Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: June 1997

June 1997

The Swish of Rosary Beads

Ann Carey’s article, “Why Rank-and-File Catholics Don’t Love Women Religious Anymore” (March), touched me personally. I can recall the wonderful Sunday smell of freshly laundered Dominican habits, the white-veiled novices draped over their carved wooden stalls in prayerful reverence, and the highly polished corridors of the motherhouse and the girls’ boarding school echoing the clicks of the nuns’ shoes and the swish of rosary beads as the postulants and sisters, hands modestly beneath their scapulars, hurried to their chores or to the chapel. I awoke to the chant of the Divine Office. The chapel filled my senses with incense, rich vestments, Gregorian chant and motets, and the soft, rich light from stained glass windows. But now, sadly, all this seems to be gone.

Jeanne DiLisio

Redeemer College

Springfield, Vermont

The Battle for the English Language

Apropos of Kenneth Whitehead’s article “‘Inclusive Language’: Is It Necessary?” (March): Will inclusive language eventually come to be generally accepted by speakers of English? As a whole, probably not. Nevertheless, that some changes will indeed come to be accepted seems very likely. The use of “men” to refer to “people” already sounds rather archaic. On the other hand, I very much doubt that the generic “man” (without a definite or indefinite article) will fall out of use any time soon. Nor will such irreplaceable words as “sportsmanship,” “statesmanship,” and the like.

Attempts to institute wholesale changes in language for ideological reasons have not usually been successful over the long run. But languages do change, and sometimes even incremental changes have occurred because of deliberate efforts to that effect.

English will probably develop in some measure in accord with the desires of the inclusivists, but not entirely. Neither side is likely to win the battle for the English language, and both will have to settle for less than they would prefer.

Whitehead writes: “Inclusive language is not natural; it does not represent an organic development of the English language.” Although this is true to a great extent, it seems evident that the generic singular “they” (as in “Everybody should be aware of their prejudices…”) is almost certainly more “natural” to most people than the use of the generic masculine pronoun (“Everybody should be aware of his prejudices…”), which has always been something of a grammarian’s imposition on the language, and which people have had to stop to think about before using. In fact, the generic singular “they” has a surprisingly ancient lineage, and can be found in the writings of Shakespeare, Austen, and many other luminaries, even if it does violate the apparently more logical canons of post-18th-century grammarians. The legitimization of the generic “they” may prove to be the biggest victory scored by the partisans of inclusive language, precisely because it’s more “natural” and has been in use already for several centuries.

Prof. David Koyzis

Ancaster, Ontario

"Inclusive Language" Is Counterproductive

Kenneth Whitehead does an admirable job of demonstrating why “inclusive language” as defined by the feminist movement is unnecessary, and even repugnant when used in Scripture translations and the sacred liturgy (article, March). Another point remains to be made, however: Feminist language is actually counterproductive to its own advertised goal of inclusiveness.

Traditional language is supposedly exclusive due to its use of “male” nouns and pronouns in cases where gender is unknown or unspecified. Well, let’s suppose we succeed in removing, say, 90 percent of “sexist” language. The problem is that the 10 percent that is virtually impossible to “de-sex” is accented and highlighted, sticks out like a sore thumb, and becomes the focus of intensified agitation. As the feminist movement has led more to the degradation of women than anything else, so does feminist language lead more and more to polarization than to any true inclusiveness. Perhaps that’s why an even greater percentage of women than men oppose it, as indicated by the Time survey cited in the box item on page 12 of your March issue.

Things just don’t work out as expected. Consider the lector who began proclaiming Acts 15:1 and, per modern custom, took the liberty of substituting “brothers and sisters” for “brothers,” saying, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers and sisters,” only to have to check himself in embarrassed silence as he continued to the second half of that verse, “‘unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.'” Oops!

Gerald DePyper

Duluth, Minnesota

Man Embraces Woman

Kenneth Whitehead’s article “‘Inclusive Language’: Is It Necessary?” (March) reminds me of history professor Jacques Barzun’s 1974 essay “A Few Words on a Few Words,” published in his book On Writing, Editing, and Publishing, in which he laments the use of the word chairperson. He writes:

“Obviously, the reason for using person was to avoid man, now felt to be the sign of an arrogant imperialism. And in the background, no doubt, was the further wish to get rid of sex reference altogether, to confirm equality by insisting on our common humanness. With that last intention no one will quarrel. The only question is whether it can be served so usefully by…language…wrenched out of shape….

“For the pity of the matter is that man, in chairman and elsewhere, still means person, as it does etymologically. As far back as the Sanskrit manus, the root man means human being, with no implication of sex. The German Mann and Mensch, the Latin homo (from which derives the name human that we so passionately seek) originally denote the kind of creature we all are. Homo sapiens means male and female alike. For the male sort, the words were vir in Latin, wer in Old English…. Woman is the contraction of wïf-man, the she-person.

“…Man and woman acquired their present differentiation without depriving man of its universal, unisex meaning. As an Act of Parliament in 1878 reminded the world in platitudinous terms, ‘man embraces woman.’ Unless limited by context, mankind means and has always meant humanity entire. It includes the child, who is — in the strictest sense of the words — neither man nor woman. Tribal names — Norsemen, Norman, German, Allemand (Alle Männer) — are likewise inclusive by their very form.

“…We must understand that the ‘brotherhood of man’ does not exclude our beloved sisters; that the potent formula Liberty, Equality, Fr_____ cannot be revised to end with either Sorority or Personality, that mankind in modern usage is not the opposite of womankind as menfolk is of womenfolk; that we are all fellowman and fellowmen together.

“…On the score of history, etymology, and Sprachgefühl,… ‘Madam chairman’ is a correct and

decent appellation…. It is consistent with common sense and perfect equity: the man in it denotes either sex….”

Guillaume Gardinal

Melbourne, Florida

We Already Have a Mother

Regarding the articles opposing “inclusive language” in your January-February and March issues: The strongest reason against calling God our “Mother” is because we already have a mother — Mary, Our Blessed Mother.

Loretta Pryzbek

Cincinnati, Ohio

Common Ground With Publicans, Adulterers, Prostitutes…

I must ask that my subscription end at once. My objection is based entirely on your editorial stance. That the editors of the NOR are to be arbiters of Catholic orthodoxy is, in a word, offensive.

I refer you to two profoundly important statements by two eminent members of the American hierarchy, Roger Cardinal Mahony in his Lenten Message for Ash Wednesday (Feb. 12, 1997) and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in his remarks made at the introduction of the Catholic Common Ground initiative (Aug. 12, 1996). Bernardin said: “Our faith and our common life as members of the community of faith, which is the Church, are indeed great and precious gifts. Let us together leave behind whatever brings discord.” And Cardinal Mahony said: “I agreed to serve on the Catholic Common Ground Initiative… because I felt that a spirit of harsh judgment bitterness, and disunity were beginning to take hold at many levels in the Church…. Let us listen to Jesus’ very clear words to us: ‘Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.'”

To put it another way, I most sincerely hope that the Church in which I have now lived for more than 60 years is not to be saved from its publicans, adulterers, prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, and lepers — for such a salvation must be a pretty bleak not to say dull, prospect.

Harold M. Isbell

San Francisco, California

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