speaker at all; I speak bad enough to make a Parisian cry out in pain!), but I do know that in French a victim is always feminine -- une victime, regardless of the actual gender of the person who is the victim. Systranet.com translates "He is a victim" as "Il est une victime" where "une" is the feminine of "un" (the French word for English's "a" or "an"). Running "Il est une victime" back through from French to English produces "It is a victim." "Il" in French can be translated as both "He" (masculine) and "It" (neuter) in English; "Elle" is the feminine "She." Latin was much easier for me to comprehend in high school than French because it had three genders, like English, rather than the two genders of French. The trouble came in making sure that nouns, pronouns, and adjectives agreed in gender, case, and number. Too many endings to remember!
I think it was Mark Twain who said he'd met a student who would rather decline three beers and than one German noun.
French and Spanish both have a rather nifty gender-neutral pronoun, on in French (not pronounceable by 'Mercans) and se in Spanish. A typical phrase is "Ici on parle français" (French is spoken here) or "Aquí se habla español" (Spanish is spoken here). Literally it means "Here one speaks French/Spanish", however one does not see that usage of "one" as much nowadays, times being what they are.
Personally, I find it an intriguing challenge to cast a sentence in a gender-neutral form. It often it requires a very different sentence structure, but often the new structure is much better. Who says poetry is harder than prose?
I find the "singular they" to be a monstrosity. Bleh. Thrice bleh.
If all else fails, you can use the Minnesotan phrase "a lotta guys", as in "a lotta guys wouldn't weld so near that gas tank". According to none other than Miss Manners, "guys" is now gender neutral. Yeah, I was surprised too.
I think the "se" in this example is a reflexive pronoun. It means "to you". The reason this actually works for your example, is that spanish (unlike english) does not require the subject to be stated, but is often left implied, as in this example.
@jjulian: ...are there too many commas in that sentence?
The thing about commas is that they are very subjective. As Ms Truss said, you can always argue that putting one in improves the clarity ... and you can always argue that taking it out improves the clarity LOL.
I know that the chapter on commas is going to be one of the harder chapters -- re your question (assuming you were serious), I personally would have removed one, so where you said:
Thank you for your kind offer, but, unfortunately, I won't be attending.
I would have written:
Thank you for your kind offer but, unfortunately, I won't be attending.
But a lot depends on how you would pause when saying it ... and how you want the reader to "hear" it in his or her head when he or she reads it (LOL).
You could even go with just one comma: Thank you for your kind offer, but unfortunately I won't be attending.
As far as that goes, in these days with a trend toward minimilist punctuation, you could miss them all out and the reader would still get the gist: Thank you for your kind offer but unfortunately I won't be attending.
When I was a kid thsi would have bored me to death -- now I love this stuff LOL
This is true in English too. You can say, in a literal translation, "Here one speaks English." You can say, "English is spoken here." In Italian, "Si parla Italiano." So I don't think this gender-neutral "one" is unique to Spanish.
In German, the gender-neutral "one" is "man." Which does make me chuckle, in this context.
I didn't expect this gender blabla to surface here.
I'm a father of three, 2 boys and one girl; 3 engineers . What? my girl is engineer in the petroleum industry? What did i do to achieve that? Nothing in particular and surely not telling her all that garbage about gender etc ... But i've always told them that they don't follow studies for getting a future job. It was just for the fun of learning and working hard. They would make their own choice later, if any. Ah, yes too, much Sport, no TV no console no PC no all that garbage.
All that gender narrative is pure bullshit. It won't make any more girls in STEM education. Didn't they notice that they had a problem with STEM education as a whole?
First girls do what they want to do (they are girls), second make STEM education fun (not just for girls but for boys too), third pay engineers more, no more outsourcing and endless immigration... Why would you want girls embrace engineering when they are easyly replaceable by a cheap guy (or girl!) coming from India or other country.
Suddenly, it's much harder to change things and this gender story is just easy speaking.
@CheapMonk: All that gender narrative is pure bullshit. It won't make any more girls in STEM education.
What, they make girls in STEM education? (I always wondered where they came from). The purpose of this blog was not to try to persuade more people of the feminine persuasion to become engineers -- it's just that I find myself more and more trying to work around gender bias in the written language, and I wondered what other people thought about it. Of course, "pure bullshit" is a valid thought, I guess LOL
@Max I really highly appreciate all your posts and even this one; my rant is absolutely not about your post but about the general gender debate which is counterproductive i think. I don't understand what it is supposed to do. Regards .
@CheapMonk: ...the general gender debate which is counterproductive i think. I don't understand what it is supposed to do.
In the not-so-distant past I would have totally agreed with you. However, to be honest, more recently, I guess I've started to notice it more.
Maybe it's that I'm becoming more in touch with my feminine side (LOL).
I think that if I were of the feminine persuasion, I would be a bit "niggled" seeing thing like "him" and "his" and "mankind" and "penmanship" and "freshman" and "chairman" scattered around throughout various writings.
Maybe it's just that I'm working on my book about grammar and punctuation and writing in general for engineers ("Don't use commas like a stupid person," as Lynne Truss would say), so I've been looking into the history and evolution of different languages, and I've come to realize how much "old stuff" we've been landed with.
Or maybe its simply that in the "politically correct" world in which we now live, I've become more thoughtful since I stopped doing real work (engineering) and started making my living writing.
Max wrote: Maybe it's just that I'm working on my book about grammar and punctuation and writing in general for engineers ("Don't use commas like a stupid person," as Lynne Truss would say)...
I'm intrigued by the question as to why writing for engineers would be any different than good writing practices in general, such as those encouraged by Strunk and White. The idea of a book on "Electrical English" reminds me of when my mother was chairwhatever of the English department at a small college. [Betajet's mother taught English? Who'd a thunk it?] She once brought home a technical advert addressed to the "Elec Eng Dept". Since the college didn't have any engineering departments, they sent it to English as the closest match.
My favorite story about commas is from James Thurber's The Years with Ross (chapter "Writers, Artists, Poets, and Such") in which Thurber talks about his battles with New Yorker founder Harold Ross over excess commas. For example, Ross insisted on inserting the comma into "After dinner, the men went into the living room" to give the men time to push back their chairs and stand up :-)
@Betajet: I'm intrigued by the question as to why writing for engineers would be any different than good writing practices in general...
Because engineers could care less -- if they really wanted to learn, there are a myriad books out there already -- my goal is to write a book that is so different (and funny and interesting) that they want to read it and can't help learning someting while they do so.
Because engineers couldcouldn't care less -- if they really wanted to learn, there are a myriad books out there already...
"myriad" doesn't take the article.
Update: Seriously, many students go into engineering because they think they won't ever have to write anything. A typical undergrad curriculum enforces this notion, because most Ugrad engineering courses are all math and diagrams, with no writing.
Then they graduate and hit the real world... and they're completely unprepared for the necessity of clear, unambiguous writing in design specs and data sheets and program comments and technical articles, etc.
Solution? Hire PhDs. After writing a dissertation, the rest of those documents are easy.
I'll give you the "a myriad" one -- however, in the case of could vs. couldn't care less, although you are obviously technically correct, my version would also be accepted by many members of today's readership.
I think that if I were of the feminine persuasion, I would be a bit "niggled" seeing thing like "him" and "his" and "mankind" and "penmanship" and "freshman" and "chairman" scattered around throughout various writings.
Hey Max, you forgot one example: woman.
Just sayin'. That "man" in the word hardly implies male. Not in the word "woman," nor in any of the other overused examples. Another example mentioned in the past was "history," for those who have no idea of the etymology. I too lived through 1973.
All too often, the human race just has to find somerthing new to grumble about. And if you notice, this usually happens in cultures that are comparatively privileged, as they like to say these days. If they were still scratching for a living, they'd have other things to fill up their time.
@Bert: That "man" in the word hardly implies male. Not in the word "woman," nor in any of the other overused examples.
You are joking, right? You mean that when you see "man" and "woman" ... it doesn't strike you that "woman" is derived from "man" ... sort of like saying "sort of man but a bit different."
I think the word man in anything -- like mankind or penmanship -- definately implies male. I understand that historically these words have been used to encompass everyone, but .... yes ... they DO imply male (sorry :-)
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.
cheapMonk wrote: ... second make STEM education fun (not just for girls but for boys too) ...
While instructors have varying ability to make a subject fun, exhilarating, deathy dull, or absolute agony, the fact will always be that different people find different things fun. As a born engineer, I usually found math class to be great fun as did all the other members of my high school's math team. OTOH, gym class was generally agony until I got to high school where you could pick the sport (I'm rather good at swimming, badmitton, and volleyball).
As Mr. Knightley says in Emma: "If the Westons think it worth while to be at all this trouble for a few hours of noisy entertainment I have nothing to say against it, but that they shall not choose pleasures for me."
So what do you do in a language like Spanish that does not have neuter nouns? Engineer in Spanish is inginiero (male gender). You can say inginiera (a female engineer), but there's no gender neutral way to say engineer. Plural doesn't even help (inginerieros = engineers, inginerieras = female engineers). Likewise, "firefighter" translates as "bombero" (masculine). Person on the other hand is "persona" (feminine). So even using "person" instead of "man" (hombre, masculine) doesn't help in Spanish.
Well, you could do a Vicente Fox imitation and say "ingenieros (y ingenieras)". When he was presidente of Mexico, his catch-phrase was saying "mexicanos (y mexicanas)" to be inclusive. Awkward, but inclusive :-)
In text I think you could get away with ingeniero/a without a visit from the Spanish Inquisition.
Sr Fox's prevalence to be inclusive by using both the masculine & feminine nouns was just as awkward as in English when we say "his or her" -- a habit of which I am often guilty, probably because I don't want to take the time to think of a clever sentence re-structuring that avoids gender altogether. But at least in the romance languages and other languages that are strongly gendered, there are many common nouns that were somewhat randomly assigned to be either masculine or feminine, but which have no gender bias at all -- so perhaps there is less sensitivity to gender bias in one's choice of words in those languages. I doubt that Mexican men were ruffled when Sr Fox referred to la gente Mexicana (the Mexican people), despite the fact that gente is feminine.
Despite the fact that gender bias in speech or writing may be politically incorrect, from an information theory standpoint, it is more efficient. Ingeniero (male engineer) or Ingeniera (female engineer) conveys more information than a hypothetical alternative word that is gender-neutral, and that extra information doesn't even cost extra letters :)
But at least in the romance languages and other languages that are strongly gendered, there are many common nouns that were somewhat randomly assigned to be either masculine or feminine, but which have no gender bias at all -- so perhaps there is less sensitivity to gender bias in one's choice of words in those languages.
Could be. French, German, Italian, Russian, Latin, and lots of other languages, have genders for every noun. All have masculine and feminine, and German, Russian, and Latin also have neuter. But the genders do little to promote the cause of political correctness, simply because the gender is more or less arbitrary, whether we're talking about people or things.
For example, in Italian, "la porta" means "the door," feminine, and "il porto" means "the port," masculine. The gender changes the meaning entirely. In German, "die See," feminine, is "the sea," and "der See," masculine, means "lake." Kind of hard to get all up in arms about these, isn't it? In French, the word for "sand" is masculine, in Italian it's feminine. Conversely, the French word for "sea" is feminine, while in Italian it's masculine. In German, the word for "house" is neuter, whereas "window" is feminine. And hold on, the German word for "maiden," and all other similar diminutives, is neuter.
Not much rhyme or reason. In English, where we don't assign a gender to every single noun, the few that do have become the subject of controversy.
From what I can tell, the purpose of German genders is to maximize the effective use of pronouns by hashing all nouns into three genders in as random a way as possible. That way you can be speaking of three objects, and chances are pretty good that you'll be able to refer to all three with different pronouns.
My favorite example of German genders is that all dogs are male, all cats are female, and all guinea pigs are neuter.
On the other hand, French dogs and cats have both male and female forms.
@Max, @Betajet: Trust me, in Spain there is an active polemic about using both genders at a time in public documents / speeches.
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 ;-)
There are tons of politicians today in Spain that use the same approach that Fox employed in Betajet example... "ingenieros e ingenieras, ciudadanos y ciudadanas..." I sincerely believe that this is against language economy, but I'm sure that most of the members of our "ruling class" don't know concepts such as language entropy ;-)
At least, we have had hillarious moments, such as the one in which our Minister for Gender Equality invented a new word when she spoke to the "miembros y ¿¿¿miembras???" (members) of the parliament -- now, she is often referred as "la miembra" ;-)
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.
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.
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.
Maybe I'm an old fossil but I think this is all hot air. Most people don't care. A few years ago, this was a hot topic. At the time I read a book (I think it was SF) and the misguided author used s/he throughout to be politically correct. It was a torture to read. Remember the uproar over the term master/slave as used in computing? I thought engineers were above such silliness.
God/Goddess help us if "they" ever learn about male/female connectors.