I'm kicking around a concept for a theoretical piece I hope to work on in the near future, dealing with the way "femininity" and the "female" category are conceived of linguistically. Help me find some empirical data!
March 24, 2009 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm kicking around a concept for a theoretical piece I hope to work on in the near future, dealing with the way "femininity" and the "female" category are conceived of linguistically. Help me find some empirical data!

Thus, I want to look at everything from--

-1} "benignly" feminine morphemes, like feminine nouns in Spanish or Arabic; to

-2} idiomatic expressions that are ambiguously connotative of "femininity," like the syntactical habit in English (for example) of referring to countries, ships, and organisations with "feminine" syntax (thus "the ship's majesty reflected her righteous purpose," or the "benevolent womb" of "the motherland"--as opposed to the sagacious & stern "protective embrace" of "the fatherland"); to

-3} more directly identifiable conceptual assumptions about "the female essence"--the only case I can think of being the Japanese logograph "姦," meaning "wickedness" or "cunning," which is comprised of the radical signifying "woman" repeated three times, and is commonly known for its presence in the expression, "女三人寄れば姦しい," [おんなさんにんよればかしましい] which roughly means "wherever women gather, it is noisy [literally, "if there are 3 women, it is noisy"].

My purpose in all of this is to take a critical eye to the common-sense argument that such gender constructions in language are purely "neutral"--as they are arbitrary, symbolic constructions--and problematise it by addressing the very real assumptions & power dynamics inherent in any linguistic exchange, which in the face of arbitrary/"relative" symbolism nonetheless manage to actively cathect meaning, perspective, and oppression onto selfsame symbols, and insodoing reinforce (intentionally or unintentionally) broader cultural/ideological conceptions of women and "femininity" (think Althusser, Butler, etc).

As you may have already guessed, then, I want to accomplish this by demonstrating the continuum between the subtle and mostly inconsequential cases (as in case #1) to the more overt and problematic ones (as in case #3) with concrete examples for a robust comparative analysis. And as you can see, I have only a handful at my disposal.

So!

What I'm soliciting the askmefi community for is two things:

-1} compelling examples/cases of different languages which have constructions falling into these categories. Anything goes. Examples of languages that manage to address "femininity" even without strictly "feminine" grammatical structures (like English), or "rare" languages surviving among uncolonised peoples which defy or problematise my thesis with highly unique constructions, are welcome.

My realm of experience is mostly with english, spanish, japanese, arabic, and russian, so any insight into languages other than these will be extremely appreciated--though prominent/interesting/striking examples that I have completely overlooked in said languages are of course still very much welcome.

-2} any existing commentaries, texts, articles, authors who touch on this issue directly or indirectly which I can look into for further research.

Thanks so much for your time & patience. I know that might have been a lot to swallow. For any who are interested, if this ever comes to fruition I'll surely share it with the mefi community.

note: I am not looking for a peer review of my thesis. I'd love to talk about it to anyone who wishes, but if it's not too much to ask, please keep this thread to empirical examples and not a debate as to whether or not women are unfairly treated in society. thank you.
posted by parkbench to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
The hanzi for female (女) itself says a lot, being a representation of a woman, legs spread, accepting a man.
posted by bunnytricks at 11:50 AM on March 24, 2009


in english, Mrs/Miss (and since the 60's, Ms) denote a woman's marital status, while there is no such thing for Mr. ("Master" usually refers to a young man).

and Ms. is still thought of by a few generations as meaning "divorced".

but Mr. is Mr. is Mr.


if i get you right, i think you are looking for examples of language that depict unequal power dynamics between male/female?

i had a class where we discussed the imbalance in language (just english tho) with words like "henpeck" "nag" "chitter-chatter" being used for women without equivalent words with the same connation for men. if i can think of more examples, i'll post them.

unless this is not what you're looking for, of course :)
posted by sio42 at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2009


Have you read any feminist linguistics, poststructuralist, or (particularly French) feminist theory? You name-drop Althusser and Butler. But nobody makes the "common sense" argument that language and interaction doesn't already have these power dynamics within it, that language doesn't have meaning, that there aren't affective effects from language or the social networks of power. I mean that's pretty much what poststructuralist or critical or feminist theory has done for the past 40 years. So I can see an interesting little paper on a few examples, but I don't really see how this is new.

I'd probably suggest The Feminist Critique of Language as a good general reader to start. Or do you know all of those authors and are looking for something even more specific?

If you know all of that, and are looking for very specific books, can you post what you're already using so we can be more helpful?
posted by barnone at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2009


mistress is like master but has developed additional connations over time. there is not a similar word for a man doing what a mistress does. if a married woman has an affair, she has a "lover" or something similar. a married man has a "mistress".

the way that gender is inherent in our notions of certain professions: male nurse, woman doctor (or for that matter "male prostitute").

hair color denoting intelligence for women "blonde" means a lot more than a color when used to describe a woman.
posted by sio42 at 12:29 PM on March 24, 2009


Also: Luce Irigaray. Is she on your radar screen?
posted by barnone at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2009


My first thought is Latin, where a woman is "mulier" or "femina," and becomes "uxor" when she marries, wheras a man stays "vir" is whole life, regardless of marital status. Thus the origin of "I now pronounce you man [vir] and wife [uxor]" instead of "husband and wife." I'm not exactly sure this is what you're looking for, but I thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by Dukat at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2009


You mention Butler in your question, but perhaps it's still worth mentioning that she deals with a lot of this in the beginning of Gender Trouble, where she discusses Irigaray, Wittig, and De Beauvoir.

Also, I'll second barnone's point that the "common sense" argument you mention is a bit of a straw man. Still, there's probably still some worthwhile argument to be made, you just might need to dig a little deeper.
posted by dizziest at 1:06 PM on March 24, 2009


Thanks for the suggestions, people. One by one:

sio42: good point on mr./mrs. there. That didn't even occur to me--strangely enough, even though I've been entrenched in Carol Pateman & the sexual contract for awhile now! Heh.

I also have taken note of your example of words like "nag," etc., which seem to constitute another category I had not thought of: words which, for all intents and purposes are grammatically "genderless," but are in practice applied almost exclusively to women. Interesting!

Also, your later example of "blonde" at first seemed too unrelated to be relevant for my purposes, but on second thought it might deserve a category of its own, or at least a subcategory of the 4th category which I just proposed--that is, words which are "grammatically genderless," and are in fact used to describe both males & females frequently, but which in the latter case acquire an "extra," supplementary meaning.

Great stuff.

Dukat: That's exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for! It's a great example, and has clued me in to similar ones in some of the languages I'm more familiar with.

barnone: First I will tell you what I am grateful for in your suggestions, and then I will tell you why I was utterly frustrated by the way that you made them.

I will look intoThe Feminist Critique of Language and Luce Irigaray; both look highly relevant. Your post also got me thinking about some of the feminists dealing with language & resistance discourse that Maria Lugones builds off of in her work, who I have not had a chance to read, but who work in the context of Hispanic migrants--so the power dynamics are necessarily there from the start. Great!

Otherwise, as I already indicated, I do not really have anybody I'm "using" currently; only an imprecise orbit of articles & authors who have touched on this idea lightly which are swarming in my head idly.

And now I will address what flabbergasted me about your post:

Have you read any feminist linguistics, poststructuralist, or (particularly French) feminist theory? You name-drop Althusser and Butler. But nobody makes the "common sense" argument that language and interaction doesn't already have these power dynamics within it, that language doesn't have meaning, that there aren't affective effects from language or the social networks of power. I mean that's pretty much what poststructuralist or critical or feminist theory has done for the past 40 years. So I can see an interesting little paper on a few examples, but I don't really see how this is new.

That's a pretty hostile response for no good reason that I can discern.

Given what you're telling me, it is of coures more clear to me than before that I haven't branched out of a very particular brand of third-wave postcolonial feminism enough since I began studying feminism at all--but this is exactly why I was soliciting help in the first place. Why else would I write the question? Clearly, I believed I was ignorant of some pretty important arguments/persons/disciplines.

In this sense, your remarkably petty barb that I "name-dropped" Althusser & Butler confuses me; besides being completely unwarranted & not conducive to any constructive discussion, it has no substantive use as a piece of advice--really, it is a rather vindictive critique, which could only be necessary if you felt the need to "teach me a lesson," which is the last thing I need on the internet.

This culminates in your saying that I am not discovering anything new. Again, I can't find any place where I made such a claim. The fact that you took time out of your day to assure me that my "little paper" will not be innovative is surprisingly hostile, and more importantly entirely ahistorical: every author, scholar, & academic who ever even whispered a single interesting thought worth hearing was told the same thing by their peers. I don't understand how you think theories develop & mutate unless you allow that a variety of people with different intellectual positionalities have to be given the opportunity to filter the same theories/ideas through again & again, experimenting with different epistemic sieves until they find something that seems to work.

Lastly, one could only make the claim that nobody makes the "common sense" argument if your criteria for social actors only includes academia. I am sure you are aware that the point of this kind of critical theory is exposing how complicit the most sacred, cardinal values of a modern "liberal" state are in reproducing subjection--a point which is, tragically, not a given for everyone. I am not doing a census of academic opinion; I am doing an appraisal of populist behavior, if anything: so this argument of yours just misses the point, I think.

In conclusion: please try to avoid assuming the worst and make your advice productive, rather than combative. It's mean.

Cheers!
posted by parkbench at 1:39 PM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll call my example 1b: the German word for "girl", which is neutral/neuter -"das Mädchen". Everyone will tell you that the neuter is just a relict of "Mädchen" being a diminutive* and all diminutives are neuter, which is true enough. However, these same people are forever breaking their own rule for (spoken) sentences like, "Das Mädchen, die..." ("The neuter-little-maid-girl, she-who"**). So it does matter whether a girl is called "it", because otherwise why build such an incorrect sentence?

I suspect that many wiser souls have explored this before me and have possibly concluded that one will go mad trying to make sense of it all, but since German wasn't on your list of familiars, I thought I'd give you a not-exactly-benign gendered noun.

* That's what the -chen is doing at the end of the word; turning it from "Magd" ("maid"), into "little-maid", or "girl".
** Super-exaggerated translation to demonstrate the point in our non-gendered common tongue
posted by teremala at 2:00 PM on March 24, 2009


My purpose in all of this is to take a critical eye to the common-sense argument that such gender constructions in language are purely "neutral"--as they are arbitrary, symbolic constructions--and problematise it by addressing the very real assumptions & power dynamics inherent in any linguistic exchange, which in the face of arbitrary/"relative" symbolism nonetheless manage to actively cathect meaning, perspective, and oppression onto selfsame symbols, and insodoing reinforce (intentionally or unintentionally) broader cultural/ideological conceptions of women and "femininity" (think Althusser, Butler, etc).

I too think this is a strawman, no educated person thinks the way you describe. This is also a really overwrought sentence that imparts a sense of academic posturing. Scare quotes should be used more sparingly - we don't need constant reminders of your intent to deconstruct, just go ahead and do it.

How do you plan to "take a critical eye" to this area? You find examples of linguistic conflation of the feminine and the bad... then what?

Help me find some empirical data!

What you're after are properly thought of as anecdotes.

In german, rain is referred to with 3 different genders - one when it's in a cloud, one when it's coming down, one when it's on the ground. Can't remember the specifics, sorry - I think it was in a Mark Twain essay on the german language.
posted by phrontist at 2:09 PM on March 24, 2009


The World Atlas of Language Structures has several maps detailing the different types of gender systems in the world:

Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems
Number of Genders

Systems of Gender Assignment

There are short articles that go with each of those maps. Read them!

You should also read Gender by Greville Corbett, a book in the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics series.

Bantu languages are also frequently studied due to their complex noun class system. Tagalog has no gender marking, not even for kinship terms outside of 'mom' and 'dad'.

Okay, this is extra and unsolicited, but I'm guessing that you're not a linguist just from the way you worded your question. You should really study up on language typology and comparative linguistics, especially if you're even thinking about looking at raw, unglossed data. I did a lot of graduate work in language elicitation and its really easy to go down all kinds of rabbit holes if you don't know how much you don't know.

Believe me, this is a well trod path and I'm a little wary that you already have your conclusion picked out without looking at the other great research on this topic. You've bitten off a lot (trust me), but if you manage to focus on some interesting subset of ideas you might find something interesting, especially if you find the unbiased, quantitative data to back it up.
posted by Alison at 2:11 PM on March 24, 2009


Some examples of people who have thought innovatively about the connections between language and gender:

Miyako Inoue -- "Gender, Language, and Modernity: Toward an Effective History of Japanese Women’s Language." American Ethnologist 29.3 (2002):392-422

Michael Silverstein -- "Language and the Culture of Gender: At the Intersection of Structure, Usage, and Ideology." in Semiotic Mediation, ed. Elizabeth Mertz and Richard Parmentier (caveat: have only read part of it, and have been told that his discussion of gender is somewhat problematic)

Sally McConnell-Ginet -- "The Sexual (Re)Production of Meaning: A discourse-based theory" (available in a few different volumes)

Elinor Ochs -- "Indexing Gender" in Duranti and Goodwin, Rethinking Context

McConnell-Ginet and Eckert's volume Language and Gender is perhaps too basic for you, but it gives an overview of a wide variety of different things people are doing in the field.

Also, seconding (thirding?) The Feminist Critique of Language. Also, Gender Articulated.
posted by pluckemin at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2009


My first thought is Latin, where a woman is "mulier" or "femina," and becomes "uxor" when she marries, wheras a man stays "vir" is whole life, regardless of marital status. Thus the origin of "I now pronounce you man [vir] and wife [uxor]" instead of "husband and wife."

'Mulier' and 'femina' are both words for adult women. A 'puella' ("girl") becomes a 'femina' upon marriage, because she has come of age. A boy ('puer') becomes a young man ('iuvenis') also at his coming of age around 15, when he had a ceremony to assume the toga virilis, the 'toga of manhood', although, indeed, his ceremony was not tied to marital status. But there is parallelism between the two rituals in the adoption of a word for a new status. Words for male citizens' status are by age: puer, iuvenis, senex (only the latter two are encompassed by vir, just as puella is excluded by femina, generally); a male slave can be referred to by 'puer' despite advanced age. The word for "old woman," 'anus', is not used of women in the same neutral/respectful way 'senex' is, because Roman society on the whole did not value old women as much as old men; an old woman is generally still referred to respectfully as 'femina' (or 'mulier' or 'matrona', if appropriate.) A key non-age-based status word, "citizen" ('civis'), is in fact common gender (either m. or f. depending on the person referred to).

The word 'femina' can have the meaning "wife," just as 'vir' can mean "husband;" in either case, there exists a non-ambiguous synonym ('uxor' and 'maritus'). The English 'man and wife', completely unconnected to the Latin (a Roman marriage "vow" was actually ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia, "where you are Gaius, I am Gaia"), is using the original meaning of the word 'wife' in English, "woman." The two words 'man' and 'wife' in the expression are originally parallel.

An oddity: 'puella' ("girl") is actually a diminutive of 'puer' ("boy"), stranger than the German situation of 'das Mädchen' being a diminutive of 'die Magd' or English 'maiden' of 'maid'.

Also, OP, have you looked at Deborah Tannen's work? It's examining gender/language use from a sociolinguistic perspective, which might be helpful to you.
posted by lysimache at 2:46 PM on March 24, 2009


Sex roles study based on Robin Lakoff's work.
posted by forrestal at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2009


Are you interested in handsome, pretty, and beautiful, which take on distinctly different meanings when applied to males vs females?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:27 PM on March 24, 2009


Phrontist, were you thinking of this, from A Tramp Abroad?

Parkbench, I too recommend The Feminist Critique of Language. I read it for a class I took last semester. I don't have my notes on me, but here's what I remember learning about.

1) What sio42 said about "woman doctor", etc. This even applies to things like "actress" - why does gender have to be marked in these cases and how does the fact that it is affect us? Also think of words like "fireman" and "chairman" needed to be changed and expanded along with women's professional role.

2) Lexical gaps - what's the male version of "slut"? True, we have things like "manwhore" now, but isn't that example also problematic? Because why are regular whores female? It seems to me that since this issue was first raised, we've all become more used to the idea that a man can be a slut (...yay!). But for most people, the word still applies primarily to women.

3) Pairs like "spinster" vs. "bachelor" - why is one sad while the other is swinging?

4) Ann Bodine wrote an essay about the history of the 'generic' he, and Muriel Schulz has one about the history of English words for women, and how (according to her) they've practically all had, at one time or another, some sexual/degraded meaning (cf. sio42's example of the divergent semantic paths of "master" and "mistress").

5) You could look up scholarly work on gendered obscenity.

6) Finally, people have done studies comparing the effects of grammatical gender on the perceptions of speakers of different languages. IIRC, in German, bridges are beautiful and elegant and fragile (!) whereas in Spanish they're big and dangerous and sturdy. I never actually got my hands on that study, so I don't know how compelling the findings are. I remembered the names "Boroditsky, Schmidt and Philips"; check them out on Google Scholar and you should be able to find out more.

I hope some of that helped. Good luck!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:44 PM on March 24, 2009


Some really great responses, all. Thanks a lot.

One thing first: Alison said the following:

...I'm guessing that you're not a linguist just from the way you worded your question. You should really study up on language typology and comparative linguistics, especially if you're even thinking about looking at raw, unglossed data. I did a lot of graduate work in language elicitation and its really easy to go down all kinds of rabbit holes if you don't know how much you don't know.

Good point. But I don't want to take an overly-taxonomic approach to this. I want it to be accessible--without using a specialised argot which might needlessly obfuscate things. Essentially, I am deliberately looking to take the kind of hazy & imprecise approach to this that is the nature of work in the humanities.

That is: my experience with language was through a bilingual childhood and an adolescence of neurotically studying random languages, in which I avoided highly technical-linguistic systems of learning, and I still turned out okay, though I couldn't describe to you the internal vibrations of the throat during speech for sure--kind of my approach to learning the guitar. And, much like the guitar, it is of course entirely possible to play something beautiful without being able to read a lick of sheet music.

Really, all I am doing is coming up with a hypothesis. The whole point of doing research after coming up with a hypothesis is to see where it takes you: to see how it complicates your original assumptions and defies the simplicity of your original claim, which tends to be broad. I even asked, in my original post, specifically for cases which "defy" my own framework.

I also tried to make it clear that I will not be starting the actual work on this anytime soon due to other commitments. This post was to make an initial step so I can start to think about these questions more actively and do some preliminary research until I have the time to really sit down and prune through the literature.

Lastly, if I can address one of Alison's points, I actually conceived of this as a rather conservative foray into the topic, not . A several-volume anthology is not the only way to fairly treat this issue; I was on the contrary looking to construct a highly specific, diagnostic account of a few undercurrents of linguistic exchange, using a few concrete examples.

So I'm confused as to where this talk of arrogance & posturing is coming from. I find it incredibly frustrating that my motives are a priori put into question and deconstructed when I am essentially, all told, wondering out loud--which is what I thought this site was for.

I can only imagine that the "hesitant" responses in this thread are a product of the impersonal nature of internet--this kind of misunderstanding would simply not happen if my tone of voice were a factor at all. Somehow the fact that my words are written translates into a signal for posters to divest words from context and take absolutely everything to the letter.

In sum: If I believed I knew the answer to this already, I wouldn't be doing the research in the first place. I would have already written my piece.

Again: thanks all for the pointers, you've done me a great service.
posted by parkbench at 4:00 PM on March 24, 2009


So I'm confused as to where this talk of arrogance & posturing is coming from.

The only person I can see mentioning posturing is phrontist, who quotes the paragraph of your post running from "My purpose in all of this is to take a critical" to "conceptions of women and 'femininity' (think Althusser, Butler, etc)."

Personally I have no idea if that paragraph is posturing - I'm inclined to assume it wasn't - but I do know I didn't understand that paragraph, from about the word "problematise" onwards.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:30 PM on March 24, 2009


You said you want to demonstrate the continuum. That is clear question begging. You may not believe you know the answer, but you write as though you did.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2009


LOL, you're like some of my students. I wasn't being mean. If you think that's mean, you're probably a sophomore or junior at some liberal arts school who wants to tell critical theory off with some real examples. Wait a minute...are you in my class?? If I get your paper to grade in approximately 2 months... oh man. I can't wait for you to rebut my response -- you'll come barreling into my office telling me EXACTLY why I'm wrong and you're right.

You wrote the entire question without reference to feminist theory and proclaimed your response to a "common sense" argument. I simply was asking if you ALREADY knew this whole other discipline/history (feminist linguistics, french critical theory, etc.) which has dealt with this topic. If you knew all of that and needed MORE references, my response would have been different than if you were just starting out and trying to find a way.

Jees. It's okay. Your paper will be great, you'll be original. Just don't pretend an entire history of thought along these lines doesn't exist just because you want to make a tangential argument. Chill out, my friend. A bit of humbleness will go really really far in making people want to help you.

"Why assume the worst and make your response so unproductive? That's just mean." Ditto!

You will note that I supplied a tome that others have recommended multiple times.

I would also recommend Language and Gender and working through this overview of Feminist Philosophy of Language - many of the references there will help lead to other books useful for your argument.
posted by barnone at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2009


In Chilean Vernacular Spanish:

A) "Choro" ("Pussy",a masculine noun) also means "Cool"

B) "La zorra" (The pussy", f.) also means "super cool"

C) "Penca" ("Dick", f.) also means "not very good"

D) "Como el pico" ("Like the dick", m.) means "very bad".

E) "Como las huevas" ("Like the testicles", f.) means "really, really bad".

F) "Teta" ("Tit", f.) also means "good".

So slang references to female anatomy are generally positive, whereas those to male anatomy are mostly negative.
posted by signal at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2009


Hallo again, barnone! Let's continue these shenanigans a bit longer. One thing I want to get out of the way real quick:

You will note that I supplied a tome that others have recommended multiple times.

What convinces me that you have not really read any of my posts is that I have repeatedly mentioned how the actual information you gave me was useful. What I took issue with was the scorn with which you treated the conversation.

You wrote the entire question without reference to feminist theory and proclaimed your response to a "common sense" argument. I simply was asking if you ALREADY knew this whole other discipline/history (feminist linguistics, french critical theory, etc.) which has dealt with this topic. If you knew all of that and needed MORE references, my response would have been different than if you were just starting out and trying to find a way.

Why the meta-discussion? Should I have provided a bibliography? I mean you're right--I didn't feel the need to forward you a list of references or a photo of the articles I've collected because I was asking an idle question on a site meant for such things. If I have a question about a piece on racism, do I have to cite Fanon & Mills & so on for you to believe that I'm not "ignoring history?" Hell, even when I do mention some names--for the express purpose of expediting the conversation--you called it "name-dropping."

Kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't, innit? Truly: only someone who actually thinks that I would waste my life trying to prove something to people I don't know on the internet--indeed someone with a real obsession to perform themselves--would interpret my referencing of Althusser & Butler as "name-dropping," instead of what it was: the most mundane & utterly normal way that people give each other points of reference.

Jees. It's okay. Your paper will be great, you'll be original. Just don't pretend an entire history of thought along these lines doesn't exist just because you want to make a tangential argument. Chill out, my friend. A bit of humbleness will go really really far in making people want to help you.

History comment is bizarre. My question solicited real-world examples & suggestions for past (hence "historical") work in the area. Truly bizarre!

I'm repeating myself, but: I find it really ironic that you're talking about "humbleness" when your first reply to my post was to sneer at me like a lonely older brother. Ultimately, it's no skin off my bones. I'll have my little project and I'll have a grand old time.

It's also clear to me that you've never worked in a professional environment in which people are given the space to confront each other about unpleasant or offensive interactions in the workspace--or if you have, that you've learned nothing. I deliberately made an effort in my replies to not reply emotionally (in fact I would continually write my instinctual response, and then delete it to write something less flippant), and to bring to your attention my concern that you were being unnecessarily hostile in response to a non-existent infraction. This is the procedure for all functional dialogue & diplomacy in an impersonal environment like this place here. If you're a professor, I fear for your students--no, I pray for them.

You had the chance to apologise for being callous, after which there would have been no animosity between us. This is the mature thing to do. Instead you decided to "turn the tables" and act as if I "couldn't handle the truth" (one of the most self-involved & unproductive ways of communicating with people), and I was merely being over-sensitive. Whereas you could have apologised for being insensitive, you refused to acknowedge that you could even do something insensitive at all. You then went on to accuse me of being arrogant, for even deigning to come up with my original hypothesis at all, fool that I am. And then you are surprised that I'm frustrated that grown adults still think that this is an okay way to communicate.

Maybe it's because I haven't visited askmefi in awhile--I just didn't realise that it was becoming like the rest of the internet, where people are ready to drop cordial formalities and snip anyone apart at the drop of the hat, for the sheer sake of doing so.

And now I'm tired. Thanks for the suggestions; but you can hold the sauce.
posted by parkbench at 7:41 PM on March 24, 2009


To clarify: I wasn't trying to say that it's a big deal for "girl/maiden" to be a diminutive; what's curious is how people react to the neuter gender of the word itself versus the natural gender of the child (itself), choosing to break a very basic rule of grammar in favor of what "feels" right. To get away from the "maid" issue, one could just as well look at the less-popular "Fräulein" ("the little woman", neuter) -- it's a bit like the "ships are feminine" concept that English has, and just as weird in terms of grammar.

Regarding "rain/der Regen" - Twain wasn't talking about genders there, but cases. Unfortunately, there are sixteen cases and only six unique articles, which is of course terribly confusing at times.
posted by teremala at 11:42 PM on March 24, 2009


parkbench - i don't know barnone, but i think s/he was just trying to be helpful.

i also don't think that barnone was being mean when they said "little paper". i think they meant "short paper", as in, it might be a good essay but not a graduate thesis.

that said, i think that your idea is really good, i get the idea that you are still just in the beginning stages, trying to figure out what you really want to focus on for this project.

and there's nothing wrong with that. i think barnone was doing what professors do: try to get you to focus, not because they know more than the student, but because that's what they do: help students get their awesome ideas on to paper in a way that makes sense.

i'm sure your idea will flesh out, but please don't take so much offense to someone who was being pretty helpful. it's almost like you are hijacking your own thread.

i am very interested in where this thread is going, minus all the stuff about how you feel offended by barnone. language and society and gender is a really wonderful topic.
posted by sio42 at 6:05 AM on March 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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