(Ok, this post isn’t what you’re thinking based on the title, but I thought it might grab your interest. Gelerntner was a Unabomber victim.)
David Gelerntner, professor of computer science at Yale, has just written a great article on the generic “he” and all its putative replacements. This is an issue of importance to Christians because it affects Bible translation as well as our many-faceted witness to the world.
Take some time and read the article.
I was especially struck by these two points:
- The same writers who would never use a generic “he,” either turning it plural or somehow adding in “she” (either with he/she or random replacement), eschew “authoress” and “priestess.” They’re insisting on giving women their place among pronouns, but taking away women’s place among nouns!
- The “generic she” isn’t generic! It shouts femaleness.
How can English style enthusiasts keep limpid prose coming when ideologues are hovering over their keyboards with a ruler, ready to slap knuckles at every infraction?
And the basic point of the article: Since when does our beloved melting pot called English get to be ruled, French-like, by some linguistic bullies?
The question for evangelical Christians is where we fall in the debate. We can jump in like any citizen, but it’s like Calvinism-Arminianism issue. If I know that the use of the label “Calvinist” or “Arminian” (whichever position I take!) is just going to create misunderstanding with those who only know a caricature of the theology behind the label, am I being spineless to avoid using it when it’s extraneous to my purpose? Likewise, if I know that the generic he will be offensive (I’m not saying I know that; it depends on the writing situation), do I want to lose my readers to score a conservative cultural point? Are we going to win the culture war by being sticklers on pronouns?