It’s a little known fact – probably because it isn’t one – that as well as its gendered third person pronouns – he and his, she and hers – for a long time English had gendered second person pronouns. If you were male I’d be speaking to yo, if female to ya. The plural for yo, by the way, has lived on in the slang youze, whereas yas has completely fallen out of use.
Then sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century, theatre-goers rushing backstage to either congratulate or excoriate the cast, found they couldn’t decide whether to call the male actor playing Desdemona yo or ya. So to alleviate this awkwardness it was Shakespeare himself, according to some scholars, who proposed the gender-neutral you. And the rest, as they say, is history. Though this wasn’t.
My son brought home his report card today, and you ask, “Was it nachos or tsuris?” (Nachos is Yiddish for the joy one takes in one’s children, tsuris for the grief.) “Vut shud it matter?” injects his unconditionally loving Baba, as if he’d just joined the Gay-Straight Alliance.
So language is always adding and subtracting, disambiguating and re-ambiguating. It tells us what we believe, or in some cases what we’re allowed to believe. At least this week. Next week who knows? I’ve been mocked mercilessly for calling the remote a wand. She’s been told it’s infantilizing, but Baba still calls everyone dearie. Black, African Canadian, native, aboriginal, First Nation, retarded, challenged, disabled, differently abled, overweight, full-bodied … How does anyone keep up?
So I’ve decided to declare myself a Linguistically Responsibility Free (LRF) zone. I categorize an LRF-speaker as a sub-species of ESL-speaker. That way I can claim my first language is Neanderthal. I consider conflating the race with the language an ethnic slur, but my protests have fallen on deaf ears.
Being under an LRF cone is not license to call a black a nigger or a Jew a kike. But if I know they’re a couple, then notwithstanding she has a Ph.D. and he doesn’t, I can call her Mrs. His-Last-Name because, as the song says, “If [she’s] good enough to be [his] woman, [she’s] good enough to be [his] wife.” If some tard complains to the Dean, he can hardly call me out for racist language without calling out his latest fresh-out-of-China chemistry instructor for not speaking proper English either.
Ah, you say, but she can be taught, whereas I’ve declared I won’t be.
I accept this as a slam-dunk objection to my position. So let me offer an alternative justification for my declaring myself LRF. Don’t we pride ourselves in our cultural diversity? And isn’t linguistic archaic-ism just as charming as haggis or gefilte fish? If you say that bigoted language isn’t worth preserving, why are we still allowing such unpalatable excuses for food?
Okay, that’s enough political incorrectness for one day. Who knows what will move me tomorrow, in much the way this entire bag of prunes has yet to today.