The Grinch Critiques… Revisionist "Joy to the World"

The Grinch Critiques… Revisionist "Joy to the World" December 22, 2014

The last carol revision that came under the Grinch’s eye involved changing ye olde-fashioned grammar to something incorrect in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Today, the Grinch critiques something that makes him even grumpier: Politically correct revisionism. The carol in this case is “Joy to the World.”

If you pay close attention to the second verse, you might hear the traditional lyric as penned by Isaac Watts: “Joy to the earth, the Lord is come. Let men their songs employ.” But for a number of renditions, you might hear a subtle change. Instead of “Let men their songs employ,” you may hear, “Let all their songs employ,” or perhaps, “Let us our songs employ.” For some hymn-compilers, artists, etc., it’s a knee-jerk reaction to tweak the lyric. I mean, otherwise (*gasp*) the women in the audience might feel left out! We wouldn’t want them to think only the men were being invited to employ their songs!
Of course, this is silliness. “Men” here is simply a natural use of the generic male noun to refer to “the race of man,” that is, human beings. You see boys and girls, before the PC police came along and tweaked everything, people used to refer to “mankind” instead of “humankind” and use the generic “he” without thinking twice about it, because people were educated and understood graceful language. Now, with our new and improved “gender-speak,” well, it’s clunkity-clunk-clunk, look at Frosty go.
As an article at First Things points out, even a modern person who thinks twice about the context of the whole verse should be able to tell that Isaac Watts isn’t intentionally excluding women in a fit of white privileged male-ness. The first line establishes, “Let men their songs employ,” and the next line continues, “While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.” See? People, persons, human beings, race of man, you over there carry the tune. Fields, floods, rocks, hills and plains, you do the response part of “call and response.” Got it? It’s simply a paraphrase of Psalm 98.
In a way, changing “men” to something neutral is even stupider in this case than it is with something like “God Bless the U. S. A.” (“the ones who died” versus “the men who died”). At least with “God Bless the U. S. A.,” there’s method in the feminists’ madness: The word “men” in the original was specifically referring to males, so now that we have women in the military, we need to amend it to recognize them. Silliness, of course. But not as silly as replacing an expression that’s linguistically graceful and conveys everything you should want to convey already. A better comparison is changing the Star Trek intro from “where no man has gone before” to “where no one has gone before.” Remember when they did that? Pretty dumb, right? Same thing at work here.
Note: Being a fan of old hymns as well as carols, the Grinch would like to add that you can observe this particular revisionist phenomenon in certain classic hymn lyrics as well. So next time you hear a “one,” “all,” “saints,” “friends,” etc. that just sounds slightly off to the ear, see if it was originally supposed to be “men.” Odds are good that it was.

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  • Lydia

    I sometimes wonder what I would do if the only churches available to me were those with a mangled, vandalized hymnal that did things like this to Christmas carols. Would I be able to hack it? Would I just stop going to church? Would I wish that I could get very sick and be a shut-in so that I would have an excuse for *not* going to church? Would I nag the pastor and other music people until they got back to the normal versions of the hymns? Hey, now with everything put up on screen that would actually be *easy*, right? Would I deliberately show up late so as to miss all the music part and just come for the sermon and fellowship afterwards?
    Fortunately, I don’t have to make any of those decisions, because my church uses a good, unrevised hymnal.