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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More Sex , please : we're English speakers

The English language is infinitely variable and adaptable. That’s what makes it so useful for speakers and writers in the twenty-first century when language has to work hard to keep up with an ever changing world. However, there have to be some agreed principles and definitions otherwise there would be an almost instant meltdown of understanding. Communication would no longer be possible as the language became balkanised, just as in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel incident. That’s why old gits like me try to keep some of the old rules alive. Not out of some outmoded colonial or imperial yearning but in the spirit of true universal communication. Let me illustrate: The word “gender” has a particular meaning to us oldies. It is a grammatical term to do with the grouping of nouns and for many languages it prescribes the endings that follow on adjectives. Languages may have two or more genders (French has two, German has three). These genders have little to do with sex. Thus Table in French is feminine, Madchen in German (a little girl) is neuter. Recently, however, the word “gender” has been appropriated for use in place of “sex”. Sex is a good old word and it certainly hasn’t gone out of fashion. Sex is what distinguishes men from women not gender. And yet gender is everywhere. Gender studies, gender awareness, the gender gap. I remember gender studies - hot afternoons in ancient stuffy classrooms wrestling with Latin nouns and adjectives. Lack of gender awareness meant a clip round the ear in Latin translation. It seems to be another example of using a longer, pseudo scientific word when a plain simple one will do perfectly well. So please, for my sake, use the word sex when you mean sex and release me from memories of the gender gap in the Lower Fifth.

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