Tag Archives: writing

A mad pensioner

There once was a mad pensioner from Brecon
Who sat at her desk and said: “I reckon
I am not a he
Whatever they decree.”
So said that mad pensioner from Brecon.

The writer of the booklet I reviewed in a publication I edit (unpaid voluntary work) with some others wrote a reply correcting some errors I had made. However, the paragraph she wrote in defense of the language which I had called sexist in a brief note at the end of my review, was longer than anything else in the letter. The booklet is written totally in the language of he/man. The only “she” to be found between the covers of the booklet is the author. In the letter the author states that the original meaning of the word “man” is “a human”. She thinks it is absurd to try and change the language and that she wants us to return to the sanity of the old meaning.

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/N...

Image via Wikipedia

The letter got me thinking and reading. I found out that indeed the word “man” (or “mann” as it was also spelt) meant “a human” in Old English before 1066. The word “wer” or “waepman” was used for a male human and the word “wyf” or “wifman” for a female human. So how was this kind of equal presence in the language lost to women? Lost to the extent that in 1971 Richard Gilman can observe “that our language employs the words man and mankind as terms for the whole human race demonstrates that male dominance, the IDEA of masculine superiority is perennial, institutional, and rooted at the deepest level of our historical experience.” (quoted in Man Made language by Dale Spender). As Dale Spender put it “I saw it as a convenient means of making women invisible, for blanketing them under a male term.”

The Norman Conquest brought the Norman French to the fore and the Old English remained the language of commoners. Over the years Old English disappeared and although traces of it can be seen in our Modern English it is a different language altogether. Later on what was to be known as Middle English became the language of the country although French retained its  importance for some time. The Middle English developed further into our Modern English and even the Middle English can be understood by present English speakers if some words were translated for them. Like the lines

First I pronounce whennes that I come,                                             And thanne my bulles shewe I, alle and some.

This means: First I declare where I come from, and then I show my official documents, each and every one. (The Pardoner’s Prologue, Chaucer.)

In the Middle English, in which Chaucer wrote, the noun “man” means both a human and a human male. There does not seem to be any trace of “wer” left, but the word “wif” means a wife and “wives” and “wommen” mean women. So already there is a shift to making a man to be a norm and hiding a female under the man. Dale Spender relates the progression of how this was achieved in her book Man Made Language. In 1553 Thomas Wilson “insisted that it was more natural to place the man before the woman, as for example in male and female, husband and wife, brother and sister, son and daughter.”  Next came Joshua Poole who in 1646 put forward that “it was not only natural that the male should take ‘pride of place’ it was also proper because, in his line of reasoning, the male gender was the worthier gender.” This was taken even further by John Kirby in 1746 when he  “formulated his ‘Eighty Eight Grammatical Rules’ … Rule Number Twenty One stated that the male gender  was more comprehensive than the female.” Thus the male grammarians had come to the decision that the correct pronoun to use when the gender is not clear is  “he” and not “they” which had been in general use in these instances. But even the 1850 Act of Parliament which made this legal could not totally get rid of the usage of “they” when the gender is not clear.

It seems after all this that it is impossible to return to the use of “man” as meaning only “a human” and not also a male human. However, there have been changes since Dale Spender’s book was published. Women have been clamouring to get noticed. They have been telling that they do not feel included in that terminology. They do not really want to be included in the word “man” or in the pronoun “he”. It is quite common nowadays to see the word “humankind” instead of “mankind” and more people are using two third person singular pronouns instead of just “he” when they write about people. All good and well. Just as it should be. Perhaps we should even invent a third person singular pronoun which can mean both she and he when we do not know the gender of a person. Marge Piercy in her book Woman on the Edge of Time used “per” for both she and he. Perhaps we can adopt this usage and forget she and he altogether.

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Second First Post

I really had to call this the second first post as it is such a long time when I started this blog. It feels like I am coming anew to this. I still feel a bit lost not knowing how things really work here. But never mind, I can write and that is what I really want to do although it is so very difficult to start properly. I have done quite a bit of writing in my life and it has always been very difficult to start.

My first attempt at starting this blog was in February when I was feeling very low. I suppose my idea then was to pour my heart out here and get some relief that way. You see, I do not have anyone I can really confide in. I sometimes wonder if it is something in me that prevents me from getting very close to anyone.

I do have three children and I love them dearly. My youngest, who only recently moved away from home, still spends at least one night a week here. This week it will be two nights. My oldest telephones me almost every day, sometimes more than once. It is not to check on me, but often to run things by me before deciding anything. Sometimes it is just to chat. I usually see her two or three times a year. My middle one contacts me sometimes and visits me sometimes.  I last saw him a couple of months ago when he came to visit with his new girlfriend. All three spend some time here between 20th December and the beginning of January, sometimes the whole of that time, with or without their various friends and partners. My oldest is coming for a few days this September.

I moved to this house in this little country village about six years ago with my youngest. We knew some people in the area so thought we would not be lonely. We did have and still do have contact with them occasionally. My youngest made friends at school, more at college and now at the university. She has fully integrated into the life here. She now lives with her boyfriend in a town near here, nearer her university.  She also still has friends where we used to live and visits them sometimes.

My life was taken by the work on the house. I have replaced joists, pulled down walls, built walls, done bricklaying, etc. etc. etc. Until very recently I was always wearing dusty and dirty work clothes. I suppose when I got the living room floor finished (pulled out the old and replaced it with the new) I had finished with the most dirty part of the work. Well, for now anyway. There is still the cellar to do and that is going to be filthy work. Since the living room floor last November – December and the wall panelling this past spring I have been having a break. I did start walling in the downstairs toilet after finishing the living room wall, but have not finished it yet. I need to buy some tongue and groove pine panelling to do some of the walls. I have some pieces of glass that I took down from elsewhere in the house which I am going to use as windows. I have never put in windows from just panes of glass so I keep putting it off. I had a plumber put in the toilet inside a big room at the back. I just have to get it walled in, so that it is not a part of this big room. So, my life is still taken up by the work on the house although I am not doing it all the time any longer. And I am not dressed in dirty filthy rags all the time any longer.

Over these years that I have been working on the house I have become more and more like a hermit, but without any religious connotations as I am an atheist. I suppose it all came to a head last autumn and winter. I had many practical problems to do with the house. The winter was very cold and the house was cold. The main problem, however, was that I felt so incredibly lonely. I had no one to share my problems with. For years I had been alone and made all the decision alone. I had had no one to discuss any of them with. I did share some things with my children, but only very superficially. I do not want them to feel guilty or responsible for my loneliness. I do not want to burden them. They have their own lives to live. So what I am going to do here is to tell my life story.

I want to end this post with a positive note. I am not as depressed at the moment as I was last winter. I have been working on getting out of that funk for the past few months. One of the things that made me really take some action, small but action nevertheless, was the fact that I had been getting fatter. Over the winter I ate a lot of sweet things, donuts, chocolate, sweets. All vegan, of course, as I am a vegan. It is possible to eat unhealthily on a vegan diet. I have proved it. Anyway, at some point my stomach was so big that I had to notice it. Also I was finding it harder to walk, getting out of breath easily. Had to do something. I joined a tai chi class. That lasted all of two lessons. Mainly because the teacher was not very good. I bought a few books and a couple of dvds on tai chi thinking that I’ll do it myself. That has not happened. However, I do intend to take it up at some point. I have been doing other exercises. I go up and down the stairs in the house quite a number of times in a day. I do some exercises every morning. When I catch a bus I walk a couple of stops before catching it.

I have also made an effort to get more social. One of the first things I had to do for that was to get my teeth sorted. One of my front teeth had been missing for a couple of years. I always felt very conscious about it. I could never smile or laugh freely. I had that sorted a  couple of months ago and what a difference that has made. Then I started making an effort to meet people.  It has been an effort as I had got to a stage where I was afraid of meeting anyone. I was like this once before in my life. I got over it then and was determined to get over it now. I am not completely over it yet but it is not such a big effort any longer.

So things are looking up. I am not such a cry baby (61 year old!!!) any longer. And I am beginning to feel slightly lighter. I am not weighing myself all the time, but all the walking up and down the stairs must be doing something, not to mention not eating sweet things so much. I am not going to deny myself sweets. I had some chocolates last Sunday and some donuts last week when my daughter came over. And writing always makes me feel good.