TF: The militant Verna

TF: The militant Verna March 13, 2009

Tribulation Force, pp. 5-8

Wherein LaHaye & Jenkins' overwhelming visceral contempt for women almost succeeds in distracting readers from the astonishing inappropriateness of Buck Williams' actions.

This is, on the surface, a fairly straightforward scene which, like most of Tribulation Force, has nothing to do with theology, "Bible prophecy" or the End Times. All that actually happens is that Buck Williams arrives at his new office following his disciplinary demotion and learns that no longer being the boss means that he's not still in charge and that he doesn't get a prestigious desk.

Buck seems surprised to learn this. He arrives still expecting to receive the deference accorded to his prior rank and all of the perks that went with it. Until now, he doesn't seem to have realized what being demoted meant, and he still fails to understand why he is being punished. Yet despite the absurdity of his arrogance in this context, he's not meant to be the villain of the scene. That honor is reserved for his new boss, Ms. Sensible Shoes herself, Verna Zee.

We don't have the time, expertise or equipment to plumb the full depths of LaHaye & Jenkins' misogyny in this scene. That would require a bathysphere, a team of psychiatrists and a blogger with a stronger stomach than mine. The best I can do here is to point toward or hint at the unfathomable sunless world of their fear and loathing. It won't be pretty.

Buck had put off going to the office. He wasn't expected there until the following Monday anyway, and he didn't relish facing Verna Zee. When it had been his assignment to find a replacement for veteran Lucinda Washington, the Chicago bureau chief who had disappeared, he had told the militant Verna she had jumped the gun by moving into her former boss's office. Now Buck had been demoted and Verna elevated. Suddenly, she was his boss.

It's not clear in that phrase, "the militant Verna," whether the word militant is meant as a noun or an adjective. In either case, it's not a word that can stand alone without further explanation. She's a militant what, exactly? What is it that she militates for?

Verna is, like Buck, a journalist, but we're not being told here that she's a militant journalist. She is also, like Buck, an ambitious go-getter aggressively seeking career advancement. But we're not meant to understand her as a militant careerist either. Verna's militancy seems to refer to something else, and because of that something else, all the traits she shares with Buck are held against her. The very things that are portrayed as assets for him are portrayed as deficiencies for her.

"Cameron," she said flatly, still seated. "I didn't expect you till Monday."

"Just checking in," he said. "You can call me Buck."

"I'll call you Cameron, if you don't mind, and –"

"I do mind. Please call –"

"Then I'll call you Cameron even if you do mind."

As is often the case with these books, it takes effort on the reader's part to interpret the authors' intended effect. They want us to like Buck Williams here, even as he clownishly violates the First Rule of Nicknames, and they want us to dislike Verna just for tweaking his swollen ego.

It's worth reviewing what we were first told about Buck's supposedly rebellious nickname here. This was back in the first book, in the paragraph that introduced him as a character:

At 30, Cameron Williams was the youngest ever senior writer for the prestigious Global Weekly. The envy of the rest of the veteran staff, he either scooped them on or was assigned to the best stories in the world. Both admirers and detractors at the magazine called him Buck, because they said he was always bucking tradition and authority.

In other words, he views the nickname as flattering, as a kind of honorary title acknowledging the "envy" that everyone else must surely feel toward him. By insisting on its use here, then, he is insisting on being flattered. "I require you to flatter me," is never a cool or a likable thing to say. Plus, more often than not, those who insist that others call them by flattering nicknames are overcompensating for some insecurity. (If you met a man who insisted on being called "Buck-steel Cam-plank," for example, you could probably safely guess at his anatomical inadequacies.)

Every sentence in these pages portrays Buck as a swaggering idiot whose only response to his demotion is an expanded sense of entitlement and self-importance, yet we're not meant to perceive Buck this way at all. Even when we read this, presented as Buck's own thoughts from his own point of view:

Would Verna make him pay for his years of celebrity as an award-winning cover-story writer? … Buck felt the stares and smiles of the underlings as he moved through the outer office. … Many, no doubt, would still consider it a privilege to work with him.

It's hard enough to keep liking a character despite such a passage, but L&J want readers to like Buck even more because of it. It's not Buck they want us laughing at and despising here, but the militant Verna.

A brief refresher on what we learned earlier about Verna: In the midst of the biggest breaking news story in the history of the world, her boss at the newsmagazine disappeared and Verna stepped up to fill the vacuum. It may have been a self-promotion, but it was also a battlefield promotion — a corporal taking on the lieutenant's responsibilities while still only earning a corporal's pay. Thanks to Verna, the Chicago office filed copy as the Event unfolded. Buck did not. Instead, he flew to London to investigate the suspicious suicide of a personal friend. For not doing his job, Buck was promoted. His first act in his new position of authority was to fly to Chicago to reprimand Verna for doing both her own job and Lucinda's as well. The nerve. He slapped her down for bucking tradition and authority by not allowing the leadership void to remain unfilled until such time as her superiors eventually got around to filling it.

But again it's Verna here that readers are meant to despise and Buck they're meant to admire. Because Verna is militant. Or perhaps because she's a militant.

So we're going to have to try to unpack that word.

As an adjective, militant means something like stridently or violently zealous. Zealous, of course, doesn't stand alone either. It requires modification or context. One cannot be zealous unless one is zealous about or toward some further aim.

As a noun, militant refers to a fighter, usually not a formal soldier, for a particular cause. This again won't stand alone without some further explanation of what kind of fighter we're talking about. A fighter for what?

The only time the word militant is used without such further explanation is in the context of ongoing stories in which the reader can be expected to understand what sort of militancy or militants are being discussed. A story about "militants" firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, for example, can be understood to be referring to militant supporters of Hamas.

Verna Zee is not meant to be understood here as a supporter of Hamas, or of the IRA or of some Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Yet t
he word militant is used here without further explanation becaus
e LaHaye & Jenkins assume that their intended audience will understand it in the context of a larger, ongoing story. That story is what they like to call the "culture war" here in the United States, and Verna Zee is, in the familiar phrase of the culture warriors, either a militant feminist or a militant homosexual. They needn't explain which, specifically, since in their view the two categories overlap.

The phrase "militant homosexual" is so common in religious-right jargon that L&J seem not to realize how peculiar it sounds to anyone who doesn't share their phobias. It provides us a glimpse of how they perceive the Pink Menace of homosexuality — a faceless horde in refugee camps south of the border, lobbing deadly, indiscriminate rockets of gayness toward their peaceful homes.

But the key point here, as it applies to the militant Verna, is that for L&J and their intended audience, "militant feminist" is always regarded as a subset of "militant homosexual." For them, in other words, all feminists are presumed to be lesbians, and all lesbians are presumed to hate men.

This leap from sexual orientation to a presumption of militant hatred is illuminating. L&J's visceral opposition to the presumed militant feminists/lesbians is proclaimed as a defense of sexual morality, but that claim is ironic, since lurking just below the surface here is a staggering sexual incontinence. Their cartoonish depiction of the militant Verna Zee is simply L&J's expression of frat-boy douchebag sexual entitlement. Their purported complaint that she fails to display a requisite femininity or wifely submission seems really just the insistence that women — all women — provide universal sexual access. They are saying, in effect, "If you don't agree to have sex with me when I want, whenever I want, then you must be a lesbian. A militant lesbian."

There's a whole chicken-and-egg question here, as it were, as to whether the homophobia or the misogyny is the primary motivator of the caricatured militant Verna. My guess is that, in L&J's case, the homophobia is a kind of misogyny by other means. They can't seem to conceive of feminine lesbians or of masculine gay men, only of ultra-butch women in sensible shoes and of swishy effiminate queens. They seem, in other words, to hate gay men for behaving like women and to hate lesbians for refusing to behave like women. But, as I said earlier, I'm in over my depth here and can't really fathom what they're about.

And in any case it hardly matters whether they hate homosexuals because they hate women or if they hate women because they hate homosexuals — either way they're hateful, hateful people who concocted the entire Verna Zee subplot just to fulfill their fantasy of smacking down an uppity female.

If we can manage, however, to screen out the appalling contempt piled on poor Verna here, it's also worth taking a closer look at Buck Williams' behavior in this scene so we can try to figure out what on earth he's thinking.

We're told that upon arrival, "Buck winked at Alice, Verna's spike-haired young secretary." After Verna informs him that he will need an appointment to get a meeting with her, he sits down next to Alice's desk and proceeds to flirt with her for the next two pages.

"You can call me Buck," he whispered.

"Thanks," she said shyly, pointing to a chair beside her desk.

They whisper together for several more paragraphs, Alice giggling even though Buck never says anything actually funny.

The authors intend us to view Alice sympathetically. She's accommodating, subservient, fawningly grateful for Buck's very presence. She is, in other words, available. She's like Rayford Steele's dream date. Just like Rayford, Buck doesn't need or want to actually avail himself of this attractive young woman, but he does require her to signal to him, constantly, that he could if he wanted to. This may actually be even creepier than the aforementioned douchebaggery.

There are at least two obvious problems with Buck's idly passing the time here with his idea of light-hearted flirtatious banter. First, he's supposedly still in the throes of sappy, first-blush-of-love smittenness over Chloe. Do you think the authors would have approved if instead of Buck and Alice, it had been Chloe and Allen whispering, giggling and winking at one another? Me neither.

But apart from the question of whether light-hearted, flirtatious banter is appropriate with Alice, there's the matter of whether such frivolous chit-chat is at all appropriate or human-seeming just two weeks after the Event. In the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, even professional comics like Jon Stewart and David Letterman seemed uncertain whether laughter and comic banter were appropriate. (Gilbert Gottfried's legendarily filthy granting of permission to laugh again didn't come until three weeks after that tragedy.) In the wake of the sudden disintegration of every child on the planet and the deaths and disappearances of millions more adults, greeting people with a flirty wink just seems terribly, terribly wrong.

But again, the Event doesn't really exist in this book. "What Has Gone Before" is over and done. That was Book 1. This is Book 2. Anybody still whining about the missing children needs to get over it and move on.

More recent than the Event, however, was the big showdown at the United Nations in which Buck was the only non-brainwashed eyewitness to Nicolae Carpathia's coldblooded murder of two of his closest advisors. That event is still in play here, because that incident is the whole reason Buck got demoted in the first place and sent here to the Chicago bureau.

In addition to brainwashing everyone else in that room to reinterpret how they remembered the killings, Nicolae also brainwashed everyone — apparently everyone in the entire building, city and world — into believing that Buck had not been present.

I can appreciate that this would have been flabbergasting for Buck, but it ought to have sunk in eventually. And once he realized that everyone insisted he hadn't been there, he ought to have stopped responding, "But I was there, really, truly, honest I was!" The obvious smart move would have been to play along, to make up some cover story, some excuse for his supposed absence. If he'd even tried to offer Stanton Bailey some explanation for why he wasn't at the meeting, he'd probably still be editor in chief with the big corner office back in New York.

But Buck still doesn't understand that. As he walks by the "underlings" in Chicago, this is what he imagines them thinking:

By now, of course, everyone knew what had happened. They felt sorry for him, were stunned by his lapse of judgment. How could Buck Williams miss a meeting that would certainly be one of the most momentous in news history …?

No. He wasn't fired because he "missed a meeting." He was fired because, from the brainwashed perspective of his boss and everyone else, he missed a meeting and then lied about being there and then, when he was called on that lie, he had nothing further to say in his own defense.

And because Buck doesn't understand why he was fired, he doesn't understand the larger repercussions of what this mass-brainwashing likely means.

Why would Nicolae bother brainwashing the whole world into believing that Bu
ck wasn't in that room? The most
obvious answer is that he's covering his tracks — that he somehow realized that Buck was immune to his brainwashing, which means that Buck saw and remembered everything that happened in that room, which means that Buck must be born again, which means that Buck is both an eyewitness to his crimes and his sworn enemy.

We've already seen that Nicolae is lethally ruthless in dealing with his opponents and even his potential opponents. Eric Miller, Jonathan Stonagal and Joshua Todd-Cothran all knew too much. Now Buck knows too much. Do the math.

So what on earth is Buck doing blithely wandering around in public, flying to Chicago, buying cars, renting apartments, checking in at the office and flirting with the secretary? He should be in the wind. He should be deep, deep, deep underground. In the last book, he faked his own death to escape from Todd-Cothran. It might be time to try that again, seeing as how the guy who killed Todd-Cothran is the one chasing him now.

The fact that Buck isn't already six kinds of dead makes me lose all respect for Nicolae Carpathia as an evil overlord. 

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  • Amaryllis

    there’s at least one well-known Victorian-era novel that has a female preacher as a significant character–help, anyone?).
    Adam Bede? The beautiful lay preacher, and what we’d call social-activist, Dinah Morris? But she was a “lay preacher” who didn’t, as far as I’m aware, undergo any formal training or ordination. Or were you thinking of someone else?
    Actually, many of the dissenting groups had female preachers/evangelists/etc., from the start.
    But yes, they were the dissenting, non-liturgical groups, who saw no reason that women can’t teach, preach or pray (within, of course, the constraints of female behavior in whatever the particular social context). It took the liturgical denominations, such as Episcopalians and Lutherans, much longer, with much more social change, to accept women in the sacramental role of not merely remembering but mystically participating in the Lord’s Supper. And the Catholics and Orthodox still haven’t gotten there.
    It’s not strictly authority and power, or feminine influence, although that’s part of it. It’s, as that article claims, whether God is in some way essentially male. Not merely called “He” for linguistic convenience, not with traits that are characteristically described as male in our culture, but actually, intrinsically Him and not Her. Some people truly believe this, although I don’t know how they square that with the belief that both male and female are created in the image of God.

  • Tonio

    I think the more general question is why has the culture in general devalued the feminine.
    I’m not sure why, but my working theory involves the historical lack of a way of proving paternity, and some men’s paranoia as a result of that lack. Put another way, such men may have unconsciously believed that promoting self-hatred among women would keep them from having children by other men.

  • Amaryllis

    Later on, various groups silenced their women (in 1803 the Methodists had a discussion about whether women should continue to preach,
    In fact, if it was Adam Bede you were thinking of, that was expressed in Dinah’s story: by the end of the book, IIRC, she’s given up public preaching in favor of marriage and housewifery, in part for love and in part because of churchmen’s disapproval.

  • Tonio

    there’s so many better ways they could have done the “castrating bull-dyke bitch” character.
    Very true. If Jenkins was an illustrator or director and not a writer, he probably would have chosen one or both of your first two choices. I strongly suspect that he pictured elements of those when he wrote, or intended for the reader to picture those.
    Also, your fanboy description had me laughing.

  • As a kid, I had a favorite character who was trans — Tip/Ozma from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I’m probably not alone.
    Skin Horse shout -out!
    Also, since I just brought up a webcomic, I’ll bring up another: El Goonish Shive, where early in the strip, the characters begin using magic and mad science to change genders often, for recreational purposes. (And not generally sexual recreation, either.)

  • Sniffnoy

    How would I feel if I had a third hand coming out of my left forearm? I’d be freaked out. I’d be ashamed and disgusted by it, and I’d do everything I could to get it removed and be a normal person.
    …really?

  • Not Really Here

    I think the more general question is why has the culture in general devalued the feminine.
    I’m not sure why, but my working theory involves the historical lack of a way of proving paternity, and some men’s paranoia as a result of that lack. Put another way, such men may have unconsciously believed that promoting self-hatred among women would keep them from having children by other men.

    There are some evolutionary psycholigists out there who are arguing exactly that. The idea is that much of the assgasketry perpetuated by men against women is to keep women’s self-esteem low, so that they think no other man would want them, thereby keeping them faithful.
    Anne Rice, whose Vampire Chronicles I loathe with a great loathing, yet became addicted to nonetheless (it’s like a bad train wreck…) makes the point, I think it was in Queen of the Damned, that in some ancient cultures, property was passed down from mother to daughter, rather than father to son, for precisely this reason. Of course, this assertion may very well be moshuggeneh (SP), but there is a certain sense to it.
    BTW, FanFiction.net will not accept fics based on Anne Rice’s work. Seems she is among a handful of authors who are so possessive of their work that they will sue the operators of fanfic sites for copyright violation.
    J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, thinks that fanfic is a thing to be encouraged. She sees that type of copyright enforcement as stifling creativity.
    BTW, are there any good original fiction authors who worked out their chops writing fanfic?

  • Lois McMaster Bujold’s first book began life as a Star Trek fanfic: Federation scientist is stranded on an unoccupied planet with a Klingon officer and they have to work together to survive, back in the Kirk era when they were still enemies.

  • Dash

    Amaryllis,
    Yes, Adam Bede. Thank you. I bow deeply in your direction.

  • BTW, are there any good original fiction authors who worked out their chops writing fanfic?
    Well, assuming I’m good, I didn’t. I actually wouldn’t recommend aspiring writers to either. Nobody has infinite free time, and you’ll learn an awful lot more spending that free time starting from scratch. Yeah, you make mistakes, you get stuck, it’s scary. But that doesn’t stop, ever, no matter how good you get, so you might as well start learning to live with it.

  • @Sniffnoy: Yep.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    If Jenkins was an illustrator or director and not a writer, he probably would have chosen one or both of your first two choices. I strongly suspect that he pictured elements of those when he wrote, or intended for the reader to picture those. — Tonio
    If so, he pulled it off with the usual GCAAT touch.
    Also, your fanboy description had me laughing. — Tonio
    Here’s the scary part, Tonio: That “fanboy description” was composited from RL examples. I thought D&Ders had a high proportion of tunnel-visioned fanboy flakes until I got into Furry Fandom (and I hear anime otaku are even worse)…
    And Now for Something Completely Different:
    The word “Gender”. In classic English “Gender” is a property of INANIMATE nouns. The same property for Animate nouns is called “Sex”. When did “Gender” completely take over the vocabulary?
    And after 30+ years in SF fandom, I have seen many-many attempts at an animate neuter pronoun for English. “S/he”, “Hir”, “Sahn” — the only one that seems to have caught on is “Person” (as in global replace string “MAN” with string “PERSON” in compound words) and that one’s godawful awkward. (“One” used to be relatively commonplace for animate neuter, but it sounds so upper-crust Euro-English it never caught on much on this side of the Atlantic.)

  • Jeff

    I’m defining “male” here as “XY, penis, testes,” and “female” as “XX, vagina, womb”.
    If we just go by XY or XX, then I think the percentage is around 90%. But I’ve heard that biologically, everybody has a certain amount of the opposite sex gender whatever in them, and that penis vs vagina is never 100% at birth. (I’m going on what I recall — I could be off.)
    That’s what I mean by no “pure” male or female.
    ==================
    Probably a similar dynamic to men who devour porn about two lesbos going at it, just with a sex change.
    Not always. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the show (I for one don’t care for strap-ons in my porn).
    ================
    “Starbuck at the UN”
    Either the character or the coffee shop would scare L&J.
    ==============
    Her and Dave Sim. What’s up with that?
    Well, with Dave Sim, it’s because he’s an asshole. This has been another chapter in the on-going saga of SATSQ.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    P.S. LaJenkins the GCAAT really missed a double-whammy opportunity when he came up with the name “Guy Blod”. It’s the last name (Blod) that puzzles me. (Some sort of pun on “blood”?) Now if he’d named Nicky’s swishy sculptor “Guy Blaze” instead of “Guy Blod”, he would have covered two more bases besides the “Guy/Gay” Clever Pun:
    1) Guy Blaze (as in “Gay Blade”, like the Jack Chick tract title, get it?)
    2) Guy Blaze (“Blaze” as in “FLAMING”, get it? Cue the Homer Simpson quote…)

  • Indigo

    And after 30+ years in SF fandom, I have seen many-many attempts at an animate neuter pronoun for English. “S/he”, “Hir”, “Sahn” — the only one that seems to have caught on is “Person” (as in global replace string “MAN” with string “PERSON” in compound words) and that one’s godawful awkward.
    Maybe it’s because I was born in the eighties and grew up in a post-feminist world, but I actually cringe when people talk about “mankind”, “the rights of man”, etc. I don’t find it at all awkward to talk about “humankind” or “the rights of people”.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    @Alexander von Humbug (way up there): I automatically assumed as well that Verna was black, assuming that L&J can even imagine that such a thing as a black lesbian exists. For them, it would be just one more insult: a woman with power over a man, a lesbian with power over a straight person, a black person with power over a white. — Pyramus
    My old Dungeonmaster (D&D, not BDSM) used to work for the Census Bureau years ago. One of his coworkers on that census was blind, black, *and* Lesbian.
    She liked to use the nickname “Quota”.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’ve known only one Heidi, a girl at my high school. Nope, no one would blink at that, if her last name were not, I swear I’m not making this up, “Hoe”.
    That sounds vaguely like the scat lyrics in “Minnie the Moocher”.
    — Tonio
    Or Mister Hanky from South Park

  • Mary

    Y’know, “they” has a long history as a singular, indefinite gender pronoun, whatever grammarians might say, and is used that way all time by normal people. “If someone wants a loan, they should have to prove they’re good for it.”
    “You” was once a plural (or formal) pronoun, which is why we still say “You are” and not “You is”, but the English language survived its adaption to include the second person singular as well, in spite of the increased ambiguity. I’m pretty sure the same thing is already happening to “they.” Compare:
    “Oh, who’s that person over there?” “Oh, they’re the new secretary”
    vs.
    “Oh, who’s that person over there?” “Oh, ze’s the new secretary.”
    The first one sounds almost completely natural, especially compared with the second.

  • An odd notion occurred to me and I wonder of those poor souls who have actually endured the books could confirm or deny this:
    Is there the bizarre possibility that God was the one who did the mass mind-wipe, in answer to Buck’s prayer? Given that God, as portrayed in this book, has already been proven to be quite the sadistic bastard to begin with? And if that’s the case, what the hell does THAT say about L&J’s theology?

  • not someone else

    I’m still, I’m afraid, not totally comfortable with the idea that someone with an entirely female physical existence will for some reason feel/believe themself to be male because of the way their mind is (or vice versa).
    Does it help to point out the mind is, as far as we know, entirely physical, regardless that we don’t know nearly as much about how it works as we do most organs?

  • Reynard

    Posted by Headless Unicorn Guy: And after 30+ years in SF fandom, I have seen many-many attempts at an animate neuter pronoun for English. “S/he”, “Hir”, “Sahn” — the only one that seems to have caught on is “Person” (as in global replace string “MAN” with string “PERSON” in compound words) and that one’s godawful awkward.
    But it *can* be used to great comedic effect: “Here’s the Person-person with the person!” (Mail[male]-man with the mail[male].) My family had fun with that one for years…

  • Ryan

    “Person your battle-stations!”

  • Mary

    (If “They” does eventually finish its transformation into an all purpose gender-neutral singular pronoun, will future translations of the Bible apply it to God? And what would be the theological effects, if the Bible called God “Them”?)

  • Leum

    Roughly the same as God saying “Let Us create man in Our image?”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Back to Verna Zee the Bull Dyke Bitch:
    Even as a minor heavy, she could have been so much more in the hands of a decent writer. Last night I had a flash that could flesh out a meta-Verna, taken from my own immediate family:
    I had a female relative-by-marriage who started out with a pretty rough life. Deserted by her husband, raising a son as a single parent back when this meant “Everybody Slut-Shame The Bad Woman!” In order to survive, she became tough and hard, with a chip constantly on her shoulder.
    Two decades later, her situation had changed for the better. There was less stigma to being a single parent, and she had married into my family (a step up both economically and prestigiously). Unfortunately, she stayed tough-as-nails, unable to take the chip off her shoulder, treating everything as a Dominate-or-Destroy swinging dick contest; after she was widowed she became more and more bitter with age. She couldn’t turn off the survival-mode toughness once her situation had eased and she didn’t have to struggle for survival.
    Meta-Verna might be from a similar lifepath. Les or straight, if she’d started out in a competitve career where women were not welcome (screen some Mad Men for an example), she might have become an aggressive bitch to survive, then to break the glass ceiling and advance to her present position. Now she’s arrived, she’s secure, the glass ceiling is gone (or at least a lot weaker), but she can’t turn off the Dominate-or-Destroy survival mode she’s always used. She’s worn the mask so long it’s become a permanent part of her face, like in that old Twilight Zone. (The Les angle would serve primarily to enhance her “outsider” status and force an even more extreme survival-mode attitude; not only does she have to counter the pressure of being a woman, but being a Lesbo.)
    That would explain her attitude, her hostility towards Buck, and make her a somewhat-tragic character, too set in her now-destructive ways.
    But LaJenkins are Born-Again HACKS, and HACKS always take the easiest way out…

  • I’m pretty sure the same thing is already happening to “they.”
    Actually, it already has happened to “they”. The use of “they” as a third-person conceptually-singular, grammatically-plural indeterminate-gender pronoun (usually simplified by grammarians as “singular they” or “indeterminate they”) occurs a couple of times each in Shakespeare, Boswell, and Johnson, but where it really took off is in the 18th and 19th centuries. Jane Austen uses it hundreds and hundreds of times; I’m too lazy to google it myself, but I know there’s a web page that actually lists every single one of her uses, as well as examples from other notable authors.
    Then, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Second Great Plague Upon the English Language* came as a horde of self-righteous, self-appointed grammarians decided to Latinize English by imposing a bunch of stupid, made-up rules that never existed in English, like “You can’t end a sentence with a preposition”** and getting rid of singular they. It’s complete nonsense, and if there is any book that actually deserves to be burned, it’s Strunk and White.
    That, by the way, is where we get the pernicious myth that using good grammar makes for good style, which is exactly the opposite of how it actually works: Grammar is a social construct defined by how respected authors and speakers use words, not a set of immutable laws passed down from On High.
    *The first started in 1066, when Anglo-Saxon and Norman French were both murdered and the Frankensteinian abomination known as modern English was stitched together from their corpses, destroying any possibility of ever having anything like consistent spelling ever again.
    **”Something up with which I will not put,” to quote Winston Churchill.

  • Rabukurafuto

    (apologies in advance if the Japanese text doesn’t show up right)
    The Japanese word for the United States of America is ????, which romanizes out to…wait for it…”Amerika”. It’s not “United States”, but come on, that’s infinitely closer to “United States of America” than “Japan” is to “Nihon”. (The pronunciation is a little different than how “America” is pronounced in English, though)
    Though on the other hand, the Japanese word for the U.K. is ???? (Igirisu) so its faithfulness to the original varies.

    ???? is supposed to be an approximation of Inglez, an archaic Portuguese word for “English”. Apparently we got our names for most nations from whoever we heard those names first from. Other examples include ??? (Doitsu) for Germany, from the Dutch word Duits and ???? (Supein) for Spain, from the English word “Spain”.
    Technically, the Japanese name for the United States of America is ??????? (Amerika Gasshuukoku), which more or less is a direct translation. The full title is rarely used however.

  • Tonio

    Apparently we got our names for most nations from whoever we heard those names first from.
    I would favor a universal name for each nation, or as close to universal as possible in each language’s sound construction. I find it strange that English calls Deutschland “Germany” and French calls it “Allemange.” The problem is worse with English names for Indian tribes, many of which came from the hostile or derogatory names used by other tribes.

  • Cowboy Diva

    How about the Welsh? In their own language, isn’t that the word for stranger?
    What does Cymry mean, anyway?

  • What does “American” mean? Or “English”? Names of things mean the thing they name. I’m sure Cymry has an etymology and a history, but ultimately it’s the Welsh word for Welsh.

  • Not Really Here

    But it *can* be used to great comedic effect: “Here’s the Person-person with the person!” (Mail[male]-man with the mail[male].) My family had fun with that one for years…
    I have for many years longed to record gender-neutral versions of popular songs. Like, the Hollies, “Long Cool Person in a Black Dress,” Deep Purple’s “Strange Kind of Person”, and Helen Reddy’s “I am Person”.
    Then turn it on it’s head- Salt and Pepa’s “What a Man”, Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Person” (we’d have to use a few extra bars to spell it”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    That, by the way, is where we get the pernicious myth that using good grammar makes for good style, which is exactly the opposite of how it actually works: Grammar is a social construct defined by how respected authors and speakers use words, not a set of immutable laws passed down from On High. — Froborr
    Sounds more like Gallicization than Latinization.
    English is a rapidly-mutating language that changes from the bottom up, from actual general use. Even before 1066, Anglo-Saxon was a trade pidgin of Saxon and Danish (that’s why English’s verb conjugations are so sparse). Then it bastardized with Norman French into what’s effectively a dual language (with two differently-flowing words for each noun and verb, two forms of possessive, and lots of synonyms) which then accreted from every language it came in contact with. (This is why English is so flexible for writing fiction, with a tone infinitely variable between short sharp Germanic to long flowing Latinesque sounds and flow.)
    Francais is a language which officially changes from the top down, depending on what the French Academy passes down from On High as it periodically excizes all foreign (usually “English/Franglais”) words and passes down the Official French Words and phrases. (Most of which, while consistent with the Immutable Laws, are much more awkward than the Franglish words they replace.)
    “English is what happens when Norman Knights try to pick up Saxon barmaids, and is just as legitmate as the other results of such unions.” — H Beam Piper (from memory)

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “English is the language used by Norman soldiers to pick up Saxon barmaids. If any poor Greek suffixes get caught up in it, they’ll have to fend for themselves.” – H. Beam Piper, “Little Fuzzy”, refering to the new science of “Fuzzyology”. It’s a favorite.

  • Apparently we got our names for most nations from whoever we heard those names first from.
    ObPratchett:The mountain whose name, when translated from the local language, was “your finger, you fool”.

  • What does “American” mean? Or “English”? Names of things mean the thing they name.
    Dunno about “English,” but “American” apparently means (if I remember my history classes correctly) “having to do with that country that I’m gonna name after my buddy that just now sailed over there, what, you gotta problem with that, are YOU the one drawing the map, I don’t THINK so, that would be ME, so shut your mouth or I’ll name some really heinous little corner of wasteland after you.”
    The King Missile version of the story was a little simplified.

  • Judith: The fic is The New Dark Lord. Good luck.
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    How does William become Bill?

    ‘Humphrey’ used to be shortened to ‘Numps’. Now there’s a shortening to conjure with.

    No, witches’ flying ointment is a shortening to conjure with.
    … I’ll just leave quietly, shall I?
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    You should do like in the Monsters Vs. Aliens trailer and introduce yourself as “SuUUuUUUuusan!”

    Wouldn’t help, not when I was dealing with someone like a former cow-orker of mine who for months deliberately addressed me as “Susie – oh, sorry, Soo-ZUN.”
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    I wonder if it’s possible for an author to have a “copyright will” that forbids or severely restricts anyone, even the executor, from licensing the characters and situations for new stories.

    I’m given to understand that Marion Zimmer Bradley left Darkover to Mercedes Lackey in her will.
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    I believe this point’s been made in a previous thread, but for men to be known, even profesionally, as “Billy”, “Bobby”, or even “Bubba” is quite common in the Southeastern U.S. (e.g. President Jimmy Carter).

    I remember a news story that occupied attention for some time several years ago: it was about a divorced couple’s legal wrangling over what to do with their frozen IVF embryos. All I can really remember about it is that every single article or TV segment gave the male ex-partner’s first name as “Junior”.
    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

    The problem is worse with English names for Indian tribes, many of which came from the hostile or derogatory names used by other tribes.

    That’s why the Papago (“bean eaters”) officially changed their name to Tohono O’odham (“desert people”). There’s still some controversy over what to call the “Anasazi”, ancestors of the Hopi. The word “Anasazi” is Navajo for “ancestral enemies”, and the Hopi and other Pueblo peoples want to call them “Ancestral Puebloans”, but the Navajos tend to sulk when confronted with that phrase.
    (And no, damn you, Chris Carter, “Anasazi” does not mean “ancient aliens”.)

  • Tonio

    I have for many years longed to record gender-neutral versions of popular songs
    While that’s a fun exercise, it would strip the romantic aspect of the lyrics for anyone but bisexuals.

  • While that’s a fun exercise, it would strip the romantic aspect of the lyrics for anyone but bisexuals.
    Not necessarily. Elton John got away with it for decades in the lyrics of some of his most popular songs.

  • Cowboy Diva

    I’m confused. “America” is named after the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. “English” refers to the invading Angles, right? Are the inhabitants of Wales (and the aboriginal nations of the american continents, including the long gone Anasazi*) the only peoples named by their enemies?
    *In the US desert southwest, the Navajo are, to my knowledge, looked on as not only latecomers to the party but actual claimjumpers by the Pueblo nations.

  • Cowboy Diva

    “I’m given to understand that Marion Zimmer Bradley left Darkover to Mercedes Lackey in her will.”
    @Cactus Wren, please tell me this is a joke.

  • Tonio

    Elton John got away with it for decades in the lyrics of some of his most popular songs.
    Bernie Taupin kept those songs gender-neutral by not invoking gender in the first place. (There were exceptions like “Little Jeannie.”) When the original lyrics use “boy” or “girl,” or mention a gender-specific name, the goal of gender neutrality would involve a major rewrite of the lyrics.
    With the former, I suppose one could replace “boy” or “girl” with “babe” provided the original lyrics use the second-person format. That option probably wouldn’t work if the lyrics use the third-person format, like the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
    With the latter, one could find a gender-neutral name that has the same number of syllables. But that still leaves the revised lyrics open to gender interpretation by the listener.

  • Tonio

    “English” refers to the invading Angles, right?
    Allegedly “England” was a shortened version of “Angle Land.” I find that ironic because the other invaders, the Saxons, became more prominent and powerful than their colleagues.

  • Bernie Taupin kept those songs gender-neutral by not invoking gender in the first place.
    100% agreed. The revisions would involve a lot more work than just global search-and-replace of the pronouns, but it can be done, and perhaps with less effort than “Weird Al” puts into his rewrites.

  • Tonio

    Even though I learned about the Angles years before high school, I can imagine them being fierce geometry teachers with protractors on their helmets, fighting over degrees versus radians.

  • Caravelle

    Tonio : I find it strange that English calls Deutschland “Germany” and French calls it “Allemange.”
    Allemagne. I think it’s cute, basically all those names come from the name of a different Germanic tribe, and it nicely reflects the history of the country’s creation.
    It’s interesting how although all languages have at least some countries that they call differently from what the natives do, in some cases the target country (or ethnicity/tribe) gets this to change. Like the Eskimo becoming the Inuit, or Burma becoming Myanmar (in English and French at least).
    I guess in most non-colonial cases this doesn’t happen because the “misnamed” country just doesn’t care.

  • burgundy

    it would strip the romantic aspect of the lyrics for anyone but bisexuals
    That would only be the case if the changes were gender inclusive, rather than gender neutral.
    Take “My Girl.” (Putting aside scansion for the moment.) Right now it can apply to straight & bi men, or lesbians & bi women – that is, anyone who could be attracted to a woman. If you change it to “My Person,” that could apply to anyone, because “person” can be applied to whomever you’d like. If it’s harder to identify with a song because your desires are not specifically addressed, then it won’t work for you, but that would be just as much of an issue for bisexuals. “My Girl or Boy” would have that effect. The only way it would apply just to bisexuals if it was “My Girl and My Boy,” and then you’re excluding all the monogamous ones.

  • Tonio

    Right now it can apply to straight & bi men, or lesbians & bi women – that is, anyone who could be attracted to a woman.
    Good point. One would still have to change the gender in the line “I’ve got all the riches one man can claim,” but that’s relatively minor surgery.
    On the old Solid Gold show, Marilyn McCoo sang the Commodores’ hit “Oh No,” and I was waiting to see if she would change the line “I’m going crazy knowing he will be your lover tonight.” If not, her version could be seen as a lament over her lover coming out of the closet, since that was close to 30 years ago.

  • Tonio

    her version could be seen as a lament over her lover coming out of the closet
    Or a lament by a lesbian that her lover had gone straight.

  • Titanis walleri
  • shikomekidomi

    An interesting perspective. And you are right that being a feminist and gay are both sins in the author’s minds.
    However, I think you over-analyze the use of the word ‘militant’. I get the impression the author doesn’t care what she is militant about. If she’s a zealous fighter for a cause and a woman, and the cause isn’t subservience to men/the main character then that’s a Bad Thing, so we don’t have to specify what she’s militant for as long as we know from the text she’s not on Buck’s side. Because disliking the main character is a killing offense, so the readers should be satisfied with that.
    And who wants to be called “Buck”, anyway? I’d keep thinking of long forgotten and somewhat silly sci-fi heroes or deer every time I heard it.