epicene designations

Fowler addresses this topic under the heading feminine designations, arguing that those who object to authoress, poetess, actress, etc. are ignoring the interests of the language and of people in general, since "any word that does the work of two or more packing several notions into one is a gain (the more civilized a language the more such words it contains)...." Moreover, he insists, such objections are actually counter to the higher interests of women; "the proof of real equality will be not the banishment of authoress as a degrading title, but its establishment on a level with author."

But while Fowler's authoress may have been guilty, in refusing that designation, of impeding the civilization of English, some of her present-day descendants are not satisfied with such conservative measures and insist on brutalizing the language, defying logic as well as grammar, in their efforts to blur the distinction between the sexes. Those who reject chairwoman, for example, invariably also disapprove of chairman as an epicene designation; the preferred term is chair, which is thus commonly used with utter disregard for the basic distinction between the position and its occupant.

One wonders whether this distaste for the suffix -man, which has given rise to such abominations as humyn and womyn (by the way, what is the plural of the latter?), might be abated by the knowledge that in Old English, man was a general term for a member of the species, while wer and wyf denoted male and female humans, respectively. The sex-specific sense of man arose in the 11th or 12th century, but many of its derivatives did not undergo a parallel evolution in meaning. It is interesting to note, for example, that while a werewolf is necessarily male, a wolfman is not. Similarly, mankind, human, manpower, layman, freshman, and chairman all retain the original generic meaning of man.

Another, more puzzling feminist disposition is what appears to be a selective aversion to the epicene agent-noun terminator -er. It is difficult to fathom, for example, given that actor is apparently embraced in these circles as an epicene designation, why waiter is deemed too masculine to serve in this sense and is thus rejected along with waitress in favor of the rather awkward construction waitperson. But perhaps one should just be grateful for having been spared actperson, sculptperson, adulterperson, etc.

Much of the doctrine that underlies these linguistic innovations is conveniently summarized in a manifesto entitled Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language, published by an organization that calls itself, disturbingly, the National Council of Teachers of English. One of the principles on which the NCTE is founded is that "the language that educators use provides an important model for students and the larger community." It is difficult not to question the diligence with which this responsibility is undertaken when we see that as a device for "creating gender balance", the NCTE recommends the use of they and their as singular neuter pronouns (see THEIR, etc.), noting that "this construction is becoming increasingly acceptable." (See INCREASINGLY.) But grammar, it seems, is not high on their list of linguistic concerns; there are issues far more important than number agreement that must be addressed:

Language plays a central role in the way human beings behave and think. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is concerned about the critical role language plays in promoting fair treatment of women and girls, men and boys.
Thus, a primary objective of the NCTE is the universal establishment of a "gender-fair" English dialect. Naturally, the generic sense of man has no place in the new vocabulary. One subtle aspect of this particular policy that seems in need of explanation, however, is the relevance of the placement within a word of the offending syllable: on what basis, for example, is humanity recommended as an "inclusionary alternative" to the "exclusive" term mankind?

In any case, designations that denote or are suggestive of sexual identity are generally to be avoided. Thus, coed must be globally replaced by student, regardless of the writer's intention and the attendant loss of information. But at some point during the drafting of this nifty document, it must have occurred to its authors that it is not only the enemy who is inconvenienced by such withholding of information, and that some modification of their position would be necessary in order to accommodate conflicting feminist requirements:

If the gender of a professional is important to a person seeking professional assistance, exceptions may occur. For example, a woman may prefer to visit a gynecologist who is a female. In such cases, the effects of gender labeling can be mitigated by changing the gender-laden descriptor to a noun, emphasizing the professional title, and de-emphasizing gender, i. e., a woman who is a doctor rather than woman doctor ....
Yes, and when seeking a dominatrix, one should ask for a dominant sex partner who happens to be a woman, or perhaps, more succinctly, a woman who is a dominateperson. Now it may not be clear how woman who is a doctor de-emphasizes gender or is otherwise preferable to woman doctor (or, for that matter, what higher cause might be served by the solecistic substitution of i.e. for e.g.), but a still more intriguing question is raised here: What would Grammar Lady have to say about all of this?