Daily prompt: I wish people wouldn’t mess with the language


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

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)




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23 Responses to Daily prompt: I wish people wouldn’t mess with the language

  1. lifelessons says:

    I do not worry about this. We are all humans–Some are called man and some demonstrate that they have a bit more by adding “wo” to the mix. There are important human rights to worry about but I simply can’t get hung up in semantics. Well, unless it has to do with size and age. Guess we all have our weak spots.

    • My semantic weak spot is ‘elderly’. If I get eaten by a shark and the newspaper report refers to me as ‘an elderly woman’, I will come back and crash their computers.

    • Call me old – call me ancient, if you like – but not elderly. Elderly has a doddering, tottering overtone that I categorically refuse to own.

      • lifelessons says:

        Yes. You neither look nor write “elderly” in my estimation. I don’t think I know any people who seem “elderly” anymore, including my newlywed neighbor., 95 years old, who has been married to his 4th wife for 2 years. They golf 3 times a week and go out to dinner every night. When I told him I heard he was getting married two years ago when he was 93, he said, “Well, of course, you know I’m marrying an older woman!” (She was 95, is 97 now.)

      • There are a few elderlies tottering around here – wearing stockings, carrying handbags (in a seaside village??). I think they think it’s ‘proper’, poor things.

  2. rugby843 says:

    I like this because I have the same problem. Man to me means human.

  3. Paula Light says:

    Agreed. There are so many huge issues still to work on.

    • All too true. I don’t think we do the huge issues any favours by being petty about words that have been perfectly well understood for generations. (And what’s more, the alternatives are a nightmare if you’re writing poetry.)

  4. mumsthewordblog1 says:

    I think the human race has become fa too precious. I’m a woman and proud to be but I don’t object to terms such as mankind. It is what it is. I think people should concern themselves with things that matter 😃🐻

  5. Thomas Ward says:

    There are some funny scenes in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where “The People’s Front of Judea” keeps trying to come up with resolutions but they get sidetracked with the languages, having to say “or woman” everywhere they say “man.”

  6. Me too. But I figure that many people have nit-picky quibbly minds. However, it’s that very thing that made me think feminism was silly. Man/woman/person who cares? Just pay people the same amount for doing the same work whatever you fucking call them!

  7. Embeecee says:

    You know, I just say “person” and call it a freakin’ day. And yes, it bugs me as well that we now have to be politically correct or some idiot with a thin skin comes ‘yelling’ at us for excluding THEM. Classic literature, poetry and prose and stuff like it should be exempt from the PC police…IS exempt (IMHO) and if the equality crowd doesn’t like it, tough cookies. You just say “man” as much as you want. Those of us with some sense will nod and pass along..

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