Ms. Goodie Two-Shoes Rhetoric

February 2005

Speaking in the first person again: I seldom watch TV, but I do listen to the radio. If you pay close attention, you have noticed that it's no longer firemen; instead, it's "firefighters." (No doubt on TV too.) Since I also do a good deal of walking, I see "firefighters" on the street doing their job from time to time, but rarely do I see them actually "fighting" a fire. Usually they're just dealing with some smoky substance that is easily extinguished, while a bunch more "firefighters" stand around with their hands in their pockets. Recently, the local library called out the "firefighters" so that they could, using their ladders, hang pictures on a two-story wall. No doubt they're picturefighters too.

Likewise, policemen are now "police," a mailman is now a "letter-carrier," a chairman is a "chairperson," a spokesman is a "spokesperson," a Congressman is a "Congressperson" or a "Congress member."

Also, jury foreman is now "foreperson." An amusing sidelight: On CBS radio there was a reporter covering the Scott Peterson double-murder trial when the guilty verdict was read. Live from the trial, the reporter said, "The foreman of the jury announced...." The poor reporter, he was caught up in the frenzy of the moment. He was quickly corrected by the announcer, "The foreperson of the jury announced...." We do hope that poor goon of a reporter wasn't fired. Please, it was just a momentary lapse.

So always follow this rule: Remove "man" from the word. If you remember this rule, you can't go wrong, and you'll probably get ahead.

Nonetheless, there are some instructive inconsistencies. When the "police" are closing in on someone brandishing a gun, or someone who has used a gun, the individual is always referred to as the gunman. Why not the "gunperson"? And if we cannot say policemen, why do we get to say gunman? Because a gunman is bad, bad, bad.

Likewise, you never hear about a "confidence person"; it's always a confidence man or con man.


You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.



New Oxford Notes: February 2005

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Ok some places it can be forced to work but in Job 7:17 - What is person, that thou shouldst magnify them? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon them?... oh please ! Posted by: martillo
July 26, 2007 10:41 AM EDT
I, for one, resent this feminist manhandling of the English language. Posted by: David
December 02, 2008 06:13 PM EST
I totally agree with the above posters. What does this distortion of the magnificent English language accomplish? It makes people look and sound stupid. But, I guess that those who espouse this sort of nonsense are too stupid themselves to see this. Posted by: tradgirl
March 05, 2009 09:52 AM EST
Add a comment


©