“Man” vs “human”

book, Words and Women by Casey Miller and Kate Swift

Words & Women

The meanings, or implications of “boy,” “girl,” and “man” have shifted over the last several hundred years. “Man” used to mean human; so you’d see a sentence like, “There were two men of London: a woman and her son.”* But it came more and more to mean males only, so that “fisherman,” which might once have been as generic as “farmer” or “pioneer,” now brings to mind only males. The whole mankind = man = men way of writing encourages us to think only of males. So we get blinkered communications such as, “The pioneers went west with their possessions, wives, and children” because the writer thinks of pioneers as men and forgets that women and children were pioneers, too. We have to include women again if we want girls to grow up using the full scope of their abilities.

*Source, Words and Women by Casey Miller and Kate Swift

See also A Handbook of Non-sexist Writing and its reviews.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Ercongota, daughter of a seventh-century English king, as “a wonderful man.” No, she didn’t have a sex change. In her day, “man” was a true generic term meaning “person” or “human being.” Many older English writings do indeed use “man” in this sense. But, as this book explains, our language has changed, and this generic usage is no longer appropriate.

I grew up on “man = humankind” rhetoric so I can adjust to it but I now notice that it’s exclusionary.

What is a theory?

A theory isn’t a notion or a tale or an idea or a concept or a guess or a rationale for a religion’s myths. You can’t have a real theory that isn’t supported by evidence—that’s why rational people, not just atheists, have screaming fits when you present your “theories.” In conversation, “theory” can mean ‘a wild-assed guess’ or ‘a notion about how things work,’ which scientists would call a hypothesis; but a theory in the scientific sense means ‘an explanation that can be tested, that has predictive power, and whose predictions have been tested and shown to be correct.’

If the predictions are wrong, the theory must be either discarded or, more likely, modified to explain the actual results. A theory is based on reality. Scriptures of any religion are not evidence of anything except the ability of humans to create and believe their own fiction.

What the heck is a Christian Reconstructionist?

What does this mean? some kind of literalism?

A Christian Reconstructionist is a Dominionist. He takes seriously the Bible’s commands to the godly to take dominion in the earth. This is the goal of the gospel and the Great Commission. The Christian Reconstructionist believes the earth and all its fullness is the Lord’s: that every area dominated by sin must be “reconstructed” in terms of the Bible. This includes, first, the individual; second, the family; third, the church; and fourth, the wider society, including the state. — from The Creed of Christian Reconstruction by Rev. Andrew Sandlin

Does ‘Sioux’ really mean ‘snake’?

I heard recently that the “Sioux” call themselves Lakota and “sioux” means “snake” in their enemies’ language. No, according to Wikipedia, that’s just a rumor. However, Sioux is a shortened form of Nadoüessioüak an Odawa* word for speaker of a foreign language. The Sioux were an alliance of several tribes speaking related languages such as Lakota and Dakota (both of which, apparently, mean “ally”) and Mandan.

*Hence, Ottawa.

Random quotation

“Overheard” on a T-shirt:

What part of
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

don’t you understand?

Word of the day: petroliana

I learned a new word today: petroliana.


It’s collectible petrol-industry stuff. It seems to include automobile service signs.

Contact with H. floresiensis may have simplified language

Reconstruction of Homo floresiensis head

Reconstruction of Homo floresiensis head

Did contact with Homo floresiensis simplify some Indonesian languages? That’s the intriguing hypothesis put forward by linguist John McWhorter.

The languages of Keo, Rongga, and Ngadh, spoken on the island of Flores in Indonesia, are completely analytic (meaning of a very simplex grammatical form), and yet are surrounded by hundreds of related languages that are much more complex.

Hat tip to Bjorn Ostman at Pleiotropy. Bjorn points out,

In 2008 McWhorter published an article [1] in which he made the argument that it is not just rare that languages evolve to become simpler overall without the language being acquired by adults, but that such simplification is indeed impossible.

McWhorter thinks that such simplification occurs only when the language is spoken imperfectly by strangers who never learn all its complexity. Then those adults must be in the community so that children of the community hear the simplified language as they are growing up.


McCain, Palin preach politics of hate

McCain and Palin are whipping up a frenzy of hatred in an atmosphere of violence. That’s demagoguery, not democracy.

Voters, tell the Republicans that hate speech doesn’t work on you.

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