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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Washington State moves toward gender-neutral language | Rachel LaCorte, The Associated Press, The Seattle Times

State officials have been changing the language used in many laws, including thousands of words and phrases, many written more than a century ago when the idea of women working on police forces or on fishing boats wasn't a consideration.
This article was featured recently in my hometown newspaper. I consider it good news. Updating our language to reflect and respect reality is important. 

LaCorte writes:
That process is to draw to a close this year. So while the state already has welcomed “firefighters,” “clergy” and “police officers” into its lexicon, “ombuds” (in place of ombudsman) and “security guards” (previously “watchmen,”) appear to be next, along with “dairy farmers,” “first-year students” and “handwriting.”
She quotes Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark, a catalyst for the change:
Some people would say ‘oh, it’s not a big thing, do you really have to go through the process of changing the language.' But language matters. It’s how we signal a level of respect for each other.
And Crispin Thurlow, a sociolinguist and associate professor of language and communication at the University of Washington:
Changing words can change what we think about the world around us. These tiny moments accrue and become big movements.
For related advice in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual, see the sex, sexism entry. It begins:
Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. 
Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. Include all people in general references by substituting unbiased, asexual words and phrases: informal agreement for gentlemen's agreementhomemaker for housewifeemployees and their spouses for employees and their wives.
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LaCorte's article is featured today, Feb. 5, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, avilalbe a the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.


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