by Tamela Hancock Murray
A couple weeks ago we discussed local flavor in expressions. It got me to thinking that I grew up in an era where no one thought anything of saying, “He should be shot,” or “My father is going to kill me,” for minor infractions. One of my friends noted that if a teenager said that today about her father, someone would call Social Services. After the Columbine tragedy that left so many dead or maimed at the hands of gunmen, I decided not to use any reference to shooting or killing in a cavalier manner. I believe my speech is gentler for the change.
I’m not sure every alteration has been for the better, though. The term “waitstaff” throws me. I can’t help but visualize a shepherd’s crook leaning against a corner wall, waiting for its owner to retrieve it. On the other hand, I don’t mind “flight attendant” as a substitute for “stewardess.” Have you noticed that media calls both male and female stars “actors” rather than “actresses” and “actors.” This change seems unnecessary to me.
We have moved from “men” meaning “mankind.” In a reference to mankind, I never minded being lumped in with the men. I like men. And much of the bliss of singing “Joy to the World” feels stolen when I must sing, “Let all their songs employ,” rather than “Let men their songs employ.” That one syllable changes the meaning of the line from let “everyone” sing to let everyone sing an “infinite body” of songs.
For the most part, I choose my battles wisely. I don’t like being called “you guys” along with the rest of a group of women, (although no one has ever accused me of being a guy when I’m by myself), but I won’t take issue with it. And when someone slips and runs the old version of “Joy to the World,” I might sing that line with a little more vigor. English is a living language. If not, we wouldn’t have, for instance, The Message Bible, or its precurser, The Living Bible. When thinking of language and its meaning, I believe we must keep our dictionaries — and our hearts — open and updated.
Do you have any pet peeves with newer developments in speech?
Has your speech changed recently?
Do you like the use of inclusive language?
What is your favorite Bible version? Was it controversial when it was first released?