Oct 1, 2021

Welcome to October: Change is in the Argot

Leaves and language continue to turn

By Ed Goldman
October is upon us once again and this year both the leaves and our language are changing color.

First, I have to make a confession: I’ve never seen frost on a pumpkin—nor on a “punkin’” for that matter. I’m neither a country boy nor voluntary early riser.

Edgy Cartoon


Also: I can’t stand the tradition of employees in my bank showing up for work dressed as clowns, hookers and superheroes. It’s even worse when they do it on Halloween. (Rim shot!)

Nevertheless, I’ve always loved this month. I hope climate change won’t disallow there being a certain nip in the air and my switching my office wardrobe to tweed running shorts and corduroy sneakers.

Yes, I work at home—or as pandemic argot has modified it, I work from home. I’m not sure what prompted the prepositional switch but, as I generally do with changes in our very living language, I’ll reluctantly embrace it.

I had no problem many years ago switching from “chairwoman” or “chairman” to “chairperson,” though both before and after, I thought the term referred less to the person running a meeting than to the worker assigned to bring the furniture to the meeting.

I liked when we started referring to actresses as actors, and comediennes as comedians. On the other hand, I never saw the term “waiter” as denoting only a guy so really don’t see the need to call one a waitperson.

I loved the term “Ms” from inception (its, not mine). It really wasn’t anybody’s business the first time you met a woman whether she was married—unless, of course, you intended to propose to her immediately.

Language adjusting hasn’t always been easy. The new “binary” approach of not using “he,“ “him,” “she” or “her” in favor of “they” and “them” strikes me as pandering, if not outright dorky. For while the Brits have long used “they” when referring to a single entity, such as a crowd—as in, “The crowd roared their disapproval” while American English would have that as “The crowd roared its disapproval”—that’s just a simple difference of opinion. In fact, it’s what one might call a “tense situation,” if one wished to elicit groans from one’s readers.

But to take a clearly singular entity, like one human being, and refer to him, her or a new combination thereof as “they” seems likely to provoke some confusion.

So does the term “woke.” As I’m sure you know, it means to be culturally aware, especially of racial prejudice, social inequality, gender equity and sexual orientation. Everyone thinks it’s a new term but it actually dates back about 90 years and shows up in some blues songs of that era. In fact, a favorite recording of it is by the Black performer Lead Belly (1886-1949).

His real name— Oops. Make that their real name—was Huddie William Ledbetter. They was a great singer.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).