Friday, July 26, 2013

Bring Back the Werepeople!

The above is from the box art for Doctor Who, the complete second series.

I'll admit, the above picture is disingenuous. I'm not actually talking about werepeople. Not weretigers1 nor werewolves nor yet werejackals2.

Rather, I'm asking if we can come up with gender neutral pronouns and nouns. Once upon a time, gender neutral terms abounded. In fact, there are gender-neutral terms in a lot of languages, and even English used to have them. Once, as I understand it, "man" was actually neutral, and was used to refer to women and men with equal ease, as in David Brin's Uplift Series3. The old Germanic term for male men was actually "were" or "vir". Hence "werewolf" meant "man-wolf" or "wolf-man".

The thing is that there are multiple different systems floating around out there attempting to fill in the gap needed by transgender and agendered people. There are many people out there who don't fit into the neat binary for whom "he" and "she" don't really work particularly well. For example there's ze/xe to fill in where one would use he/she, and "hir" to replace "his/her". Those work fairly well, I think. So far, though, I haven't seen a good, neutral, one-syllable term that can be tossed out. I think that's part of why "human" and "person" and "people" seem so awkward when we try to slot them in. They sound awkward.

Of course, it's not always necessary to slot in "person" or something. I had to roll my eyes early on in the excellent show Once Upon A Time when the main character, Emma, repeatedly corrected people referring to her as a "bail bondsman" that she was a "bail bondsperson". Stupid. Why not "bounty hunter"? That's cool (replacing "mailman" with "letter carrier" simply doesn't add a cool factor).

But in general, why not use 'were'? That would certainly make things cool. Mailman? Nope, mailwere. Badass. Bondsman? Bondswere. Physicist? Physicswere!

Okay, sometimes it's never necessary because the common term is in fact gender neutral, but come on! Who wouldn't want to be a physicswere? Or a physiwere. Whatevs.

From now on, I'm a blogwere. More seriously, if you don't know the gender of a person, why not refer to hir as a were? I know that "they" works and was the default before it was replaced by "he" in the 18th/19th centuries, but I don't like it just because it's plural. From now on, all of y'all are weres. Deal with it.


1 - Whereas in European folklore, werecats were people who could turn into domestic cats, albeit sometimes giant, in India they could become tigers.

2 - Common in Africa and India, but other cultures have other kinds of weredogs.

3 - Reading through it the first time, it was strange for me to have no one blink an eye at a young girl say "I had to be in charge because I'm a man." meaning that, unlike the chimps and gorillas at the uplift center her parents worked at, she was a human being, and therefore was in charge of the people of their client races.

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