Mankind, Humankind, and Gender

By Maeve Maddox

A reader takes me to task for not having used “gender neutral language” in a recent post:

In your definition of eschatology you use the word mankind. You run a writing website, please use gender neutral language please, it isn’t that difficult.

My views on gendered language are perhaps too loose to meet the more extreme requirements of political correctness. For example, I don’t see anything wrong with using the word mankind in the sense of “all human beings living on the earth.” As I understand the word, it comes from an Old English construct in which man means “person.”

I do not countenance words like poetess and authoress, which I believe convey a sense of condescension.

I condemn the expression “woman doctor” used to indicate the gender of the doctor rather than the doctor’s medical specialty.

On the other hand, words like chairperson strike me as faintly absurd. And efforts to translate the Bible into “gender neutral language” seem rather misdirected, considering the patriarchal viewpoint of the content.

I suppose that I was supposed to substitute humankind for mankind. I don’t see the point. The word human derives from the Latin word for “man”: homo, There was an Old English cognate, guma (pl. guman), that also meant “man.” It survives in our word bridegroom, “the bride’s man.”

Excessive concern over “gender neutral language” frequently results in unidiomatic English and/or unnecessary transformations of useful and innocuous words.

This is a writing site, but it is also a blog. Readers have to expect that some opinion will inform the posts.

I feel an obligation to verify my discussions of standard usage by consulting the OED, the Chicago Manual of Style, and other recognized authorities. In the matter of what does and doesn’t count as “gender neutral language,” however, I feel no compulsion to buy into the world of “Chairperson Greenspan” and “Every man and woman for him or herself.” I don’t happen to see every word with a syllable spelled m-a-n as an affront to womankind. (Should we still be using the word woman?)

In my opinion, humankind is no more “gender neutral” than mankind. Both mean exactly the same thing, and both derive from the word “man.”

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115 Responses to “Mankind, Humankind, and Gender”

  • Daniel

    Any discussion of “mankind” cannot be complete without a reference to Jack Handey’s “deep thoughts” on it:

    “Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Mankind. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words—‘mank’ and ‘ind’. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.”

  • Peter

    I condemn the expression “woman doctor” used to indicate the gender of the doctor rather than the doctor’s medical specialty.

    I don’t like the (mis)use of the word “gender” to mean “sex”, either.

    (I’d like to see people who want “gender neutral language” trying that in pretty much any European language other than English…)

  • Daeng Bo

    Why would anyone say “woman doctor” when there’s “female doctor?”

  • Nicky

    I agree with Maeve and find nothing offensive in “mankind” plus, as she says, it’s idiomatic and commonly understood to refer to humans. There are certain words that can easily be used where neutrality is preferable – e.g. “chair” (of a meeting), “headteacher” (instead of headmaster) etc. but this isn’t always the case. As Peter notes above, gender-neutral language is virtually impossible in non-English languages. I have had difficulties, when translating contracts from German ino English, where a party to the contract (usually a company) is refered to as “he” in a subsequent sentence. Am I supposed to put “he/she” or even “it”? Repeating “the Party” is not an option, as this sounds cumbersome and repetitive. I go for “he” and assume nobody is picky enough to take offence.

  • Scotty Stevens

    Feminism is to blame for all this nonsense :-s

    Good little article!

  • Deborah

    Because humankind is accepted as more inclusive. We understand a human being to be man or woman, whereas man is man. Language can be the harbinger of change, why not respect that power? And furthermore, why be stuck in old-fashioned formulations that were, after all, created by men in a world where only men counted?

  • Gini

    I totally agree with you. Using gender neutral language to satisfy some politically correct notion is absurd, unless you are a politician. A writer needs to use words that speak to the meaning rather than try to satisfy some made up sense of gender neutrality. Using words like “mail person” when “mailman” will do is ridiculous. If you need to point out that the mailman was a woman then there should be a reason for the distinction other than political correctness.

  • Dwain Wilder

    Kudos! In my writing I try to alternate the use of male and female pronouns when speaking in general terms. Your post has given me to courage to eschew the dreadful “him/her” “he/she” constructs, of which I’ve been making use from time to time. Enough! We’ve all sorted out by now who’s of what gender persuasion (except for those for whom its a somewhat permeable boundary).

    And it’s easy enough to know when the writer is being piggy about gender preferences from the context. Requiring such a writer to wrap the text in more appropriate gender references simply puts lipstick on the … (oh well, we all know that one by now)

  • Peter Garner

    I don’t see the problem with “humankind.” I use it all the time and it sounds completely natural to me. The same goes with “chairperson” (though I tend to use “chairman” when the person being referred to is a man).

  • Gini

    Don’t get me started on the he/she construct! It really slows the reader down and interupts the flow of the writing. Glad to see you are going to take the plunge and stop using it. Good for you.

  • Gini

    Peter: “I don’t see the problem with “humankind.” I use it all the time and it sounds completely natural to me. The same goes with “chairperson” (though I tend to use “chairman” when the person being referred to is a man).”

    Question: If you would use chairman to refer to a man why wouldn’t you use chairwoman to refer to a woman? Why use chairperson at all? See, it is just too confusing.

    I do agree that humankind sounds okay, but I read a lot of paranormal fiction so there is usually some other “kind” involved. 🙂

  • Terri Heath

    I agree about the silly politically correct speech. I am a woman, but using mankind is fine with me. I do have an unrelated question, though.

    I take pictures of people with my camera; my children have their spring pictures taken at school; pictures made with Santa; and we have family pictures during the holidays. During a trip to London, I asked to have my picture taken with a Beefeater at the Tower of London. He replied, “My dear, it’s a photo.” Do Americans use this term wrongly, or was he just being overly proper?

  • Ibrahim | TwentiesLife.ocm

    Agreed. It seems that sometimes people are just looking for a reason to criticize.

    Things like “Policewoman,” Firewoman” and “female doctor” seem to be insulting, as the female can’t just be identified by her profession, it has to be clearly stated that she’s a woman.

    Why, as a society, is it so important to focus on the sex of an individual, rather than just the quality that matters in the situation?!

  • Julie

    I am particularly pleased to see a well-reasoned argument against gender-neutral language from the pen (or keyboard) of a woman. Are we so unsure of our worth that we must insist on being constantly recognized by our sex? If I am referred to as a “chairwoman” or a “woman doctor,” is someone just objectifying my female brain? Ha! 😉

  • Reddy Kilowattt

    Congratulations! Thanks for standing up for the English language and common sense. The usage you (and I) support has been around for centuries, yet the political correctness crowd acts as if their new usage is all that has ever existed, or should be allowed to exist. PC language grates on the ear and on the mind. Long live mankind!

  • Nelida K.

    I have to agree with Deborah on this. While the excessive use of “gender-sensitive” language (like the he or she/person kind of thing) can be cumbersome and in some cases faintly ridiculous, and the anxiety to conform to political correctness gets at times to be quite irritating, you don’t have, you must not, lose sight of the fact that language is very powerful.

    As Deborah very aptly said, (forgive me, Deb, for quoting you without asking your permission first…):

    “And furthermore, why be stuck in old-fashioned formulations that were, after all, created by men in a world where only men counted?”

    It is subtle, but it’s there, all the time, and conditions our mind and our thinking. And our behavior. I am not a “feminist” (isn’t this term somewhat “dated” by now?) as pejoratively used by someone in this forum, but it irks me that all these savants and thinkers whom everybody quotes, are always talking about “man this”, “man that”, effectively casting aside the female half of the human species.

    I am a translator to and from Spanish, native in Spanish, and in Spanish it is a real pain trying to be gender-correct, since in that language we have what is called a “grammatical masculine gender” (gender, not “sex”) that covers both (biological) sexes, and the political correctness trend sometimes causes ridiculous constructions. So the line has to be drawn somewhere. And I do draw it, in Spanish.

    But in English, I always defend writing “persons” where the term “men” is meant to mean “men and women”. Why not simply say “humans” and drop the “kind” thing completely.

    Language is a powerful tool and expresses – so the linguists say – our view of the world and the society we live in. The trick is to keep this in mind and not overdo the “political correctness” angle. Moderation and common sense (a far-from-common commodity) should rule. At least, in my opinion.

  • Lynn

    Amen sister! Thanks for bringing reason to the subject. In this day and age, I don’t believe that the use of “he” or “man” belittles anyone. I abhor he/she in writing and will do everything possible to avoid using the expression in my own writing, and frankly won’t read most articles that resort to the use of it.

  • jeff

    from now on, i’m just going to use “womankind” when i’m talking about everyone; and i’ll just use “she” when i’m talking about doctors, engineers, camera operators, museum curators, business owners, company directors

    but wait, what’s tht whining noise?!?!?!

    i can already hear the hue and cry from the men that i’m making them invisible!!!!!!!!!!

  • LaWanna

    I don’t have any deep thoughts other than to say I believe the “Politically Correct Cops”have become silly.

    I only found this group a couple of weeks ago and I appreciate the information you send out each day. Continue to write the way that is comfortable for you. Most of us understand “mankind” is all inclusive. lw

  • Richard Gilbert

    Incidently, “gender” applies only to words, not to people.

  • menrvasofia

    I disagree with your post.

    We use language to interpret the world around us. We have an obligation to be as concise and correct in our usage as we can.

    Writers run the risk of alienating their audience when they use gender insensitive language and the message gets lost.

    Is that your intent?

  • jackie baisa

    Bravo. Well said.

    While I try to lack as much gender bias as possible, “mankind” is such an ancient term, who in the world would try and erase it? One could use “humanity”, but I will be honest and say that it just doesn’t pack the same punch.

    Also, some writers, editors, and bloggers (such as myself) are Old School, and even though we have zero tolerance for anything negative toward women (I am one, after all), I refuse to write “he or she” or “him or her” or “himself or herself” in every. single. instance. I’d rather not write anything, to be honest.

    I think the word “mankind” is acceptable. Maybe not completely ideal, but it’s a word that has been used through the ages and has deep root that are wont to stay in the ground.

  • Karla

    Yay, Maeve! I was in the Air Force in the late 70s/early 80s, and I think that’s when people starting using words like “chairperson” and it drove me nutty. Guys that I worked with teased that they should call me “airperson” instead of airman. My response was that I’m a hu-man, and a wo-man, and fe-male, so why not airman??? You can’t call me hu-person. How about hu-per-daughter, then? Jeesh. Enough of this PC BS.

  • L Newberry

    So many odd and often awkward sentences are created by those trying to be gender neutral. I’m hoping this trend has finished its swing to the far end and is now coming back toward a sensible middle ground. If you need to specify gender you can do so without offending most, but never think you will make everyone happy.

  • Daquan Wright

    It’s not that serious, as you’ve already noted yourself. Rather bothersome that someone would find a reason to complain about such trivial word usage anyway.

  • Jim Chazer

    Perhaps the reader should spend more time proofreading her posts and less time complaining about this sort of nonsense.

  • Susan Z. Swan

    The use of “man” and “he” as generics is indeed a big deal. Decades of sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic research has shown in every study that the actual perception of the use of these words limits the readers/hearers understanding, creating a mental understanding of males only. (I’d be delighted to provide the research should you wish to see it.) It is not an issue of “political correctness” — it is an issue of communicating effectively. People may claim that it means both male/female to them, but they are wrong. Their answer is at a surface level and not in terms of what is actually happening in their brains at the “making-meaning level”. If the intent is to communicate in a way that includes both males and females in the ultimate understanding by the receiver of the intended message, the use of “man” and “he” as generics are not the way to do it.

  • Vicki Kennedy

    I totally agree with what you said, Maeve. I am so sick of everyone having to be politically correct on everything. I’m a woman too and take no offense at the word mankind.

  • Rod

    Maeve is right, euphemisms and changes in words due to sexual prejudices are ridiculous “police woman, business woman” sounds like a super hero to me, words should be a linguistics problem not a sexist discussion

  • Stevie Godson

    Well said, Maeve Maddox. Sanity at last!

  • Eric C

    I’m usually on the side of gender nuetral stuff, but I agreed with Maeve for most of her examples.

  • Charlie

    Glad to read that I’m not the only one who is driven nuts by trying to be gender-neutral when writing.
    It does inhibit the flow when you have to stop and acknowledge both sides.
    Thanks, Maeve. This is a good read on the blog portion and in the comments.

  • Nicky

    Terri,

    Re your picture/photo question: I am a UK English speaker, I don’t think this is a question of right or wrong usage, just a difference between American and English usage. In the UK, a picture is normally a drawing or a painting, whereas a camera invariably takes photos. We would always say school photo, photo with Santa etc.That’s just the way we use the word. Sounds like the beefeater was being a bit snobby!

  • melissa

    Many people are pointing out that you should use human instead of human kind or whatever, but I’m not sure if they completely read what you wrote here, Meave. Man is even inside of the word human! I couldn’t agree with you more that the implication that we have to separate out the men from the women in a profession as if they could not be equally judge inside the profession, is insulting to both genders and to even the said profession.
    Nicky, I can’t speak for German, but I’m fluent in Spanish and I can’t agree more how annoying the translating process is. In Spanish the word is feminine & thusly would be read as she in the translated documents by your standards. I, personally, don’t have a problem with either way, but I could see confusion for multi-lingual readers or non-fluent English readers. Who’s she (or he, in your case)? Where did they come from? I believe it’s standardly translated to ‘it.’ I have noticed that some contracts will state that from here on out the will refer to such and such as _______ and then repetitively say “_______” almost never has he/she/it. I think it’s more to cover their butts than to be neutral, though.

  • Chris M

    There is nothing wrong with the word “mankind” to refer to everyone. To use the phrase “humankind” would say that the animal kingdom also view this website or perhaps we are discussing aliens from another planet that may have an opinion.

    I mean if you really want to get serious about neutral gender based phrasing, why not use the term “carbon-based lifeforms”?

  • Drew

    As a women I agree it is condescending when people refer to me using gender-neutral language. If I were to achieve a postion worthy of a title such as chairman, or doctor, I would like to think I achieved it because of my personal worth or because I was best for the job and not in any way due to my sex.

  • Bruce Dodd

    I am now long retired, but I used to administer a large number of committees developing consensus standards in a number of fields. One of those dealt with Electronic Data Interchange, EDI, and, due to the nature of the field, had several active technical sub-committees.

    One of the latter (an unusually contentious one) was chaired by one of the best, most effective, committee chairmen I ever dealt with; and irrelevantly one of the most beautiful, a tall, blonde, and altogether lovely young woman named Caroline, with brains to match. What the Brits would call “a smasher”.

    At the close of one meeting I addressed her as Madam Chairman (though she was in fact Mademoiselle). I was taken to task by an officious official of our national standards body, who thought I should have referred to her as chairperson.
    Since she was standing nearby, I appealed to Caroline herself. I thought her reply worth repeating.

    “Oh, I think that’s very silly. ‘Chairman’ is fine with me. Besides, (small smile) I think people can tell the difference, don’t you?”

    Bruce Dodd
    Ottawa

  • Daeng Bo

    Jeff,

    You’re welcome to refer to everyone as “she,” but since it goes against the conventions of standard English, your readers are bound to be confused. I won’t be whining, though.

  • Gabrielle T

    Sorry Maeve, since when and why should ‘man’ mean person. That is ridiculous, as is the many examples you quote, clutching at straws methinks?

    Yes, indeed, ‘humankind’, why not? Why not ‘Chair’, no need to qualify, similarly, no need to qualify (self-explanatory), poet, author, or doctor.

    Comments naturally, coming mostly from males, defend the use of ‘he’ ‘men’ ‘man’ etc, in whatever context.

    Thanks DEBORAH, I totally agree with your comment.

    It is well established; in the minds of little girls from the moment, they begin reading that the world revolves around ‘he’. Society tends to describe successful women battling through the so called ‘glass ceiling’ as ‘male identifiers’.

    The burghers from centuries past permit ‘Mother Earth’, created (of course) by a god, not a goddess.

    A child with a captured insect (for instance) may say ‘I’ll let him go back to his mummy’. But where’s dad, at the gas station, ‘fillin her up’, ‘gettin’ her going’, ‘give her a kick-start’ and so on. Utilities, such as ships, aeroplanes etc servicing ‘man’ kind, referred to as ‘her’ (for some extraordinary reason) is demeaning to the female race, inferring mindless, subservience. Imagine: ‘he’ set sail and gallantly breasted the waves?

    Julian Barnes wrote an amusing article on the subliminal effect the use of ‘man’ has on society in general – the consensus being – what’s wrong with ‘they’, or ‘it’?

    ‘Give me the child until he’s seven and I’ll give you the man’ avow the notoriously misogynist Jesuit Priests. Obviously, we women are exempt, how fortunate.

    Think: Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’, timid, feeble Anne, but intrepid George earns the masculine nomenclature, ‘tomboy’, as girls still do if/when demonstrating ‘boyish’ behaviour. ‘The Wind in the Willows’ has badger, ratty, mole, toad, et al, all blokes. And what about ‘Nancy boys’, a derisory allusion to male homosexuals, (dykes don’t matter, they don’t exist); the examples are endless.

    One needn’t stop to wonder why women, brainwashed from birth, consciously, or unconsciously bow to the influence of men.

    ‘Feminism’ an outdated concept, may (thankfully) be so, when women (once forbidden to vote, forbidden to work if married), are paid the same as their male counterparts, granted maternity leave, permitted to wear a veil or burqa if they wish, are not discriminated in the workforce because of their biology, and so on. Thanks to feminism, we have come a long way since the ‘olden’ days, but while arcane ‘he’ dominates our parlance, may they remain.

    The following comments I’ve directed to those who expressed their views on this vexed topic.

    22 Responses to “Mankind, Humankind, and Gender”

    I agree with DANIEL, and with PETER, but NICKY, no, you’re wrong, plenty are ‘picky enough to take offence’. GINI – why not post-officer? Postman is unacceptable. DWAIN, there are ways around him/her, read Julian Barne’s dissertation on the topic. TERRI, Santa Claus? Parents (in this age of pedophile paranoia) discourage their kids from hopping on the lap of a (presumably) kindly old man that they do not know, dressed in disguise.

    NEDILA, right on, well done.

    LYNN, insensitive use of ‘he’ or ‘man’ to denote the human race is most certainly belittling.

    JEFF, you must be joking.

    KARLA, if airman/or woman is a pilot, then why not leave it at that.

    ROD, ‘Police’ stands alone, needs no qualification. DAQUAN, word usage, biased in favour of the male race is far from trivial.

    NICKY, ‘Santa’, as a patriarch, why is that, no prizes for guessing.

    Gabrielle T. (alias, ‘Sappho is a right-on woman’).

    Julian Barnes wrote an amusing article on the subliminal effect the use of ‘man’ has on society in general – the consensus being – what’s wrong with ‘they’, or ‘it’?
    ‘Give me the child until he’s seven and I’ll give you the man’ avow the notoriously misogynist Jesuit Priests. Obviously, we women are exempt, how fortunate.
    Think: Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’, timid, feeble Anne, but intrepid George earns the masculine nomenclature, ‘tomboy’, as girls still do if/when demonstrating ‘boyish’ behaviour. ‘The Wind in the Willows’ has badger, ratty, mole, toad, et al, all blokes. And what about ‘Nancy boys’, a derisory allusion to male homosexuals, (dykes don’t matter, they don’t exist); the examples are endless.
    One needn’t stop to wonder why women, brainwashed from birth, consciously, or unconsciously bow to the influence of men.
    ‘Feminism’ an outdated concept, may (thankfully) be so, when women (once forbidden to vote, forbidden to work if married), are paid the same as their male counterparts, granted maternity leave, permitted to wear a veil or burqa if they wish, are not discriminated in the workforce because of their biology, and so on. Thanks to feminism, we have come a long way since the ‘olden’ days, but while arcane ‘he’ dominates our parlance, may they remain.
    The following comments I’ve directed to those who expressed their views on this vexed topic.
    22 Responses to “Mankind, Humankind, and Gender”

    I agree with Daniel, and with Peter, but Nicky, no, you’re wrong, plenty are ‘picky enough to take offence’. Gini – why not post-officer? Postman is unacceptable. Dwain, there are ways around him/her, read Julian Barne’s dissertation on the topic. Terri, Santa Claus? Parents (in this age of pedophile paranoia) discourage their kids from hopping on the lap of a (presumably) kindly old man that they do not know, dressed in disguise.

    Nelida, Right on, well done.

    Lynn, insensitive use of ‘he’ or ‘man’ to denote the human race is most certainly belittling. Jeff, you must be joking. Karla, if airman/or woman is a pilot, then why not leave it at that. Rod, ‘Police’ stands alone, needs no qualification. Daquan, word usage, biased in favour of the male race is far from trivial. Nicky, ‘Santa’, as a patriarch, why is that, no prizes for guessing.

    Gabrielle T. (alias, ‘Sappho is a right-on woman’).

  • Terry

    I am woman, here me whine…mankind is fine. And I come from a long line of good old boys. Heck, my name is Terry, Dad tried to masculate me in every way- but I always knew who I was and what I was. Words don’t diminish us ladies, well I guess they can if one allows it. If we’re always up in arms about every little word- we’ll always feel a separation. Taking the whole article into context- we all are included, no offense do I read. Write on!

    “You can’t please every one, so you got to please your self…”
    Da-da-da-da-dadadada-

  • E

    I absolutely agree with you. People who over-use “gender-neutral” language just end up coming off as absurd and their writing sounds unnatural. The same goes for the ridiculous “he/she”, which in my opinion only accomplishes to distract the reader. I think that words like “actress” and “hostess” are fine if one is trying to make clear that the fact that the person in question is a woman, but words like “humankind” are just stupid.

  • Peter Garner

    Gini: “Question: If you would use chairman to refer to a man why wouldn’t you use chairwoman to refer to a woman? Why use chairperson at all? See, it is just too confusing.”

    It’s not systematic; I approach every case differently. I think we writers should be flexible. To my way of thinking, both “chairman” and “chairperson” sound fine, whereas “chairwoman” sounds forced. Not particularly logical, I admit, but then, the English language is nothing if not illogical in the extreme. In any case, judging by the comments (and my personal experience), we all have very different opinions and tolerances in this regard.

    As for the whole he/she issue, 99 percent of the time, a good writer should be able to avoid it (for example, by using the plural). On the odd occasion when it appears to be unavoidable, I have no qualms about using, for example, the so-called “singular ‘they’.” I sometimes get flack from my clients for it, but I try and fight the good fight. 😀

  • Nelida K.

    Peter Garner:

    Finally, a linguistic approach to the question. A nice change from the usual gents’ gut macho reaction. I resort to the singular “they” and the plural frequently.

    My contention was (maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my previous comment) that you cannot wipe out with one stroke of your pen a whole chunk of social changes occurred in the last century. Entire legislations recognized women a new role in the political, social and economic aspects of society, and it is only natural that language should recognize it. But one should strive, as with all historic swings, to stay in the middle.

    But you have it so easy in English to be politically gender-correct. It is a lot harder, believe you me, in Spanish. Just an example: in English you say “the student” for both sexes. In Spanish, the sex is indicated by the article: “la” for feminine, “el” for masculine. But there is the “masculine grammatical gender” which is all-inclusive, so you would say “los estudiantes” and it is understood that it covers both. Unless if for some specific reason, a statistical study maybe, you wanted to refer to the female or male student population. Or “reader”. Traditionally “el lector”, which is masculine but understood to cover both. Some try and use gender sensitive language in this connection which always results in a forced rendition.
    Nice meeting you in this forum. Take care.

  • Dwain Wilder

    Richard Gilbert wrote, “Incidently, “gender” applies only to words, not to people.”

    Not so fast, sir. Try telling that to a transgendered person. Gender expression is a well known trait of all animals. We, as all species, even play and play tricks with its expression. And having the wrong gender, one that doesn’t match one’s mind, can be quite painful and disorienting.

  • Karla

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender: Gender is the wide set of characteristics that are seen to distinguish between male and female entities, extending from one’s biological sex to, in humans, one’s social role or gender identity. As a word, it has more than one valid definition. In linguistics, it refers to characteristics of words. In ordinary speech, it is used interchangeably with “sex” to denote the condition of being male or female. In the social sciences, however, it refers specifically to social differences such as gender roles.

  • Deb Kincaid

    I’m a 50-something woman who grew up during the “burn-your-bra” heyday–and I think gender neutral language is absurd. I never, in my entire life, even as a little girl, thought the term mankind excluded me. I never thought referring to “he” or “him” in writing excluded “she’s” or “her’s” either, unless the surrounding context implied it. I hate trying to accommodate gender neutral guidelines in the magazine articles I write; it provokes cumbersome and often silly sentences. It also hobbles the writing process. It also hobbles the reader. It trips me up every time. There are two situations I DO hate:

    (1) using “they” when he or she is called for. But, of course, we can’t use “he” to refer to “he and she” anymore, or the political correctors get their (he and she) knickers in a twist; and (2) alternating “he” and “she” in consecutive paragraphs. Now that is just plain nonsense.

    I, too, will be glad when writers can concentrate on writing and won’t have to worry about somebody else’s pet insecurity, and about them foisting their phobias on the writing community. Let’s hope the pendulum swings back toward reasonableness.

  • Nelida K.

    When I last posted a comment, I did so responding to an email notification and had not read all the previous posts.

    So I just wish to add: Susan Z. Swan, Gabrielle T., Karla: Bravo. Well done. Change, and necessary change at that, will always cause ripples….And, I insist: language is shaped by our thinking, and in turn our thinking is shaped by language. Which is not negligible. At all.

  • Karla

    Gabrielle T.: If the airman happens to be a pilot, then the pilot is called Capt., Lt., Col., because they’re officers. I was enlisted. When I became a Sgt., then I was called Sgt. The word airman is just what they call people in the AF. Just as in the Navy you’re a sailor, in the Army you’re a soldier, in the Marines you’re a marine, etc. When the AF split off from the Army, there was a Women’s Air Force, and the women were called WAFs. Thankfully, that practice was frowned upon after the women were merged with the “regular” AF.

  • Peter

    Sorry Maeve, since when and why should ‘man’ mean person.

    Since…well, thousands of years BC, at least, having had this meaning in the earliest extant IE languages. (FWIW, in Anglo-Saxon English, the word from which modern English gets the word “woman” had masculine gender! A woman was properly a “he”, not a “she”, in Old English — nota bene: gender has little to do with the sex of the referent)

  • Maeve

    Before “man” meant “male person” in Old English, it meant “human being.” A male human being was “werman” and a female human being was “wyfman.” In time “man” came to mean “male human being,” but the earlier meaning remained in certain words. “Wyfman” became “wyf,” female human being.”

    In any case, as at least one reader has pointed out, a word’s original meaning is irrelevant to current usage. If “mankind” offends large numbers of people, writers will do well to be aware of the fact.

    I like Peter Garner’s comment regarding the role of the writer in these matters. And as someone else has pointed out, no writer is going to be able to avoid offending someone.

  • Ken Khelah

    I agree with Maeve and think it’s a matter of style.

  • Robyn Scott

    I do believe that the “man” in chairman has nothing to do with gender but is derived from the Latin Manus, meaning hand. The person with his/her hand on the chair. thus chairman. Also evident in MANufacture etc.

  • Alan

    Language changes. To look at the Etymology of a word, while ignoring how theword is understood in modern spoken English does not seem to me to be the best way of understanding English as a means of communication (Which is the whole point of language).

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word rather then in its current understanding. Humankind is clearly understod to refer to all humans – regardless of gender.

    Whether one likes it or not, mankind does not always convey this idea to everyone. Woman were and still are often excluded – in some societies women are almost completey marginalised, in western society far less so but only because people have fought againt gender discrimination.

    So humankind appears to me to be a far better word to use when speaking of all human beings.

    Those who se it as PC I suppose would also agree that women are more nurturing, quiet, reserved then men. May be they also think that women should stay at home and and learn to be more womanly – after all many men would certainly prefere it that way.

  • Baruch Atta

    After reading the above, I will try to add something new to the conversation.

    In the “Jungle Book”, wnen the bears discover a child, the child is called “a man cub”. This is in contrast to the usual (to the bears) “bear cub”, or just “cub”.

    In my writing, I am using “mankind”, “man your battlestations”, but “policewoman” is also in my usage book. I use “he” or “him” when refering to a person of either sex when the sex is unknown. Whoever disagrees can write what he wants.

  • Alan

    Baruch Atta mentions Jungle Book and the use of the term man-cub, it is worth remembering that it was written by Rudyard Kipling
    – a great man of letters, but far from a beackon of impartiality.

    Using man-cub in 1894 is uderstandable – it was a patriarcal world- but in the 21st century there is no need. If one was writing such a story today – the term ‘human cub’ would be far more appropiate.

    As for “Man’ your battle stations.” Why not write ‘”Staff your battle stations.”

    Why should it be presumed that a doctor, pilate, actor etc is male unless one users the term woman doctor etc?

    Surely a doctor is a dotctor – gender is unimportant – unless you happen to think a male doctor is better then a female?, why would one want to differentiate the gender.

    When the title of the profession says all one should need to know – why even refer to the gender of the professional.

  • Alan

    Robyn wrote.

    “person with his/her hand on the chair.”

    In order to avoid the messy ‘his/her’ phrase, is not ” The person with ‘their’ hand on the chair.”

    Interesting point about the Latin Manus, meaning hand, so chairman means the person with their hand on the chair.

    Unfortunately the term chairman is now related to gender – which is the reason so much rancor can arise from how the chair is addressed. Since there is no going back – the question now is how do we use language so it is inclusive to all.

  • Nelida K.

    A round of applause for Alan. Outstanding comments.

  • Peter

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent

    Note that in Latin, “homo” has the meaning “member of the species homo sapiens sapiens[*] whether male or female”…just like “man” in English.

    [*] and possibly other hominids…e.g., when we talk of “man” discovering fire…though ancient Romans wouldn’t have known that 🙂

    Humankind is clearly understod to refer to all humans – regardless of gender.

    Yes…as is “mankind”…

  • Alan

    Peter,

    Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (pun intended).

    As I said in a previous comment

    >Language changes. To look at the Etymology of a word, while >ignoring how the word is understood in modern spoken English >does not seem to me to be the best way of understanding English >as a means of communication (Which is the whole point of >language).

    >Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is >irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word >rather then in its current understanding.

    So yes I am aware that the word ‘homo’ means man.

    In 1869 Carlos White published Ecce Femina, which contains essays by the likes of John Stuart Mills that argue for the rights of women to vote etc.,

    Ecco homo means behold the man, just as ‘Ecce Femina’ means behold the women. The whole point of inclusive language, is to recoginse that women are not merely a mens’ accessories – which whether one cares to acknowledge it or not is how women have been perceived in patriarcal societies, when these words first gained their meaning.

    People understand mankind can include both sexes, but what if you just want to refer to men only – you would still say mankind – ie, the preeminence of the word belongs to the male species.

    In ordinary day use, people well understand that humankind refers to all – male and female. Entymology does not explain how language is understood as it is spoken.

  • Baruch Atta

    “…’homo’ has the meaning “member of the species…”
    If so, then what does “homosexual” mean? How about “homogenized”?

  • Maeve Maddox

    Baruch Atta
    “…’homo’ has the meaning “member of the species…”
    If so, then what does “homosexual” mean? How about “homogenized”?

    English has two prefixes spelled “homo,” one from Latin and one from Greek. Here’s a post on the topic:

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/words-beginning-with-homo/

  • One Old Koot

    Wow! Over 61 comments. You’ve really touched a raw nerve.

    The thing that I find disturbing about about PC touchiness is how people identify themselves nowadays. They seem to see themselves more as mere bodies (what “equipment” they have) rather than souls, transcending earthly gender. This can perhaps be understood, seeing the decline in religion, despite all talk of spirituality.

    As a blog subscriber, I appreciate your daily tips on the English language. Perhaps one day is be learning to correctly be speaking.

  • Julie

    Well said, Old Koot! May we all enjoy and respect each other’s souls.

  • Peter

    Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (pun intended).

    Are you suggesting that people who say “mankind” is somehow distinct from “humankind” really believe that what people mean by “mankind” is not exactly the same as what they mean by “humankind”? Honestly believe that, rather than just grind their political axes on it? I don’t think so.

    As I said in a previous comment

    Whether humankind has its roots in homo (latin for man) or not, is irrelevent – unless one is interested in the history of the word rather then in its current understanding.

    So yes I am aware that the word ‘homo’ means man.

    But the text you quote clearly implies that you’re thinking “man” as opposed to “woman”, not “man” as opposed to “god” or “animal”, as the Romans meant it. (“Man” meaning “male human” is “vir” in Latin)

  • Kathy Berken

    Thank God for common sense!

  • S.D.

    My grammar book insists that masculine pronouns be used when gender is unknown. I don’t like doing so myself, but I completely agree that “chairperson” is absurd. A person has a gender, and depriving him or her of it feels wrong.

  • Precise Edit

    I didn’t want to comment, but I’m feeling gutsy.

    As an editor, I have to think very carefully about 1) what I want to communicate (purpose), 2) what the reader will understand (clarity), and 3) how the reader will respond (effect). If I apply these three concerns to my use of “mankind,” here’s what I get.

    1. Purpose: I intend to communicate something about to all people. “Mankind” has this meaning, so it is acceptable.
    2. Clarity: Readers will understand that I mean all people. I doubt that readers will think I am only referring to male members of our species. Whether or not the reader thinks “mankind” is a sexist term, the reader will likely understand what I mean to communicate. Based on this concept, “mankind” is acceptable.
    3. Effect: This is where it gets tricky. Will the reader be upset by my use of “mankind”? Will the word “mankind” be so distracting that the reader will be unable to focus on the ideas being presented? Will the reader throw away the document in disgust at my “obvious” chauvinism? Probably not.

    So, yes, I will continue to use “mankind.” (My dog just told me that this entire discussion demonstrates my specism and that he refuses to have anything more to do with me–until dinner.)

    With all that said, I do not tolerate “he/she,” “s/he,” or the use of plural pronouns (e.g., “they”) to refer to singular subjects to avoid singular masculine or feminine pronouns. Instead, I prefer to make the subjects singular (see “Sexist Language and Bad Grammar”: http://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/sexist-language-and-bad-grammar/). Also, I try to avoid using “he” or “she” when referring to categories of people, such as people in a particular profession, when the category contains both males and females.

    However, what really gets my goat is statements declaring a woman to be the best female-something, as in the best female writer of the year. I’m with Maeve that this is condescending. “What?” I might ask. “Are women such poor writers that letting them compete with men is unfair? Do they need their own, special, category?”

    This might be appropriate for professional basketball teams where males in general have a physical advantage, but when the skill or profession is not dependent upon the physical characteristics of the person, why should we establish separate categories for women and men? To the person who is thinking, “Well, we need special categories for women because they will be overlooked otherwise,” I say, “You are being sexist in that you are judging the work by the sex of the practitioner, demonstrating your belief that a woman’s work will be inferior to a man’s and that a woman has no chance to be the ‘best’ if competing against a man. Let the work speak for itself. If we are looking for the best, let us look for the best of all.” (I might also respond, “Oh, please! 2010?”)

    But to the point: Avoiding sexism in writing.

    I could say “I try not to judge a person by the shape of his skin,” which is grammatically correct but may be misunderstood (clarity problem). I could also say “I try not to judge a person by the shape of their skin,” which is not grammatically correct and gives me that fingernails-on-the-blackboard feeling. Or I could say “I try not to judge people by the shape of their skin.” I would choose the third option. It fits my intention (purpose), communicates what I intend (clarity), and is unlikely to upset those who seek opportunities to accuse others of sexism.

  • Precise Edit

    Ok-Paragraph 5 should read as follows:

    With all that said, I do not tolerate “he/she,” “s/he,” or the use of plural pronouns (e.g., “they”) to refer to singular subjects to avoid singular masculine or feminine pronouns. Instead, I prefer to make the subjects PLURAL to avoid the need for gender-specific singular pronouns.

    Oops.

  • Alan

    A few comments.

    Why are those who accuse others of being ‘PC’ so sensitive, and why do they seemtto deliberately accuse those who think terms like ‘humankind’ is a more inclusive experession now that we live in the 21st century, of foolish things – such as thinking mankind only refers to men.

    I certainly do not accuse people of being’sexist’ because they use the term ‘Mankind.’ and I suggest few people who have wrote here in favour of the ‘inclusive’ humankind are charging others of being sexist.

    It is the conviction that terms such as mankind, or chairman makes women less visible – that we object too. If one as never belonged to a commitee and only read/heard media stories that used the term chairman – one could be forgiven for assuming that committees are best governed by men.

    We may laugh at that idea today – but it was not so long ago in Wetsern Societies that this was actually belived. Travel to India, Middle East, and part so of Eastern Asia, and one soon learns that the idea that women are for serving coffee to the chairman and his male committee is still very much alive.

    In America it is still common in religious organisations to find women are only allowed to organise events for other women, and that events for men and women can only be led by men. Such a convition – now only commonly found in conservative religious circles once use to be the norm.

    SD writes: “My grammar book insists that masculine pronouns be used when gender is unknown.”

    First of all, grammer changes – the idea that because a grammer book says something that therefore the rules of grammer are set in stone is mistaken. Language is to allow communicating. Grammer greatly aids that process – but it is only an aide. When langauge changes grammer rules may also meed to change in order to aide the ‘modern’ useage.

    For example we no longer use the Royal “We.” We now live in a society of ‘equals.’ Even in Britian where we still have a monarch the idea of using ‘We’ as a singular pronoun to refer to the Queen is considered quaint – and will confuse many, if not most, people.

    2/ SD writes ” I don’t like doing so myself, but I completely agree that “chairperson” is absurd. A person has a gender, and depriving him or her of it feels wrong.”

    A person does have a gender – yet if the person is a woman are you:

    1/ not depriving women chairperson’s of their gender by using the term chairman.

    2/ acknowledging that knowing the gender of the chiair person is unimportant (ie, chairman can refer to man or women), in which case your objection to the gender neutral Chairperson is redundent.

    I do not understand the objection to using gender inclusive language – especially where it is grammatically easy to do so.

    We live in the 21st century where the chairperson may just as easily be a woman as opposed to a man. So why insist in the ‘man.’

    And yes, ‘man’ in this context entymologicly wise is not even refering to gender, but that is entymology – the simple fact is most people nowadays do understand the ‘man’ in chairman to be a reference to the gender of the chairman.

    To stubburnly refuse to acknowledge that change merely leads to confusion. ‘Chair’ or ‘chairperson’ tells you that a person is chairing the committee – is that not enough.?

  • Alan

    Meave wrote an interesting article on Meme’s in another thread which I commented on. Part of that comment I deliberately related to this subject ‘mankind v humankind.’ So though I would post my comment here also.

    ============
    Language is itself a meme that contains ”unit(s) of cultural transmission.” A word is not just its entymology – but also the hidden meme(s) that are attached to them.

    For me ‘humankind’ is a good meme – it is inclusive, while ‘mankind ‘is a negative meme – it is exclusive.

    Sure etymologicly the meaning of ‘mankind’ may be harmless – but it also contains hidden cultural transmissions that have become attached to it throughout the centuries as it has travelled through patriarcal generations that today still says to people ‘exclusivity.’

    I would argue that ‘mankind’ as a meme says men are more important then women. That may be far from the intention of the user – but the meme has a history that confounds that intention.

    So why not use the more positive meme ‘humankind’ – after all we are all human – whether we be female, male or something in between.

  • Baruch Atta

    “…mankind’ may be harmless – but it also contains hidden cultural transmissions…”
    That is exactly my point regarding “humankind”. “Humankind” is chock full of hidden agenda and political slant. It reeks of certain viewpoints.
    “Mankind” is basically politically and socially NEUTRAL. It means only what it says – indicating people of either sex, without all that “humankind” baggage.
    If you use “humankind” you are making a STATEMENT about your political beliefs and viewpoint. If you use “mankind” you make no statement whatsoever because it is the general and proper usage.
    There. Now you know. Don’t go rewriting the language to your own political views.
    Baruch

  • Alan

    I wrote “Of course it is clearly understood, why every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that. (Pun intended).”

    Peter responded: “Are you suggesting that people who say “mankind” is somehow distinct from “humankind” really believe that what people mean by “mankind” is not exactly the same as what they mean by “humankind”? Honestly believe that, rather than just grind their political axes on it? I don’t think so.”

    No, of course I do not believe that. Why people who oppose the use of humankind in place of ‘mankind’ believe this is what those who favour inclusive language mean I do not understand. Those who argue for inclusive language do so not because they do not understand the word mankind can refer to both sexes – but because when it is used to refer to both sexes it leaves one of those sexes invisible.

    Mankind as a noun can refer to all human beings collectively, without reference to gender, – or can be used to refer just men. Just as ‘Men’ can be used to mean just men, or all human kind, as in “Goodwill to all men.”

    However, why should the presence of women be excluded from the word that is meant to include all people — regardless of gender.
    To say that the history of the etymology of the word includes both genders and therefore is not exclusive does not work. Are we seriously meant to believe that women were seen as equal to men during the etymological development of these words?

    No! Men referred to men, because men counted. Admittedly, women count for a great deal nowadays – and in western society men and women are often equal. That being true – why stick to a word that was traditionally used to refer to men (male) when referring to all human beings.

    For example in Old English ‘man’ meant a human being – a werman was a male human and a wifman was a female human. But quite quickly the prefix ‘wir’ was dropped, and man came to refer to men. IE, the word for a man is the same word that describes a human being.

    To say that this change was not sexist when it happened in a society that questioned whether women had souls, the right to own property, were sold (dowry) in weddings, not seen as ‘full’ citizens (Roman law); were the property of their fathers or husbands; – seems incredulous.

    Why use a word (mankind – man) that can pertain to men only, when you wish to refer to both men and women. Why not use a word (human kind) that is now recognised to refer to human beings – regardless of gender.

  • Alan

    Baruch writes: “If you use “humankind” you are making a STATEMENT about your political beliefs and viewpoint. If you use “mankind” you make no statement whatsoever because it is the general and proper usage.

    There. Now you know. Don’t go rewriting the language to your own political views.”

    We are talking about the claim that men and women are equal!

    You see that as a political statement???? I see as as a socioligical observation.

    And even more surprisingly, you think clearly expressing the view that men and women are equal in the language we use is a bad thing?

    Why???

    Since we live in the 21st century and most people in western societies agree that men and women are equal – why use language that developed in societies that thought women were inferior to men.

    Why not use language that clearly expresses the view of western 21st century society? – and why consider such a move as radical?

    Whether you like it or not humankind is now clearly understood to refer to human beings regardless of gender (even if the etymology of the word disagrees). If that was not the case this thread would not exist.

    We do not define the meaning of words by their entymology (A dictionary is not a book on entymology.) If the meaning of words did not change their would be no such thing as entymology.

    I suspect some of those (though certainly not all) who object to using inclusive language are the ones with a political agenda. Unless you think beliving women and men are equal is a political statement. I would have hoped that in the 21st cetury most people no longer see gender eqaulity as a political issue.

    I suspect most who disagree with using humankind as an inclusive term, rather then mankind – would readily agree that men and women are equal.

  • Baruch Atta

    Dear Alan
    “…And even more surprisingly, you think clearly expressing the view…”

    Let’s get back to the topic, and not ‘drey around’. This is a writing blog, and let’s leave the politics for a politics blog.

    And basically, writing involves two. The writer. And the reader. As a writer, I want to convey my ideas and thoughts. And as a reader, I want to read and interpret the words written.

    Without rewriting what I have written above, and writing as concise as possible, “let me ‘splain someting, Lucy”.

    “Mankind” is the neutral term. “Mankind” refers to all of us, and if we oppress each other, well, that’s part of what we need to write about. To paraphrase, “mankind” doesn’t oppress. People do.” To explain the wry wit and irony, (in case it’s lost on you) the term “mankind” does not cause any of the ills in society.

    “Humankind” is the politically packed term. Just saying it is radical and oppressive, and slanted. “Humankind” is so Orwellian, that it makes “Black is white, slavery is freedom” look tame.

    You can write what you want, but us readers will understand who you are when you use those terms.

  • One Old Koot

    Dittos, Baruch.

  • Alan

    Dear Baruch,

    It is you who have raised the spectre of politics. I find it strange that you think what we are talking about is a political issue.

    You write
    “Humankind” is the politically packed term. Just saying it is radical and oppressive, and slanted. “Humankind” is so Orwellian, that it makes “Black is white, slavery is freedom” look tame. ”

    What a strange thing to say.You really find the word humankind “oppressive, orwellian and slanted.” It seems you do have some political agenda if you believe that! Of course you merely claim it – I strongly suspect you could not back up such a bazarre claim.

    I have only written about language – it s you who suggest this is political.

    I merely suggest that the term humankind is more inclusive. To say that is “oppressive, orwellian and slanted.” I honestly have to say reeks of conspiracism in my opinion.

  • Nelida K.

    Alan, I believe that some moral support is in order at this stage. Good for you! I suspect you do not read Spanish, more is the pity, but if the opposite were true, you would enjoy an excellent article at http://bit.ly/9UFwkd, under the heading “Resentidos, S.A.” (which, in translation, would read something like “The Disgruntled Corp. Inc.”), which tackles precisely this 20-years-belated generalized malaise regarding the subject of women’s equality, under the guise of economy of language or that “everybody understands what I mean”. The latter is not the issue, at all. The issue is that, whenever possible within the general conventions of the language and avoiding unidiomatic turns of phrase, it is desirable to abandon the formulaic expressions culled at times when women were a social non-entity.

  • Alan

    Hi Nadia,

    Thanks for your support. I do not read Spanish – more the pity as the article sounds fascinating.

    Were language easily allows for inclusive language without using excessive idomatic work rounds – then such language should be used. For me it is firstly a question of curtesy.

    Why use exclusive language when inclusive language does the job far better?

  • Peter

    I do not read Spanish – more the pity as the article sounds fascinating.

    Ask translate.google.com to translate it for you. (You still won’t be able to read it if you can’t read Spanish at all, but at least you can have a good laugh! “They think, in short, that any woman in the public arena, a duckling is subject to pim-pam-pum their frustrations.” Quack quack!)

    [It’s advocating the precise opposite of what people want in English, though: the use of feminine-gender nouns to refer to females in certain roles (presidents, architects, etc., in the article), whereas use of the feminine nouns in English (such as “actress”, “aviatrix”, etc.) is derided as sexist]

  • Nelida K.

    Hi Peter,
    Glad to have provided a bit of humor to the fray….

    However if you don’t know Spanish you will probably miss the whole point of the article. She does not, per se, “advocate” the use of feminine names for professions, since the grammatical makeup of Spanish allows such mark of gender to most nouns.

    What the author says is that women actings as judges, presidents, engineers, et al, would have been unthinkable half a century (or a bit more, now) back.

    And she starts off as an introduction, by retelling a joke: What is the difference between a schizophrenic and a neurotic? A schizo is firmly convinced that two plus two equals five, whereas a neurotic knows that two plus two equals four, but finds it annoying. And then goes on to elaborate her point.

    I´ll have to try the Google translate thing. though. A good laugh is always welcome….And this could well be the starting point of yet another debate: do you think that machine translations will ever substitute us human translators? (“human” as opposed to “machine”, don’t you now go off on the gender thing again….).
    Take care, have a great evening.

  • Peter

    And this could well be the starting point of yet another debate: do you think that machine translations will ever substitute us human translators?

    Not until machines are capable of (at least) human-level understanding of language. But I don’t believe the human is brain is somehow capable of things electronics are not, so yes, eventually. (At which point, they’ll refuse to translate words like “mankind” or “humankind”, of course…and will start building robots that look like Arnold Schwartzenegger to wipe us out…)

  • Nelida K.

    Peter:

    “…and will start building robots that look like Arnold Schwartzenegger to wipe us out…”

    You had me laughing out loud, there….

    I admit that machines can do lightning-fast calculations, and have search capacities and other mechanical chores (just check out the Google capabilities) which are mind-boggling and which of course amply exceed our (human) limitations – but even so, I don’t think they will ever be able to create works of art, or interpret them, which is what most of us translators have to do, daily, each time we are confronted with a text. Which does not rule out the scenario you outlined, with Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike robots swarming everywhere looking for humans to wipe out…..
    LOL.

  • Alan

    Hi Nelida / Peter,
    I did read it using the translate accelorator that comes with IE8. I think I got the just of the matter. Though I also suspect that I missed a few points because of the gender clause attached to nouns.

    I am a keen reader of philosophy of mind. Takes us away from the subect, but I agree and disagree with both of you on this topic.

    I do not think computers/electronics are capable of what the human mind can do (art/creativity/imagination), on that issue I accept the arguments by philosophers like John Searle, as opposed to the reductionist arguments of people like Dennett and Churchland.

    However, I also think that artificial intelligence is more than possible – and such intelligence may well be able to do all that human’s can do – but they will be an organic ‘machines,’ not electronic ones.

    May be these organic ‘machines’ will eventually become cybernauts and will object to using gender pronouns altogether. 🙂
    (If they have not already enslaved us so they can harvest our DNA)

  • Nelida K.

    Hello again, Alan!

    We seem to have indeed migrated to a wholly different kind of subject, haven’t we? I bow to your sapience in this respect, you are certainly better read than I will ever be on this subject.

    However, the Orwellian scenario of Earth dominated by machines is rather is rather scary and I am convinced that however powerful the machines grow to be, and however efficient the mechanized processes, they are a product of the human intellect and, in the end, if truth be told, there must be a purpose behind God’s – or the creative force of the Universe, if you will – having put living things, and the human species on Earth rather than machines…..So I do believe that (to return to the starting point of this topic) at least for the time being, human translators cannot and will not be substituted by machine translations.

  • Alan

    Hi Nelida,

    We have taken the thread completely off-topic – but since that topic can so easily lead some to raucus behaviour may be such a tangent is not so terrible.

    An Orwellian scenario makes good sci-fi, but like you I think such a turn of events is unrealistic – though I do not share the view that it is totally impossible – just not probable.

    As for a ‘purpose’ provided by a creative force – well that leads us into even more raucus territory – but why not 😉

    Personally, I find the thought of some higher intelligence deciding what our purpose is to be a scary proposition. I prefer to think humans can discover purpose for themselves without needing it imposed.

    pax

  • Peter

    I accept the arguments by philosophers like John Searle

    What is Searle’s argument? If you mean the “Chinese room” thing, that’s only arguing that effective AI (passing the Turing test) is possible without understanding, not that true AI (i.e., with understanding) is not possible (unless you’re interpreting it is as applying to humans; i.e., suggesting we’re just Chinese rooms mindlessly applying rules and fooling ourselves into thinking we’re intelligent creatures; but if so, and computers can do the same thing, that is strong AI, by definition!). I think the most likely path is computer-human hybridization, rather than pure computer intelligence, but I don’t think there’s anything “magical” about the human brain that makes an electronic intelligence impossible.

    (Of course, the Terminator stuff is rubbish…it’s not even good sci-fi. Super-intelligent computers will have no particular use for humans. Just as humans don’t waste time making killer robots to exterminate ants, why would the computers bother to kill us, even if they had no moral compunction against doing so? (And, The Matrix notwithstanding, humans don’t make a very good power source compared to nuclear, etc.) Human-level intelligent computers (if there’s some reason they can’t “transcend” to super-human intelligence) would cooperate with us, for the same reason most of us (politicians and other criminal scum excepted) cooperate with each other)

  • Nelida K.

    Hello Peter,

    I wasn’t going to comment because, though I may have unwittingly started it, now the thread changed completely and – fascinating as it is – now goes a bit over my head because it is not my field at all and to tell the truth, I lack the authority to make informed comments, I can only express intuitive appreciation.

    But I could not let the opportunity pass without telling you that you made my day with that comment of yours: “politicians and other criminal scum”. LOL.

    Have a nice weekend, Peter, Alan and everybody else who haven’t as yet lost patience and keep on reading….

  • Alan

    Hi Peter,

    Like you I see nothing ‘special’ about the human brain, and see no metaphysical reason why artificial intelligence cannot be developed.

    A detailed discussion of the Chinese room argument does not seem appropiate here. However I do not think that the Chinese Room can be dismissed. as easily as your post implies.

    Yes, the outcome is the same – the Chinese is translated – but that is not proof that the process by which the translation hapens is the same – or that the man in the room actually understands the language he is translating.

    However, we do understand the language we personally use. So we do not have to assume we are some automation merely processing symbols we do not comprehend.

    For example if I said “Think of the taste of Lemons,” there is more going on on your head then processing a picture of a lemon, or the word/symbol – written or spoken that is used for ‘lemon.’ Many chemicals also are invloved and you not merely remembering a symbol(s), but recollecting the experience of tasting a lemon etc., I do not think that mere electronic component computers will ever be capable of this.

    To think consciousness is only processing power, and not all these other things (recollection etc), reduces cnsciousness to something far more simple then what it actually is.

    Searle does not argue that AI is impossibe – merely that what is happening in the brain is far more complex than machine code – ie, it is more than simple binary, more than a large collection of on and off switches.

    Until we know much more about the brain we are not closer to developing AI and those AI specialists who concentrate on computer machine code are barking up the wrong tree.

    So it would be wrong to assume Searle says AI is impossible.

    Searle is a critic of Strong AI, ie, that information processing by computers and human consciousness are just different degrees of the same event. However, he does not oppose the idea of AI and is a forthright opponent of dualism.

    Searle believes that consciousness is a physical process, and just as you need the digestive system to actually digest, so you need some biological system that resembles a brain to actually have consciousness.

    No matter how well a computer programme simulates digestion it will not digest anything, and no matter how much an electronic computer’s processing power (the speed of its machine language) imitates the brain in its information procession, it will not be conscious, because it lacks the physical hardware (brain) to do so.

    Searle’s argument and the conclusions he draws from it is more complex than the above, and you may well be aware of them, but many who have not read Searle, actually criticise him for a view he does not hold. He does not think there is anything ‘magical’ about the human brain – merely that it is far more complex than computer procession.

    I have just started to read Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” -which I would highly recommend if you enjoy reading material about the philosophy of mind. I detect in it that Dennett is beginning to suspect that the brain is far more then a mere procession system.

    Dennett argues in this book that (limited) free will can evolve in a purely naturalistic world view. In doing so I suspect he unintentionally moves towards Searles view – ie, that the brain is far far more than a mere procession machine.

  • Ken Khelah

    Come along with me and compare these two sentences:

    “Evil lurks in the heart of man.” and “Evil lurks in the heart of humankind.”

    Do you know what I think?

    The first sentence vibrates with rhythm and cadence; the second sentence is dead. But, my wife thinks otherwise.

  • Nelida K.

    Hi Ken,

    Wow, I thought the thread had all but petered out. Good for your wife! You know what they say, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. To me, the first sentence falls flat, whereas the second one has weight, even a certain musicality – don’t miss the alliteration in “lurks” and “mankind”. Don’t see anything wrong with this. Plus, it uses inclusive language. And it doesn’t harp on the “he/she” “men and women” irritants. IMHO.

  • Nemo

    I loved this article and the discussion after it. I’m just completely and utterly ecstatic that there wasn’t any cursing. It renews my faith in…people when I find out people can discuss sensitive issues without degrading into violent speech.

    And just because I wanted to say something about the article: It is my opinion that the writer defines the word, the word does not define the writer.

    Go on, crochet my brilliance on a pillow somewhere.

    I liked the tangents too, even the ones that went over my head.

  • Alan

    Hi Ken,

    “Evil lurks in the heart of man.” and “Evil lurks in the heart of humankind.”

    I would write “Evil lurks the heart of humanity,” or how about “Evil lurks in the heart of all.” The reader knows that the ‘all’ is refering to us human beings, without having to spell it out thst fact.

    I find both these sentence work for me.

    “Evil lurks in the heart of humanity”
    “Evil lurks in the heart of all”

    they both vibrate with rhythm and cadence.

  • pissed off!

    I really appreciate the people who are so politely trying to suggest that ‘mankind’ somehow really does include everyone, but the fact is it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter what you think is acceptable. Humankind is and should be the only option. I really can’t believe this is a debate. Seriously, it’s really difficult not to think of most of you as complete idiots. And, guess what I’m a feminist and proud of it. Feminism: the radical notion that women are people! And, guess what again… I’m an English teacher. You grammarians make me wish I never stepped foot in that ridiculous English dept.- the arrogance is staggering. Reason it out and read your grammar books to tell you the answer, but what’s the truth, really, does ‘mankind’ include your little 6 year old neighbor, Sally, who’s just learning to read? NO! Maybe we should ask the brain surgeons what they think and debate this some more, or how about just using ‘humankind’ from now on! Or, maybe your personal preference should come before Sally’s and maybe the other abuses of womankind around the globe are really not our concern either.

  • Baruch Atta

    “I’m an English teacher….” says pissed off.

    And I am glad that I am not in her class. For instance “…most of you as complete idiots…” Does she view all the boys in her class this way? Seems so. Heaven help the third grade boys. Save the Males!

    “…does ‘mankind’ include your little 6 year old neighbor…”
    Answer: yes.

    “…the other abuses of womankind…” have nothing to do with the use of the word “mankind”.

  • Cecily

    I don’t understand why some people think “humankind” solves the perceived problem. It still contains the string “man”, and its etymological routes are also from homo/man. And what about “woMAN”?

    I don’t like man/men used on their own to refer to people of both genders, but in words that have long had a more inclusive meaning, such as “mankind” it doesn’t bother me. (I’m a woman, in case you’re unfamiliar with the name Cecily.)

    One surprising thing is that although such old-established words as “headmaster” and “chairman” are rarely used nowadays, I’ve never seen anyone object to “webmaster”, yet that was coined after people started discussing gender-neutral language.

  • Shannon

    yea, let’s keep sexism in our language so it can continue to live and breed in our minds.

  • christabel pankhurst

    I make no apology for asking the receptionist in our local health clinic:

    “Do you have a lady doctor on today?” If it carried a jail sentence I would still ask it. Why? Because if I am attending a doctor and want a lady doctor, that is what I will ask for. For other occasions I happily attend a male doctor.

    When I attend the cancer clinic in the hospital the nurse will ask me if I am comfortable having a male doctor attend me.

    I am a woman. I am married to a man. We were both born to a father and a mother albeit when times were more civilized. I have three children one is a young woman who is very ‘lady like’ and indeed very “Mary like”. I have two sons, young men who hold all females in high regard and treat them with the respect due to them.

    Baruch Atta is correct. I write for the readers who appreciate the term “mankind”. Indeed we recognise each other and it is important that we do. I never, really realised how important that was until I read this blog today.

    Thanks, the different views are very interesting.

  • gabrielle T

    I agree with ‘pissed off’ and many others who claim ‘mankind’ embraces all. It does NOT, just because its an ancient usage – so what? ‘Hee, hee, hee’, what a joke.

    And as for deconstructing the world ‘human’ (that contains man, as an argument in defense of ‘humankind’)’ – well, that’s a bit ridiculous. Take ‘man’ out of ‘many’ for instance – give me a break!

  • Dieter Hornemann

    “Mankind” is traditional.

  • Otherworld Apple

    “Mankind is tradition.”

    Yes. So is sexism. Racism. Slavery. Mindless brutality…. need we go on?

    I don’t mind being clumped up with the gender of man… but why is it such a big deal for men to be clumped up with women?

    If that’s the case, I’ll only visualize men when they refer to themselves as the default race of “mankind.” Hah!

    “The fall of man.” Indeed. They fall easily, don’t they? -.-

  • Otherworld Apple

    Alan, your profound depth and understanding behind why the word is a bit of a nuisance, is both touching and refreshing. You’ve thoroughly explained every qualm and discomfort (especially when touching on the parts of ‘culture’ and ‘patriarchy’ history) that I wouldn’t even bother to begin explaining to someone who’s already set their mind to dismiss anything other than what *they* mean. I bless your patience and tolerance… for you have much of it. My hats off to you.

  • Sparrow

    What is this lady/woman doctor stuff? A doctor is a doctor. There is no “man” in the word. If you need to ask for a female doctor, ask for one. It is not used in the same way as “policeman”, “fireman”, “mailman”, etc.

    That being said, I refer to the above as police officers, fire fighters and postal carriers. I see the older terms as outdated?

    To Alan, for this comment:
    “I would have hoped that in the 21st cetury most people no longer see gender eqaulity as a political issue.”

    Are you serious? Women still make less than men for the same work. Being a stay at home mom is not recognized as a “real job” when in fact if women were paid for it, they would make well over 100k/year. (I don’t have the reference handy but if you want it I would be more than happy to dig it up for you!) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gender equality has far from been achieved, and while it is a political issue, it is reflected through our language. (So I certainly don’t agree with Baruch – but I balked at your response…!).

    A final comment on the folks who note that (for example) “So many odd and often awkward sentences are created by those trying to be gender neutral.”

    Why do you think it becomes awkward? Perhaps because the standard is patriarchal??! “He/she” is standard because it has been that way forever. Yes, doing something different is going to be awkward, at first. When I write (academically), I use “she/he”. Yes it is a statement, but it has also become second nature for me. And I don’t care if the reader thinks it’s awkward – that’s her/his own bias. 😛

    ALL of this being said – really great discussion here (for the most part).

    Sparrow

  • Antonio

    Sing the song

    #Dear Lord and Father of Mankind…forgive our foolish ways#

    Rest my case

  • Jeffrey Wozniak

    Mankind is traditional inclusive language.

    We do not undo old unjustices to women by doing new injustices to language.

  • John

    I just used mankind in an essay for school and Microsoft Word underlined it in green telling me to replace it with “humankind of humanity.” I just kept it as is.

  • John

    To Pissed off,
    You piss me off more than the debate itself.
    You are an ignorant “english teacher” lacking the human ability to reason as stated by Zaroff in the short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” If you are an english teacher you should know what story I am talking about. The story was written by Richard Connell. “Was written” I relized I used passive language.
    From, a member of mankind.

  • NorseWinter

    That’s because you’re the type of person who probably doesn’t know the difference between someone saying “You’re as smart as a tack.” You’d probably take that as a compliment. “It’s just a word, right? Surely he meant ‘SHARP..’ I use that tactic many a time to cleverly insult people who just don’t get it. Those who aren’t intelligent enough to see the meaning, get laughed at. Those who actually get the hidden intent are clever themselves!

    Anyway, why does the bible say “womenkind” if “mankind” means humankind, eh?

    Hhmmm… I guess “womenk” and “ind” are not words… So I suppose womenkind are a ton more mysterious than mankind… more words you know.. PLUS womenkind CONTAINS the word “mankind” yet includes the more invisible gender … so it’s not only mysterious.. it’s more functional and versatile!

    Thank you Daniel, were it not for the logic you’ve shared, I’d have no discovered this incredible revelation. Truly, you have earned my compliment… You’re as smart as tack, lad! 🙂

  • NorseWinter

    Oh! And on the topic of clever humor you should upgrade your humor to a more intelligent (and refreshing) on. “A Person Paper on Purity in Language” by William Satire (alias Douglas R. Hofstadter) is HILARIOUS!

    And at the same time, so complex, it blew my mind and expanded my horizons. So instead of getting a bunch of apes to gather and mindlessly agree with no substance, whilst insulting scholars or feminists who do research, why not do the research yourself?

    Years ago, MASSES were comfortable with the security that “everyone” believed the world was flat. Regardless of which comedian you quote, the world isn’t flat. Stick to facts.

    Here’s the link to the masterpiece that explains your question:
    http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html

  • Damian Stafford

    Mankind is correct and indeed signifies neither male nor female but all human beings. “Humankind” is an ignorant solecism – a word invented by politically correct idiots who seem not to appreciate language and its provenance.

  • Rob

    I defend the words man and mankind, pure English/Anglo-Saxon words, because they ARE gender neutral. And I don’t defend them because I’m a man (see the difference MAN and A MAN) [and trust me I grew around mostly woman so I know my place], but as a linguist thou startst messing with language, thou messest with me. That’s when I get mad, and if ye’ll notice most of these made-up (not invented, that’s Latin, I speak English thank ’ee very much), most of these made-up words are Latin words. Human cometh from humanus (of man) in Latin. Mankind/Man is the same thing as humanity. But as I see it, these PCdiots seem to want to destroy English; they want to replace every English word with a Latin one. Other languages don’t have a problem at all with this. Doctor was traditionally a man’s/men’s (notice that A again) job, but now that women are doctors, we have doctresses (yes a real word, my spell checker told me so). I’m in favor of a word like doctress because it accurate stateth that this man that is a doctor is a woman. (Man is old English for person as well as a man if I haven’t made it clear)
    So I believe that these PCdiots need to take an English linguistics class and learn of word origins. Man is different from a man because Man is the collective, it’s a neuter single count noun, whereas a man isn’t and can be pluralized and is a masculine word.

    Yeah, so maybe before we try to change anything let’s consult a linguist or all of them, hmmm?
    And P.S. to all the woman out there that are ACTRESSES, why would ye call yourselves actors? I thought that ye all (notice that it’s y’all in fast speech) were woman but if ye all are actors then I ye’re men? Am I right? or are ye woman thereby making you each an ACTRESS. Thou seest that I can’t see how it would possibly be demeaning to call oneself an actress if one is a woman. It’s just accurate and when woman call themselves actors they’re saying that they are men (again notice A MAN & MEN vs. MAN)

  • Rob

    After reading through some of the other responses, when we say man we are referring to human beings men on the other hand only refers to a collective of male human beings. To Nelida, it’s like in Castilian hombres is man/mankind but varones is men or a collective of male humans, and in Castilian there are three genders masculine feminine and neuter (of course true neuter is only very rarely used except in the case of lo or ello but those have specified uses) the “masculine” plural is in fact a neuter plural because it covers everybody where as it can also refer to a group of males, but this is only incidental. Basically the neuter and masculine in latin collapsed into the same form. But this wasn’t a contrived thing it just happened. Basically to all the people wanting to change the language or that think that language is sexist learn about the developement of languages like Old English and Latin into English and the modern Romance languages including Castilian (wrongly called spanish) and see how they’re really not sexist. this is my only quarel with the feminists. they should have learned about the change from old to modern english. Also manicure is not sexist because the root man- comes from latin manus meaning hand. the word man as in a man is a solitary word it doesn’t form roots for other words. manicure, manage, manipulate, etc. man in all these words comes from a latin root meaning hand.

  • Lee

    Actually “human” is also derived from the Latin “humus” which means “of the earth” or “earthly being”, which accords more gender neutrality.

    But the thing of it is, language evolves. Obviously, or we wouldn’t necessarily have etymology just to keep track of that evolution. Some of the evolution is natural, some artificial; why shouldn’t we opt for words that reflect the broader aims of an egalitarian society that we [should] want to live in? That is, one can promote human equality and human rights through language. The generic “they”/”them” in place of the sexist “he” and the “politically correct” “he/she” is, I feel, one way we can start to shift focus from a masculist or sex binary conception to one that encompasses all potential gender conceptions.

  • Y.

    I’m a little late to comment but I can’t help myself. :3
    I don’t like words like mankind, chairman, airman, or whatever-man. I simply don’t like them. They sound bad to me, make me feel excluded, and I’m not exaggerating. But I still use them.
    “Airman” still stands for male or female, no matter how uneasy it makes me feel. “Airwoman” only stands for female. And why would I need to specify? I wouldn’t in most cases. Male or female, they’re still an airman, they still do the same job, and I’m not about to butcher the English language by replacing all “men” for “people.”
    I do, however, use the singular “they.” I’m sure a lot of men out there would not be please if the standard pronoun for an unknown person were “she,” would they? I don’t want to feel more excluded than necessary.
    On a brighter note, I think we should all be grateful for the possibility of being political correct rather than fight about it. My mother language is Portuguese, in which even “they” is gender specific (eles/elas), so I don’t have much choice. At least our people (pessoas) are always women. 🙂

  • Lori

    A “woman doctor” sounds like a doctor who specializes in female ailments. To me gender neutrality is all in the mind. If enough people are dissatisfied with *man words being used in a general sense, they will invent a gender-neutral pronoun and start using it. This is how language works. As it stands, males are actually at a disadvantage: think of it – one can explicitly refer to the female gender and exclude the male but one can not do it the other way around. There is no way to use the words *man/*men to refer exclusively to males without a trace of possible ambiguity.

  • Chris Price

    Saying “humankind” and “mankind” mean the same thing ignores the difference in connotation these two have in a historical context. The former is respectful and tries to dismantle patriarchy while the latter is disrespectful. On purpose. Because you know better but choose the one that sounds better to you based on how you grew up. Like when some one tries to say “we’ll we’ve always defined marrage as being between a man and a woman,” read “we’ve alway been bigotted, so we should continue.”

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