The Language War: Confusing the Issue?

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog criticizing a grammar program’s caution that I might offend someone with my narrative. It suggested I change the wording of a sentence to be more inclusive.

If you’re interested in the details and the discussion that evolved around it, click the link below to see the blog in question. However, this piece will stand on its own, even if it is a continuation of the rant from Artificially Speaking.

Recently, I was working on a draft for future publication concerning some of the so-called bits of wisdom shared on social media. It is one of those pieces that needs to age a bit before being shared, or deleted. However, as I was trying to wrap it up, the grammar algorithm raised its ugly head again.

The piece in question comments on a meme using the term child as the object of discussion. The meme used the terms “the child” and “a child” to make its point. Accordingly, I used the term child several times without any indication of pronoun preference when referring to the message in the meme. Nothing in the meme, comments about the meme, or my blog referred to gender in any fashion.

The meme’s creator discussed a hypothetical incident involving a hypothetical child. I might have been one of these kids or one of a million others. I analyzed the meme in the same way. Yet, someone, or more likely something, decided that was a problem, and sent the suggestion below.

To me, the suggestion came completely out of left field! The program suggested a pronoun when nothing in the meme or my draft alluded to gender or sex in any way. And, the “Learn more” link simply opened a section that rehashed what anyone with a background in writing would know about pronouns. There was no allusion to why itself would not suffice in this situation.

Please keep in mind that this was a meme discussing a hypothetical person’s response to the actions of a hypothetical child. In analyzing the meme’s message, I used the word child five times, as that was the term used in the meme. Again, “child” was used without any suggestion regarding gender, age, ethnicity, or intellectual level.

It was when I made the mistake of trying to make the child even more of a hypothetical figure the stuff hit the fan! I wrote, “…it is possible the child was trying to defend itself…” The suggestion above was the response to that phrase.

At first, I was a bit confused. My favorite writing aid changed from inclusive to biased in a few weeks. After all, the only thing in the meme or my writing that might suggest gender or sex was the child’s behavior as laid out in the meme.

My first thought was the program or some human accessing the program decided the behavior was masculine. Being the curious, analytical dork I am, I looked into the matter.

It was then I discovered why the program came up with this suggestion. When I searched to find out if the term “itself” would be considered gender-neutral, I discovered the English-speaking world is somewhat divided.

Some writers, educators, and others opined that using “it” when referring to a person is dehumanizing. Others thought it was okay to use “it” for a “baby.” Of course, there was no discussion about when a child was no longer considered a baby.

When does a baby become a child? Can it be referred to as an “it” until it crawls, until it walks, until it can eat solid food, until it can speak coherently, or what?

The bottom line is this. The program wasn’t biased. It, like much of the rest of the world, is confused.

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2 Responses to The Language War: Confusing the Issue?

  1. Phil,

    Glad I gave you an opportunity to unload a bit. For good or bad, I’ve been a mediator/negotiator since my preteen years. In my family, it was a survival skill and helped a lot in my adult life and career.

    I limit how much I will tolerate trolls and nitpickers. Yes, I occasionally get on my soapbox and rant about some of these things. If for no other reason, I hope to see if there are still people out there with a bit of objectivity and common sense.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Eric

  2. Eric,
    I have read the above and your earlier piece and I completely agree with you. Providing one does not directly slander an individual or a group, generalities are usually just opinions and are not objectionable or an attack on anybody in particular. In addition to that, who the hell cares what an individual thinks or writes about such generalities, as it is only their opinion and that is no better or worse than yours. Why do such people think that their opinion is more important or any more correct than yours? In an open and free society that trumpets free speech you should be entitled to speak your opinion as long as it is not legally liable and as long as common decency prevails.
    Regarding the man-made lake you referred to – it probably was in fact made by men, and therefore it is a man-made lake in every way. What absolute rubbish to pick on such a pathetic point, especially as it is, in all likelihood,100% correct.
    I take no notice of and ignore anyone who gets on their high horse about absolutely nothing. They are, in fact, making comments about you personally, but you were not referring to anyone in particular with your comments. They are the ones at fault, and if they go too far, they could be legally liable, not you.
    If you feel comfortable in what you say, completely ignore such garbage, as they obviously do not have the ability to make serious contributions and can only nitpick a single word.
    That is enough – I feel better now!
    Regards, Phil

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