Nancy Gish wrote:
> First, there is a perfectly good and grammatical third person singular:
> "they." Check your OED on that also. It has always been used as such
> by major writers, and it is a constant in colloquial speech.
I haven't checked recently, but I believe it's becoming more or less
established in most professional journals to avoid "man" and "he" as
generics. I was sort of surprised to see it still a matter of debate on
this list. Milton scholars, long a bastion of masculinism, have pretty
much adopted neutral terminology. And as far as inconvenience or
"jarring" with expectations, my experience (which I think is
representative) back in the early '70s was it took about six months to
have the practice become automatic in writing and invisible in reading.
(And I was in my early '40s when the change occured, having come to
adulthood during that supremely male-supremacist backlash age of the
decades immediately following the war. (Incidentally, the ranks of
those for whom "the war" is an utterly unambiguous term are beginning to
Two widespread ads in the women's magazines of the war years provide a
picture of the transition in store.
The first aw the ad featuring Rosy the Riveter. They needed women badly
as workers. The second was an ad put out by GE. For background, pre-war
refrigerators did not have storage space in the door. And no
refrigerators were manufactured during the war. Rosy was of course in
bib overalls and a scarf wrapped around her hair (loose hair cost
lives). In the GE ad a woman in a yellow housedress and an apron was
standing before a refrigerator with open door, showing the storage
space. The caption: "When my husband comes home I will show him the
At the same time an interesting change was made in a song written by
Molly Jackson's brother-in-law about her reaction to her husband's
still. Her husband was an alcoholic, would go up on a hill where he had
his still, get drunk, and get mean. She warned him, and the next time he
went up to the still she came after him with a .44 (which she knew how
to use and had used in quarrels with the mineowner's thugs). Her
brother-in-law, who had been present, memoralized it in song, "Lay that
pistol down, maw, lay that pistol down, Pistol-packing Woman, lay that
pistol down." (Which was a pretty exact quote from the original
episode.) Some songwriter revised it, in which revision it became a
popular song. The song went: "Drinking beer in a cabaret, And was I
having fun, Until one night / she caught me right, and now I'm on the
run. Put that pistol down, babe, put that pistol down, Pistol-packing
mama, put that pistol down." It was popular when I was in the ninth
grade, 1943-44. Maw to Babe. Woman to Mama. Putter-down of male violence
to spoiler of festivity. Illegal still to the pleasantness of a cabaret.
The songs written by the pilots of a u.s. jet-bomber squadron in the
late '70s are also of some interest here, as we consider language and
women. You can find some of them quoted in Joan Smith, _Misogynies:
Reflections on Myths and Malice_ (London, 1989, New York, 1991). Smith
is an excellent journalist, not a social analyst, so her explanations
are a bit shallow, but the material she gathers is jolting. (The pilots
had published their own poems in a book without checking with USAF PR.)
Here is one
I fucked a dead whore by the road side,
I knew right away she was dead.
The skin was all gone from her tummy,
The hair was all gone from her head.
And as I lay down there beside her,
I knew right away that I had sinned.
So I pressed my lips to her sweet pussy,
And sucked out the wad I'd shot in.
Sucked out, sucked out,
I sucked out the wad I'd shot in, shot in,
Sucked out, sucked out,
I sucked out the wad I'd shot in.
From another of the songs:
Phantom flyers in the sky,
Persian-pukes prepare to die,
Rolling in with snake and nape,
Allah creates but we cremate.*
True, there is a long spectrum from 'minor' points of daily language, on
the one hand, and, on the other hand, that of nuclear pilots and of
_Freikorps_ novels from Germany in the 1920s/30s. Where does one cross
*Interesting in the light of the increasing use of air power by the
foreign ravagers of Iraq against the Iraqi resistance.