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.