The dreaded 'M' word rears its ugly head again

MIKE ROYKO

December 18, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

A sharp-eyed reader has spotted an example of male insensitivity and political incorrectness that should be set right.

In a recent column, I wrote something about "a Chicago alderman, a fine lady named Anna Langford . . ."

This led to a note from one Kathy Neeley, of Eugene, Ore., who circled the word "alderman" and asked: "Did Anna Langford undergo a sex change to get this position?"

She was referring to my having called Anna Langford, a female person, by the title of "alderman."

So what is wrong with calling someone an alderman when that is what they are?

There is a lot wrong with it, and I plead guilty to having committed an act of insensitivity.

It is the dreaded third syllable: al-der-MAN.

As Ms. Neeley, from all the way out there in Oregon, keenly noted, Anna Langford is not a man. So why, she wanted to know, was I calling her an alderMAN?

I could try to mount a defense by saying that when Anna Langford was a member of Chicago's City Council, her legal, official title was alderman. But that would be a feeble excuse because I should have known how offensive it is to many women to see a female person described as an alderMAN.

I should have taken it upon myself to purge that degrading syllable, "MAN," which in the modern dictionary of enlightened sensitivity means something like: "an oppressive beast; crude, lewd, domineering, selfish, arrogant, fit only for reproductive assistance, and if the scientists get cracking with their test tubes, someday will be unnecessary for that purpose, hallelujah!"

Had I been sensitive, I would have called her an alderwoman. That's what Ms. Neeley suggested, saying: "What is wrong with 'alderwoman'? It doesn't sound funny to me at all."

Ah, but that shows that Ms. Neeley's eye isn't as sharp as it might be. No, alderwoman wouldn't do because it has the dreaded M word in it, too: AlderwoMAN.

So maybe it should have been alderfemale. But, again, no, because that can be read as alderfeMALE, which many would find unacceptable.

Alderperson might seem like an alternative. However, alderperson wouldn't pass the test 100 percent because it could be read as alderperSON. And a son is of the dreaded male persuasion, get it?

So what does that leave us with? About all I can think of is aldercreature, which sounds like something that might be used by a zoologist or a paleontologist to describe some strange form of wildlife.

That wouldn't be totally inappropriate, since Chicago aldercreatures have long been considered a strange and exotic species in the jungle of Chicago politics.

For the sake of political correctness, maybe the City Council should give thought to officially changing their title from the gender-offensive "alderman" to the gender-neutral "aldercreature."

On the other hand, some of them might not want to be known as aldercreatures. One must think of the wife and children. "What does your husband do?" "He is an aldercreature." "Oh, my goodness, is there any treatment for it?"

Another solution might be to give each aldercreature a distinct title, based on his or her particular skills and reputation.

For example, there might be a few aldermen who would be known as "alderfixers." Others might be called "alderpilferers," "aldergrabbers" or "aldersneaks." Some might be called "aldersnoozers" or "alderlumps."

Yes, the time has come to do away with the title "alderman." Firemen long ago became firefighters. Policemen became police officers. And in one California town, it has become forbidden to use the phrase "manhole cover," although I would think that some feminists would think that giving a sewer lid a male connotation is just and proper.

And it wouldn't be a bad idea for members of Congress to refer to themselves as congresscreatures or, in many cases, congressgluttons.

This is just another example of how alert we in the news business must be. The language has changed, and we must change with it.

So I appreciate Ms. Neeley's having pointed out my serious breach of political correctness and sensitivity and I want to express my gratitude.

PD Thanks a lot, babe. And believe me, doll, it won't happen again.

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