Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term- And What To Say Instead

While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.

Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.

Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.

It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.

The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.

Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.

In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.

In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.

Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.

There are other things one can say instead:

  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • Students
  • The year level/name, such as Year 9 or Grade 4, according to the conventions of the school and/or locale.

* Not an exhaustive list.

  • People

This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now  they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.

  • Kids

I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention.  Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again.  The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.

In more relaxed situations, you could also use:

  • Peeps
  • Gang
  • Rockstars
  • Legends
  • Crew

* Also not an exhaustive list.

Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:

  • “Right, you rowdy lot!”  I might say this when they are working hard and being anything but rowdy.
  • “Hello, unique individuals!” Again, it’s an opportunity for affirmative language that includes everyone.
  • “Greetings, earthlings!”
  • “Whæt! Geats, Danes, Monsters and Dragons!” has been a favoured greeting while studying ‘Beowulf’, while “Aaaaarrgh me hearties!” Works when studying ‘Treasure Island’.

Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.

Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term
#ThingsToConsider #inclusion #vocabulary

Mistletoe.

All my life I have thought of mistletoe as a European thing, and associated it with images of druids cutting it out of trees with a sickle–  most likely embedded by all the Asterix  books I read as a kid.

Mistletoe is, in fact, a very old word that dates back to Old English. It had closely related words for the same plant in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old High German and Gothic languages.

The plant was venerated by the druids, especially when it was found growing on oak trees, which were seen as the most powerful and mighty of trees. The druids believed that mistletoe had powerful healing properties,  and it has traditionally been associated with life, renewal, hope, magic,  and love. 

This accounts for my enormous surprise last Friday as we were driving through southern New South Wales and I discovered that the teardrop shaped plants growing on Australian gum trees were, in fact, a native variety of mistletoe. They were different enough in colour, leaf shape and habit to be distinct from the trees on which they were growing, and a quick search online confirmed what I had jokingly suggested to my husband as we drove: “Maybe it’s mistletoe!”

Photos: WordyNerdBird. Mistletoe growing in an Australian eucalypt at Wilbriggie, NSW.

As it happens, Australia has about seventy varieties of native mistletoe, and another twenty or so that have been introduced. While they live semi-parasitically on other trees, they don’t do any harm to them or the environment as some other parasitic plants do. (Yes, Golden Dodder, I’m looking at you, you nasty weed.)

So, next Christmas when certain family and friends laugh at me for singing ‘Meet Me Under The Mistletoe’ I’ll be able to inform them that it does grow here naturally, and therefore Australians are just as entitled to sing about it as anyone else.

Sources:
Etymonline
Gardening Australia
Dictionary.com

Mistletoe.
#words #history #etymology

Passion.

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Most of the time when we use the word passion, we are referring to either powerful emotion or a strong desire to do something. 

However, when people talk about ‘the Passion’ of Jesus at Easter, the word has a different meaning altogether. 

It doesn’t mean that He had a strong desire to die the way he did— even though he was absolutely committed to doing so— nor does it refer to His emotional state, even though he definitely would have experienced a plethora of powerful emotions. 

Passion came into English from French around 1200 AD,  meaning physical suffering. This came from the Latin word passionem meaning suffering or enduring

Interestingly, passionem came from the past-participle Lati stem word pati- which meant “to endure, undergo or experience.” This means that passion is a cousin of patient and patience.

By the mid-13th century, passion had also come to mean an ailment, disease or affliction; rather than just the condition of suffering one. At about the same time, any emotion, feeling or powerful temptation to sin that might be considered as an affliction” might also be called a passion. 

Therefore, when medieval theologians and teachers used the phrase ‘the passion of Christ’ they had no concept of how those words might cause confusion or be entirely misconstrued in the future. 

It was another century or so before passion was used to refer to the intensity of an emotion or desire.  Later again was the use of the word to refer specifically  to sexual love or desire, which had developed by the late 16th century. By the 1630s, it had evolved again to include the sense of a strong liking, enthusiasm, or preference”, and by the 1730s, the object of that pursuit or desire was also referred to as one’s passion.

Because language continually evolves, old words often come to have several very different meanings.  The beauty of etymology is that it explains the relationships and solves the puzzles that we might otherwise find very confusing. 

And fhat, friends, why everyone needs wordy-nerdy people like me in their lives, ready to answer the tough questions and enrich your word power and vocabulary. 
You’re welcome. 

Happy Easter. x

Why is Jesus’ suffering called ‘passion’?
#Easter #GoodFriday #words Vocabulary

Sleuth

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A sleuth is a detective: most often, the word is used to describe an amateur or privately employed detective rather than a police officer. As a word, it was very popular in early detective fiction such as that written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, and is perhaps less popular now than in previous generations. Even so, it it is a word with a fascinating history.

As a keen reader of mystery fiction for many years now I am familiar with many sleuths. I started with Tricia Belsen, the Hardy Boys and the like. Scooby Doo and the gang were my favourite TV sleuths, but my parents loved Jessica Fletcher. As an adult, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Phryne Fisher rank among my favourites. As much as I love Agatha Christie’s work, I always found Hercule Poirot to be insufferably smug and somewhat condescending, but that is a different discussion.

Sleuth had come into English at some point before 1200 AD, meaning ‘a definite track or trail left by someone or something’. This came from the  Old Norse word sloð  which means trail. This word was used to describe dogs skilled at tracking and following a scent or trail, known as sleuth-hounds. Thus, the first sleuths were not people, but dogs!

Eventually, the  word came to be used for a person who tracked prey, or fugitives, or anything else in need of finding. It was used as a noun for a keen investigator by the mid 1800s, and for someone looking for clues to solve a crime in 1872.  “detective” is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound “keen investigator” (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound.

Sleuth was not used as a verb until the early 20th century, when it was used to mean the act of investigating. The first written record of sleuth as a verb was in 1905.  To sleuth out meant to investigate or discover, and the act of doing so was sleuthing.

Sources:

Etymonline
Sesquiotica
The Word Detective

Sleuth.
#vocabulary #etymology

Ploce: It Is What It Is.

One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.

The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .

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Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.
That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.

Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.

  • It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
  • It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: 
    Examples:
    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
    “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”

    Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
  • It can involve a change in the form of the word.
    Example:
    “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”

    This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.

Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:

Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3
Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3

Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.

Sources:
Silva Rhetorica
ThoughtCo.
Britannica.com

Ploce: It Is What It Is
#words #vocabulary #Shakespeare

Empathy and Sympathy.

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Empathy and sympathy are closely related words and concepts, but each is quite distinct from the other.

Both words draw part of their meaning from the Greek word pathos which means feeling and came from the PIE root *kwent(h) which means to suffer.

Empathy is an early 20th century word with much older roots.

To have empathy (n) is to empathise (v): to share a feeling, or more literally to be in the feeling, that someone else experiences. It suggests an ability to fully understand how another person feels and how their experience affects them both emotionally and practically. A person who empathises readily or easily is described as empathetic (adj) because they respond empathetically (adv).

Empathy is what Atticus Finch was teaching his daughter  in To Kill A Mockingbird:

“First of all, if you learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

In other words, empathy is necessary for understanding other people, and therefore their experiences and behaviour, too.

Sympathy differs in that it relates to sharing a feeling or experience with or alongside someone else. It has a sense of commonality and community, where empathy is more individual. One who sympathises (v) is described as sympathetic (adj) because they respond sympathetically (adv).

Sympathy is a much older word, dating back to the 1500s, when it entered English via French ‘sympathie’ from Latin sympathi‘ and before that, from Greek sympathes which meant to have a common feeling or to be affected by similar feelings. The prefix sym- means together so when added to pathos, the meaning is feeling together – synonymous with compassion, which literally means suffering together.

The differences are subtle, but definite. Consider these example responses to a person grieving a loved one:
Empathy: ‘I understand that you are sad and hurting. I understand life will never be the same again. I’m here for you.”
Sympathy: “I share your sorrow and pain. Life will never be the same, but I am here with you.”

In both cases, the person understands they are not alone, but the ways in which their experience is understood and shared differ.

Crucially, both empathy and sympathy must be genuine in order to actually exist. Token words and empty expressions are meaningless.

If one is unable to connect at any level with the experiences of others, or to offer anything other than a token acknowledgment of someone else’s suffering, they have neither. There are such things as empathy training and empathy coaches, but if the subject does not have the capacity for it, one may as well try to teach a fish to walk.

References:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline: Empathy and Sympathy

Empathy and Sympathy
#emotions #vocabulary #blog

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.

Why do we call the W ‘double U’ instead of ‘double V’?

For the answer to this, we need to go back to Rome, where they made no distinction V and U, nor between the letters I and J, even though one of each pair is a vowel and the other a consonant.

This means that in Roman times, these pairs of letters– U and V , and I and J –were what we call allographs. An allograph is an alternative form of the same letter, like upper and lower case letters, or the same letter in plain or italic, or in different fonts. Replacing one with the other does not change how the words are said.

Thats why you’ll see AVGVSTVS instead of AUGUSTUS or IVLIVS instead of JULIUS on old Roman coins.

Images used under Creative Commons Licences: Image 1 Image 2

The Romans did not have a letter for the /w/ sound because they didn’t really use it. In contrast, the Anglo-Saxons of early medieval England used the sound a lot in their language, so they needed a letter for it when they started writing things down using the Latin alphabet instead of the runic alphabet they had used previously. They originally wrote it as uu– which makes sense as the /w/ sound comes right at the end of the long /u/ sound– but then reverted to using the runic character wynn to represent the sound. When the Normas arrived in England in the 11th century, they brought back the usage of the conjoined uu to represent the /w/ sound, and it literally became the double U.

Even in today’s English, the previous identity of U and V is reflected in the varied spelling of similarly pronounced words such as flower and flour, guard and ward, or lour and lower.

Sources:
Grammarphobia
Lexico.com

Why the W is called ‘Double U’ instead of ‘Double V’.
#English #language #history

Carnival

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I mentioned to someone yesterday that I would be at my school’s athletics carnival today.

“Ooooh, car-nee-vah-lee!” they exclaimed with a twinkle in their eye.

Brightly coloured images of vivid costumes, scantily clad women and wild parties in Rio de Janeiro flashed through my mind.
“Er… not quite!” I responded. “It’s not that colourful! And it’s a school event, so let’s keep it family-friendly, shall we?”

This got me thinking about the different meanings of carnival, and wondering what a rowdy celebration or a colourful parade might have to do with a school track and field sports day.

In my mind, the answer was obvious: not much.
So, as is my usual habit, I turned to Etymonline for some insights.

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The English word carnival dates back to the 1540s, when it was used to refer to a “time of merrymaking before Lent”. This was derived from French carnaval, which in turn came from the Italian word carnevale which referred to Shrove Tuesday. This came from older Italian forms such as Milanese carnelevale and Old Pisan carnelevare which meant to remove meat, presumably referring to changing one’s diet for the period leading up to Easter.

Etymonline also offered the folk etymology — that is, a popular but generally untrue story about the origins of a word— that carnival came from the Medieval Latin words carne and vale meaning ‘flesh, farewell!’

In the late 1500s , carnival had come to mean feasting or revelry in general.

Carnival being used in reference to a circus, sideshow or amusement fair developed in American English in the early 20th century.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

That was as far as Etymonline got me, so I looked up a few other websites, but none of them shed any more light on the answer to my question.

I am still no closer to understanding why a series of track and field events is called a carnival.

Consequently, I am left performing some folk etymology of my own: perhaps it relates to the celebration of the physical achievements of the competitors, or the cheering and noise made by the spectators.  It could even relate to the pre-competition parading of competitors, team colours and mascots that used to be popular but, thankfully, is much less fashionable now.

Perhaps, though,  it’s just one of those weird quirks of English that I’ll never really understand.

Sources:
Celebrating an Etymological Carnival
Etymonline

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’

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Confusion over when to use the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘me’ is widespread, and it’s not limited to the less-well-educated: in my own experience, people with university degrees get it wrong equally as often as anyone else.

It’s not that others won’t understand you if you get it wrong — they will.
It’s not even about being judged by others, although there are people out there who will either judge you or correct you.
It’s actually about communicating as clearly and effectively as possible. That’s why the “rules” and conventions of grammar exist.

Using the right pronouns is not actually that hard. Perhaps it just needs clearer explanation than has been experienced in the past.

We instinctively know when to use the pronouns when it’s just ourselves we are talking about. We know to say “I am happy”, not “Me is happy”.  We know to ask “What do you want me to do?” Or “Can I do anything for you?”

We can use that basic knowledge to help get it right when we add someone else into the sentence.

If you are talking about two or more people , simply remove the other subject(s) from the sentence for a moment and think about which pronoun you would use if it were just you.

Then pop them back into the equation, always putting yourself after the others because that’s good manners.

Jules and I are happy.
Do you want Kim and me to do that for you?
If you need help, please see Robin, Beck or me.

If you are adding possession to the mix, such as talking about something that belongs to both of you or a friend in common, the same rule applies.

Kim is a friend of Robin’s.
Kim is a friend of mine.
Kim is a friend of Robin’s and mine.
This is Jules’ and my house.
When can I see Beck’s and your new puppy?

These guidelines will enable you to know which pronouns to use, and so help you speak and write with more confidence, which is a great thing.

Knowing When To Use ‘Me’ and ‘I’
#language #grammar #pronouns

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe

Apostrophes are used for two reasons:

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  • contractions: Dave isn’t walking his dog. He can’t today— he’s sick.
    It’s a shame he is so unwell.

    The apostrophe shows that two words have been mashed together, and it is placed in the position where a letter or letters have been taken out.

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  • ownership: Dave’s dog. Penny’s cat.

    If someone’s name ends in s, an apostrophe can simply be added after their name, without adding the extra ‘s’ afterwards: Jules’ car.

    The only time an apostrophe should not be used for ownership is when using the pronoun it:
    The house was missing its chimney.
    Kerry gave the dog its ball.

Apostrophes should never be used to make plurals, or for regular words ending in s.
This means “Dave’s dogs” only needs that one apostrophe after Dave, and “Dave rocks” doesn’t need any.

It can get complicated, though, when one needs to follow multiple conventions at the same time.

It can get complicated when a proper noun needs to be made a plural before the possessive apostrophe is added. For example, the Johnson family live in the Johnsons’ house.

Following the same rule used for Jules’ car, the de Jesus family live in the de Jesus’ house.

If the Weatherby family own a house, it is the Weatherbys’ house.
Here, the family name ends in y, but because it’s a proper noun, the plural is made by simply adding an ‘s’ instead of using the conventional -ies ending for regular nouns that end in y. The apostrophe is then added at the end.

A Quick Guide to Using an Apostrophe
#punctuation #writingtips