Fear of "His"

Federico Escobar federicoescobarcordoba at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 8 15:31:21 UTC 2010

Along the same lines comes this, which is in all likelihood not drinking
from the well of postmodernism, but shows how much that well has spilled
over; it's probably the most sinuous way I've seen of boarding the pronoun

"In every other chapter, we will alternate between the masculine and
feminine pronouns and adjectives when describing humans. In every other
chapter, we will do the same when describing dogs. Therefore, in one chapter
'he' will describe a dog and 'she' will describe a human. Then we'll switch
off, and so on" (Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier, "Cesar's Way". New
York: Three Rivers Press [2006], p. 7).

The authors say explicitly that with this they seek to fight sexism; it's a
good goal, certainly. The way of going about it is what struck me as
convoluted. The ADS archives don't show it's been discussed before.

"Cesar's Way" sold over a million books, by the way, so you can imagine the
ripple effect.


On Wed, Dec 8, 2010 at 10:52 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Fear of "His"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Scottish artist Susan Philipsz [sic] has won the Tate Prize for a "sound
> installation" that allows you to hear her singing a nineteenth-century sea
> shanty.  Philipsz explains:
> "The song is about a sailor who appears in a dream to their loved one."
> As has been mentioned here before (I think), even when "his" refers
> unmistakably and exclusively to a man, it's terribly naughty.
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSiJpWRGqRc&feature=player_embedded.
> Meanwhile, from the past, a note by the psychologist Erich Fromm to preface
> his _Anatomy of Human Destructiveness_ (N.Y.: Holt, 1973), p. xvi:
> "I have also, in general, used the word 'he' when I referred to human
> beings, because to say 'he or she' each time would be awkward; I believe
> words are very important, but also that one should not make a fetish of
> them
> and become more interested in the words than in the thought they express."
> Unanalyzed power relations kept the the naive, prepomo Fromm was from
> understanding that the thought isn't what the speaker apparently thinks he
> thinks, it's what the critic thinks the speaker must really be thinking
> based on the language that speaks our sick society.
> But enough pronominal fetishizing from me. My resistance to pomo theory
> only
> proves my own sickness.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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