and God Talk

God's book talks

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.
    ... "The New York Times [said], 'The White House recommended for the Middle East, mutual compromise.' ... As for mutual compromise, there is no other kind. This is true as well of mutual cooperation, which must be mutual if it is to be co. One-sided cooperation has been tried and found wanting, usually falling short by 50 percent.  An example is the Rose Bowl pact ... which remains firm, the Tournament of Roses Association assures us, [because of] 'similar athletic philosophies and mutual cooperation.'
    "Mutual cooperation requires a mutual agreement. ... An announcement from Kensington Palace [said] that '... the Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon have mutually agreed to live apart.' Evidently it was a mutual agreement for a mutual separation."

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.'
    "Muzak does indeed avoid using music for the purposes of entertainment.  On the other hand, a man-made environment is by definition human; you cannot humanize it."152

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.
--Charles McCabe, Tall Girls are Grateful154

    These ladies neither are nor pretend to be making their objection in the interests of the language or of people in general; they object in their own interests only; this they are entitled to do, but still it is lower ground, & general convenience and the needs of the King's English, if these are against them, must be reckoned of more importance than their sectional claims.  Are these against them?  Undoubtedly.
    The truth is perhaps that conscious deliberate [nonsexism] is folly, that the choice or rejection of particular words should depend, not on their [gender inclusiveness] but on considerations of expressiveness, intelligibility, brevity, euphony, or ease of handling.
--H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage155

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. ...
    It is obvious that women's role in society has changed dramatically since the agrarian era and that there will be a great deal more change in the future.  The basic accomplishment of the women's rights movement has been the enormous extension of the range of choice for women.  Ideology has played a part in this, chiefly by making women more aware of the new possibilities open to them and motivating them to work to take advantage of them.  But the dominant role has clearly been played by technological advance.  Without modern techniques of contraception, and without modern machine technology, most women would still be confined to the nursery and the kitchen.
--Gerhard & Jean Lenski, Human Societies156

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."
--Cheris Kramer, "Women's Speech: Separate but Unequal?"158

    nice. 3. Meaning. N. has been spoilt, like CLEVER, by its bonnes fortunes; it has been too great a favourite with the ladies, who have charmed out of it all its individuality & converted it into a mere diffuser of vague and mild agreeableness. Everyone who uses it in its more proper senses, which fill most of the space given to it in any dictionary, & avoids the modern one that tends to oust them all, does a real if small service to the language.
--Ibid., Fowler.159

    `nice is a counter word indicating mild approval, so general in meaning it is of little use in writing. The word's former meaning of "exact, precise," as in a nice distinction, is confined to formal writing.
--Thorndike-Barnhart, Comprehensive Desk Dictionary160

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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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2002, Earl S. Gosnell III

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