The first thing that occurred to me when I saw today’s prompt was ‘the measure of a man’. I like that thought, however clichéd it may be. There’s substance to it. The possibility for exploration – through all those things other people have written, and all the layers my own mind has built up over years of living with the good, the bad and the ugly. As you do.
And then I thought Oh bugger! (as I do). Was ‘the measure of a man’ acceptable, or would I have to say ‘or woman’ as well. And the whole idea fell in a heap.
I am very grateful for the women’s movement, I really am. But I cannot reconcile myself to some of its nitpicking, and the abolition of ‘man’ as a generic term is one of those nits I wish it had left alone.
I grew up with ‘man’ as a term for the whole human race, and it never occurred to me to feel left out, overlooked or otherwise demeaned by it. And I’m pretty sure no one else in my generation did either until people like Germs came along and told us we should. We knew what it meant. It meant all of us. And I thought then – and still think – that this obsession with any word that might be construed as even vaguely male-oriented said more about the psychological problems of those obsessing than it did about the word itself.
What I regret most is what I can’t help seeing as damage to the language. ‘Man’ has been used for hundreds of years. It has a history. A grandeur bestowed by time and usage. A gravitas. It was used in the Bible, by Shakespeare, by classical poets. It has a stature that none of the substitutes will ever have.
I mean, try a few substitutes in the following and see what you think.
Man shall not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4)
This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man (Hamlet)
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today. (Dryden)