and God Talk
I heard a fine sermon Sunday, April 9, 2002, which started by
stating that agreement requires two parties. Edwin Newman in his
book A Civil Tongue,151
where he argues
forcefully for better English, in a rather sarcastic monologue,
his chapter "A Fatal Slaying of the Very Worst Kind" satirizes
"all this redundancy to which Americans have become
addicted. It is typical of American English that enough is
almost never enough.
Anyway, since compromises, cooperation, agreements, and separations, are all mutual by definition, it's redundant to call them mutual in our speech, which is essentially the first point of the sermon that an agreement has to have more than one party.
Newman's book tackles other redundancies: "The director of music
programming and recording for Muzak said, 'We at Muzak avoid
using ... any ... kind of music for the purposes of
entertainment. Ours is functional music, sonorous design to
humanize man-made environments.'
The author is using sarcasm here to try to help us improve the civility of our language by pointing out questionable constructions. The feminists also use sarcasm to point out questionable constructions, but theirs is a narrower focus, on issues concerning women. Sometimes the two overlap. From Rosalie Maggio, A Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage : "One of the most rewarding side effects of breaking away from traditional, biased language is a dramatic improvement in writing style. By replacing fuzzy, overgeneralized, cliché-ridden words with explicit, active words ... you can express yourself more dynamically, convincingly, and memorably. ... The word manmade, which seems so indispensable to us, doesn't actually say much. Does it mean artificial? hand-made? synthetic? fabricated? machine-made? custom-made? simulated? plastic? imitation? contrived? Communication is--or ought to be--a two-way street. A speaker who uses man to mean human being while the audience hears it as adult male is an example of communication gone awry."153
I'm sure you can see a contradiction here. Newman writing on a civil tongue says that to say man-made something's human is being redundant. Maggio writing in the narrower sphere of bias-free usage tells us that nobody in the audience has a clue that something manmade is human. Let's sort it out:
The toughest women in America have begun once more to rant about freedom. You notice it is not 'human freedom' they are discussing.
That principle was well understood, but while I was linguistically isolated a contingent of Americans introduced a nonsexist dialect putting sectarian needs ahead of general and linguistic ones. Nevertheless they do not impose this reversal of standards on English writing before 1980, and presumably on those linguistically isolated from the development of the dialect, and by association a traditional speaking group of like minds including one such as I.
Since this preacher seems to worry about feminists present when preaching to traditional folk, let's take another look at this example: manmade.
One of the major consequences of the decline in the birthrate has been the emancipation of women from many of the restrictions imposed on them by their sex. Before the discovery of modern methods of contraception, most married women were destined to spend the prime years of their lives bearing children, nursing them, caring for them when they were sick and dying, rearing them if they survived, doing domestic chores, tending a garden, and often helping in the fields. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that women seldom played significant roles outside the home or made outstanding contributions to the arts. ...
Man is a tinkerer, an inventor. He came up with birth control and
machines that gave women all the options of a modern
society. Now she doesn't want us to use the word
manmade because it gives men too much subliminal
credit. How's that for gratitude? I mean, the fish in
the Mississippi River are developing deformities because of
contraceptive substances that get passed from women's urine
eventually into the river. If I were to examine such a fish
and say, "We never saw this when we were an agrarian
society. Perhaps it's caused by a manmade substance," the
women's response is to criticize my use of
manmade. As for the man, "'Why should I bother to
do more?' he asks himself. 'I'm unappreciated for what I do
already.' The harmful effects of this relatively new pattern are
greatly underestimated by both men and women."157
Maggio was interested in "replacing fuzzy, overgeneralized, cliché-ridden words with explicit, active words." Okay, let's help her.
Native speakers will recognize "nice," "pretty," "darling," "charming,""sweet," "lovely," "cute," and "precious," as being words of approval used more frequently by women. As one male student in my speech class said, "If I heard a guy say something was 'cute,' I'd wonder about him."
If instead of criticizing men, the feminists were to appreciate them for liberating women with their technology, and then clear up their own abuses of English, nice would be applied only in its proper senses, in particular to manmade items, nicely made, and the Muzak director would properly say that Muzak humanizes an artificial environment. It's not because manmade already means human that he misuses it, but because it doesn't quite that makes his usage correct, a nice distinction. And instead of making "a dramatic improvement in writing style" as Maggio thinks, it would only make "a real if small service to the language" as Fowler tells us. It's the principle of asking the radical feminist to remove the beam(s) from her eye before trying to take the specks out of ours. Because the gain would be so minute, it's probably not worthwhile to the preacher to preach on it in a traditional service, and for the very reason that the feminists overblow the issues, he may not want to accommodate them in the contemporary one either.
Now, as for the passages about knowing/prophesying in part until that which is perfect is come, looking at the OT could shed some light. Take this unprofitable talk: (Numbers 12 excerpts) "And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore were ye then not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"
Now let's see, Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20) and God puts her in her place, that a prophet sees through a glass darkly. Moses enjoys face-to-face relations with God, just as our Bible enjoys the preeminent position in our New Testament period as our supreme authority on earth; it's got the real lowdown. Aaron is the one to talk for Moses just as our teachers speak for the Bible. Seems to me that as well as prophesying in part, we also know in part, and a teacher would not attain perfection simply by having a perfect canon.
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Copyright © 2002, Earl S. Gosnell III
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
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