Archive for November 13th, 2005

Our Person

I have a habit of collecting examples of language, particularly biblical and liturgical texts, mangled by a misguided effort to make them gender-neutral. It’s not particularly healthy, a bit like the compulsion to pick at a scab, but for the similarly afflicted, here are a few recent instances:

My wife, for whom it would be very out of character to create a slanderous lie, claims that a written history of a parish in this area contained a reference to "Our Person of Lourdes."

But at least that wasn’t an official translation of an important text. Last week’s Gospel (I think it was last week’s) was the passage traditionally translated as "Call no man father." I’ve forgotten the exact phrasing now, but what we heard at Mass substituted "no one" or "no person" or something like that. Fairly harmless, really, but funny: a scrupulousness as to whether it might be offensive to assume that fathers are male. Although I suppose the impetus was not so much that as to try to reduce the overall number of references to maleness.

And this one, from the Sept. 11 Gospel: "No one lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself." I’ve been puzzling over whether this is actually ungrammatical or just very weird. Perhaps someone with more technical command of grammar can tell me. I think it’s grammatically wrong. "One lives for oneself" is
perfectly fine. But the negation of the first "one" seems to wreck the
reference of the second "one." At any rate I’m a bit hyper-sensitive to this sort of thing, and my reception of that reading couldn’t have been more disrupted if the reader had pulled out a chalkboard and dragged his fingernails over it.

Oops, sorry, "his or her fingernails." "One’s fingernails"? Whatever.

Maclin Horton


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