Sexist language

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One of the failings of the English language is that it doesn’t deal awfully well with what these days is called “gender neutrality”, but more properly could be called “sexual indifference”, except that that sounds like something else altogether.

This wiki frequently, mockingly, speaks of the attorney in the abstract. These days, an officer of the courts is marginally more likely to be female than male, but the hypothetical lawyer, for whom we have such great affection and about whom we speak at such length, is neither one thing nor the other[1]. This creates challenges when using pronouns. And nor, needless to say, is biological sex the only game in town — there was a time when we would scoff at misuse of the word “gender” to describe what was really “sex”. But it seems to the JC there is room in a robust conceptual scheme for both — “sex” is biological; “gender” psychological, for want of better words — and arguing the toss between them is, well, a little fruitless.

Generally, there is much to admire about pronouns. Lawyers don’t use them often enough: they are more idiomatic and easier on the ear that the lawyer’s usual stand-in “such [insert noun]”. But pronouns tend to commit you to a gender: “he”, or “she”, “him” or “her” — seeing as no-one likes to be referred to as “it”, and “he or she” is an abomination before all right-thinking men. And/or women.

And nor, these days, does that remotely capture the possible universe of alternatives. While the JC has no wish to get offside with any factions in the presently raging gender wars — we have J.K. Rowling and her ingrate actor friends for that — he does not propose to even try to accommodate emerging non-binary formulations.

So, without having the patience to be scientific or methodical about it, I have tried to randomise my “hims” and “herswhere the context does not require otherwise. Being a fellow, when in doubt — which is most of the time — I err in favour of “she” because that makes me think a bit harder about what I’m writing. The challenge with doing that when writing satire, of course, is that it may be mistaken for some kind of political statement: why am I always mocking women? For whatever the opinion of an aging man is worth these days, it isn’t meant to be. In any case I can’t be arsed with xes, hyms, hyrs or whatever else is presently in vogue — and nor a political statement other than one on behalf of the impatient party — and, frankly, I will go to the wall before (deliberately!) using “they” to describe any single individual, natural or corporate.[2]

If this aggrieves you, so be it: you’re welcome to find another resource offering free, satirical observations on the law and practice of derivatives that better suit your preferences. Or you could always bear with it: Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker, after all.

Now it is also true that the point of satire is to poke the ribs of sacred cows, and right now few are more sacred. Perhaps I should be more phlegmatic — but pick your battles, and all that.

See also


  1. As they used to say of the great Bob Cunis.
  2. Here, I depart from Lord Justice Waller.