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EDITORIAL: Another assault on the language

Washington state declares war on everyman

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Politicians often have too much time on their hands. In the state of Washington, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat, spent many hours poring through the law books searching for words and phrases that offend currently fashionable feminist sensibilities.

In righting such "wrongs," she cooked up a 475-page bill to expunge "sexism" from statutes dealing with everything from lumber and furniture to irrigation and waterways. Gov. Jay Inslee, a properly housebroken fellow Democrat, signed her musings, which now are the law. Washington became the fourth state to eliminate "gender bias" from the official lexicon.

Beginning Dec. 1, a fisherman will be a "fisher" and a freshman a "first-year student." Penmanship" becomes "handwriting"; the sight of the second syllable of "penmanship" sends Mrs. Kohl-Welles in search of a fainting couch. A journeyman plumber will be known as "journey-level plumber." A "draughtsman" becomes a "drafter." The law exempts "manhole," because try as she might, the senator couldn't think of a common-sense alternative, although "personhole" makes as much sense as her other new words. "Mankind" becomes "humankind," even though the new word still contains the forbidden three middle letters.

Mrs. Kohl-Welles laments all the effort she put into combing through the law, and more effort will be required to revise the books the lawyers and judges rely on to harass the rest of us. The Washington Code Reviser has 40 staffers to sweep sexist terms from every law on the books.

There's no evidence that Washingtonians of either sex were particularly troubled by these verbal slights before Mrs. Kohl-Welles arrived with her blue pencils. But necessity was not the father of this bastardy. This was pandering to the tiny but noisy coterie of professional umbrage-takers who infest society.

Similar grievance-mongers raised a stink in the nation's capital a decade or so ago when an erudite aide to the mayor was accused of using a racial slur when he correctly described his office's fiscal practices as "niggardly," a word which means "miserly" and has no racial root or connotation. This disease is catching. Self-appointed censors now demand that "master bedroom" be banished from the real estate lexicon because, the Washington Business Journal reports, "master" denotes male, and in an ignorant view, even race, i.e., the "slave master." Who knew? But skittish real-estate salesmen use the term "owner's suite," even if, we suppose, the owner never gets to sleep there. Someone was at sea and didn't get Mrs. Kohl-Welles' memo, since the law still recognizes ship's captains as "masters."

The gripman, who operates the brakes on a cable car, must disappear, though if Mrs. Kohl-Welles is ever unfortunate enough to be on a runaway cable car she will want a manly someone a little stronger than a mere "grip operator" working the cable. Until then, the senator herself needs to get a grip.

The Washington Times

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