On hypersensitivity and the need to differentiate

Earlier tonight I purchased a book on my Kindle on the Articles of Religion. It was written in the late 80’s by Oliver O’Donovan, who teaches Theology at Cambridge University, but was re-issued in 2011. Thus far I’ve found it a very well written and helpful book. So helpful, in fact, that I wanted to share it with some friends of mine. I waited until I was back on the computer and then I visited Amazon to get the information on the book, as well as the link, to send to my friends. Then, something caught my eye as I read the book description:

The circled portion caught my eye as I skimmed because “sic” in parentheses, and usually italicized, is used to indicate a non-standard or archaic spelling, error etc… I’m a historian–or at least, I’m trained in the study of history–so I found a long time ago that it was too tedious to use this for all but the most archaic or glaring of errors. It’s meant to call attention to something that the reader might otherwise consider a typo after all, so it makes little sense to use it when every other word in a quote would need it, or when every quote in the paper would have to have it trailing along behind. But I digress.

This caught my eye primarily for two reasons. First, there is no obvious error in the text that requires the use of “sic” and secondly, it is followed by an exclamation mark. Whoever typed this description was intent on calling attention to the the use of mankind in the quote, and wanted to call attention to it as something “archaic” or offensive. In other words, they didn’t want to be associated with it in any way–how horrible! (SIC !).

At first I assumed some Amazon employee had gotten a little too worked up when typing out the product description, and I started to look for ways to contact them, just because I didn’t think the product description was an appropriate place to find an editorial use of a grammatical tool. When everything I found seemed to indicate that the description was the responsibility of the publisher, I thought I’d check out another source for information on the book, so I moseyed over to Google Books, and what should I find on the product page?

It seems clear by now that this publisher has someone with a proverbial chip on their shoulder about supposedly non-inclusive terms. The exclamation point makes me feel they were less ignorant than they were partisan.

I have nothing against inclusive or expansive language, but stuff like this is just silly. It falls into the use of the term “sic” as a form of ridicule (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sic), and makes one wonder if the person has read many books published before the late 90’s. Which brings me to my other point. This must’ve been ideologically motivated. Who else would think that the use of the term “mankind” was archaic enough to be highlighted in such a way? And thisis something I have against inclusive language: it has been presented as a natural change in the way people speak and communicate. There’s a line that expresses my observations on the topic well: “Language changes that must be imposed, never naturally arose.”

Until next time, keep ridiculing and distancing yourselves from people you disagree with, even if you have to thrust your opinion on everyone who happens to visit a random web page for which you wrote copy. Three cheers for manImeanHumankind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.m.hixon Daniel McLain Hixon

    Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. I always thought it funny (and slightly hypocritical) that post-modern professors go around harping about how controlling language can be a form of social control and oppression (as dramatically explored in Orwell’s “1984”), and yet these same professors turn around and require that one use certain forms of expression and not others that are also grammatically (but not politically) correct.