When P.C. Tigers Attack
Administrators at Princeton maul common parlance—and common sense.
One of the feminists who used to write angry letters to the editor in the 1960s about sexist words such as “fireman,” “chairman,” and “mankind” has apparently come to power at Princeton and officially banned this kind of language from all campus documents. The Office of Human Resources issued the new policy. Whether you can still use inflammatory words like “humanity,” “handyman,” or “henchman” in conversation on or near campus remains unclear. To be safe, I have already switched to “handyperson,” “henchindividual” and “persons of hench.”
The editors of the Daily Princetonian were displeased. They wrote: “Censoring the English language through the dissemination of lists of acceptable vocabulary is contrary to the values of the University and a sinister first step towards Orwellian restriction of language and speech.” Still, scour the language we must. Men might be masterful, but women will be mistressful. Given a sex change, a bagman for the mob would emerge as a baglady. “Wise guys,” a euphemism for mobsters, will have to be wiseguys and wisedolls.
But what if someone falls off a ship during a Princeton cruise? “Man overboard!” wouldn’t do. Instead, a quick poll among people on deck could settle whether most observers thought the unlucky person was male or female. In cases of a tie, be fair and just leave the person in the water. Couldn’t everyone just yell, “Person overboard”? No. A generic shout like that could be taken as a subtle rejection of the falling person’s private gender choice. “Possible female or male overboard” wouldn’t work either, since everyone knows that there are somewhere between two and 32 genders, and failing to acknowledge them all before attempting a rescue would surely be seen as non-inclusive and therefore micro-aggressive. So, what to do? Committing a gender gaffe would be just awful. So it might be best to let the individual drown and get the gender right later at the autopsy. The Princeton administration would know.
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