A Case of the Vapors

Written by Father Bill 7 Comments

When smelling salts are not enough, try this.Anthony Esolen, recent translator of Dante’s Inferno  and contributing editor of Touchstone has delivered on a promise  to write “a little bit about the linguistic controversy surrounding NT Greek anthropos, which is now translated as ‘person’ or ‘one’ or ‘human being’ or ‘[null]’ or ‘fellow’ or ‘telephone pole,’ but never simply ‘man,’ lest somebody in the pews faint and have to be revived.”

Providing rule-of-thumb definitions of anthropos (“man,” ranging in meaning from an individual male human to humanity conceived of as a unitary being) and aner (“man” when you wish to emphasize his sex or other qualities peculiar to maleness), Esolen then provides a wide range of examples drawn from ordinary contemporary speech, providing alongside them similar uses in the gospel of Luke.  For example (see Esolen’s blog for more), consider these:

“Once upon a time there was a man who had two sons.”  Anthropos; he’s a man, but we’re not focusing on his manhood; cf. Luke 15:11.

“Daniel Boone was a man, he was a real man.”  Aner; the idea is that he was big and strong and brave.

“I saw a man walking down the street.”  Anthropos; unless it’s a really unusual man, as in

“I saw a man in a polka-dot dress, walking down the street.”  Aner!

Esolen’s point is two-fold.  First he is exploding a welcome lie among egalitarians that anthropos means “human being” or “humanity” or “person” or “telephone pole” or the like.  Second, he gives plenty of collateral evidence for the intelligibility, commonality, contemporaniety, and understandability of the “inclusive masculine” in modern English, contra another bit of egalitarian flummery that asserts such usage to be vastly beyond the comprehension of modern women.

Further evidence for the intelligibility of the inclusive masculine is documented at the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).  Their illuminating examples show immediately why use of the inclusive masculine is still to be found everywhere, including a prescription for its use in standard style manuals for journalism and academia.  Among these examples are:

“… two people with herniated discs can lead radically different lives: one spends his days popping painkillers, the other waltzes through life like Fred Astaire.” (Newsweek, April 26, 2004, p. 45; in a section discussing herniated discs)

“…everyone we saw was holding up his blue-tipped finger with broad smiles on the faces while walking out of the center.” (Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2005, p. A18, discussing the election in Iraq in which both men and women voted)

“When one person dies, his money goes to pay the others in the pool.” (USA Today, February 11, 2005, p. 3B; in an article about annuities)

“…that man and forest were fated to be not enemies but partners.” (Newsweek, February 16, 2004, p. 44; in an article discussing economics and the rain forests)

“ASU archaeologist honored for research on early man” (The Arizona Republic, headline, February 26, 2005, p. E1)

With uses of the inclusive masculine so pervasive, so common, so … well, so understandable after almost 60 years of feminist whining, it is amazing that religious feminists such as Mimi Haddad can say  (with a straight face too!) something like this:

Until perhaps fifty years ago, it was somewhat common in America to use male pronouns when speaking of both men and women. Women, however, constantly needed to ask themselves, “Does man , men, he, or him include me?”

My goodness!!  What pathetic sorts of women is Ms. Haddad thinking of here?  Do such women really exist?  What does Ms. Haddad think women did earlier than 50 years ago?  How about 500 years ago?  How about 20 centuries ago?  Have women been wandering in a miasma of gender confusion for that long? 

Of course, another take on this is that Ms Haddad thinks women are really that stupid (except herself, of course). 

Anthony Esolen’s advice is simply to translate the Bible using the inclusive masculine in English (which is still a common and widely understood grammatical feature of the language) where the Bible uses the inclusive masculine (which it does just as much as modern English). 

And what about those grammatically-challenged women, those lexically-handicapped women, who can’t figure out when “man” or “men” or “him” or “his” includes them? Esolen has a solution for them too:  “We can always keep some smelling salts in the back, next to the incense, should any feminist suddenly catch the vapors.”

In the comments at Esolen’s blog, you will find one of those women Mimi Haddad must have been thinking about.  For her, I fear, smelling salts wouldn’t be enough to bring her around.  For her kind, I recommend something stronger, the odor of a truly manly world, where she won’t be confused about how her own gender relates to the gendered environment around her, or how ordinary people talk about it.


  1. SingingOwl   |  Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 10:31 am

    In my original comment I did not mean to say there is NO current use of the masculine to indicate both genders or that we can never understand when that is the case. I am sure I can find some too. I can also find numerous example of current language that is far more gender inclusive than in previous decades. This would include textbooks, papers, articles, Christian and otherwise. But neither of us would change our point of view, so I won’t spend the time. I still find it amazing that you think the English language in general has not become more gender-inclusive. Recently I wrote a paper (for a secular organization) and it was edited to catch an instance where I used “he” to mean “he or she.” Would that have happened in 1965? No.

  2. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 11:13 am

    But, Singing Owl, you’ve just made my point!

    It’s not English that has changed, for those editors who “corrected” you were not correcting your English. They knew perfectly well what you meant. Instead, they were conforming your use of English to a very novel, very recent, ideologically driven standard, to confirm in your writing a cultural jihad to which they have enlisted themselves.

    That’s why you see this fetish against the inclusive masculine concentrating in certain spheres — all of them with loudly proclaiming allegiance to feminist values and agendas. You named them — textbooks, papers (written for feminist editors), articles (written for the same), Christian (egalitarians, who ape the feminist agenda at this point).

    Of course, I won’t change your point of view. If you can look at a couple of millennia of western cultural history, reflected in its languages and literature, rooted in the Bible’s point of view (again, embedded in its languages), and come out thinking that the inclusive masculine is repressive, restrictive, or opaque to “modern” readers, … well, you’ve already discounted more evidence contrary to you than I could provide in ten lifetimes.

  3. SingingOwl   |  Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 1:29 pm

    It appears that it actually bothers you that female readers or listeners might want to be “included” in a more direct way. For the life of me, I cannot see why this is a problem.

    “That’s why you see this fetish against the inclusive masculine concentrating in certain spheres — all of them with loudly proclaiming allegiance to feminist values and agendas.”

    So you think current usage which is more gender inclusive is only found where feminist values are loudly proclaimed?
    One of the more recent documents that has become more gender inclusive is the Constitution of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. While the AG does ordain women, we are a small minority and the AG can hardly be said to be loudly proclaiming the “feminist agenda.” I assure you that such is certainly not the case. Sometimes I wish it were a bit more the case, frankly.

    Again, I am flummoxed. Perhaps it is different where you are (Texas?) than where I am (Wisconsin). I would agree that, a majority of the time, most readers (or list eners) can figure out what is meant when someone says “he.” But why on earth does using more gender inclusive language contribute to a “jihad?” Or, worse, a “fetish against the exclusive masculine?” Is it somehow essential to use exclusively masculine language instead of more inclusive language? Does not doing so somehow demean men or make them less than they are? Or contribute in some sinister way to the downfall of western culture as we know it?

    I’m not particularly interested in being “politically correct.” However, I recently had a conversation with someone in my congregation who is 19 years old. She was reading the New King James Version, and she was genuinely confused about whether a particular scripture which used the word “man” applied to her. She does not read Greek. She just reads English.

    Confusion does happen, and when we can be more clear…then it is time for the language to change. Language evolves and changes all the time, and the fact that it does so need not be seen, in my opinion, as quite so sinister!

  4. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 23 January 2007 at 2:41 pm

    “It appears that it actually bothers you that female readers or listeners might want to be “included” in a more direct way. For the life of me, I cannot see why this is a problem.”

    Singing Owl, I’ll take you at face value here and believe you — that you cannot see why this is a problem. And, I’ll try to explain to you why there is a very big problem here which (again, I agree with you!) you do not see.

    I think it is because you do not see the very big problem that you so easily and happily endorse religious feminism of the sort which (according to you) even the Assemblies do not endorse (though you wish they would).

    I’m not from that quarter of the Church, so I won’t try to speak for your pastoral peers. But, I will try to explain why inclusive language is a problem very much like the problem you have when you find a strange blue blob growing somewhere on your body. Healthy human bodies don’t do that, and “ordinary” English doesn’t spontaneously generate the stylistic, grammatical, and syntactical aberrations urged on us by the feminists. Both are signs of Big Problems.

    For now, however, other things are pressing — publication deadlines, pastoral responsibilities, and domestic duties — the latter very much gender related, as I’m taking my daughter to a far off store hoping to find clothing for her to purchase that does not signal to the world that she is … well, what gets signaled to the world when you purchase its “fashions” for teen girls.

    Give me a couple of days to tend to these other things, and I’ll provide a fuller answer as to exactly what this big problem entails.

  5. johnMark   |  Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 6:38 am

    Fr. Bill,

    After browsing through some of your site I thought you may like to see this:


  6. Fr. Bill   |  Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 6:56 am

    Hello, Mark,

    Thanks for the link. It will provide me blog fodder.

    I’ve just glanced over them and note that they are mostly the “you’re a crypto-Muslim” kind of attack. Typical, generally, of egalitarians. Not at all like the “you’re a crypto-feminist” critique comps level at egals, because the latter is easy to demonstrate, while the former is impossible to demonstrate. That is, unless, you wish to garb the Father of our Lord in the robes of Allah. It’s going to be interesting hearing McKinnon explain these things to King Jesus at the judgment.

    Meanwhile, like I said, it’s blog fodder. Thanks again. These will show up from time to time here for comment.

    But, still, like I said — it’s blog fodder. Thanks again.

    Fr. B

  7. Sue   |  Sunday, 28 October 2007 at 11:23 pm

    But what if there is a case in which the anthropoi are all of them entirely women? How would you translate that into English? Would you not have to switch to persons at that point and then say that indeed anthropoi are persons, but human persons, of course, not divine persons.

    Maybe sometimes it is just more accurate to say that they are humans, so we know these anthropoi are not men at all. What would you advise in this case?

    And if you would possibly advise persons/humans in this case, would you not respect the concordant translation principle that some people endorse, to translate important words in the original language into the same word in English?

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