“Gender reveal parties”: a gross misnomer

June 22, 2019 • 12:15 pm

All of a sudden, “gender reveal parties” are all the rage. I read about them everywhere, but at first didn’t know what they were: I thought that they were affairs in which adults who had changed gender, or realized their gender, revealed this to their friends and family. But noooo, here’s what they are, as characterized by Wikipedia:

gender reveal party is a celebration where either the guests, the expecting parents, or both find out the sex of the baby. This has become possible with the increasing accuracy of various technologies of prenatal sex discernment. For example, less than half way through the normal pregnancy, an ultrasound technician can visually determine the sex. If the parents decide they want to have a gender reveal party they will notify the technician before hand so they won’t tell them during the appointment if they want to be surprised. There is also an early sex blood work exam that can be done as early as 7 weeks with 95 percent accuracy. Gender reveal parties will typically be held midterm so that the first trimester is surpassed and the chances of Miscarriage are low.

Nota bene: it is sex that is revealed.

Parents magazine even has a how-to guide on how to throw such parties (hints: no pink or blue themes before the reveal), and the Wall Street Journal, predictably, has decried the excesses of such parties.

But my point is not whether such parties are good or bad. It’s that they are completely misnamed. We all know—though three evolution societies apparently do not—that there’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological feature, based on sex-chromosome constitution (in humans, XX vs XY) and accompanied by characteristic traits such as genitalia, testes, and ovaries. It’s almost completely binary, with very few intermediate or undiagnosable cases (I’m talking to you, evolution societies).

In contrast, gender is, as they say, a “social construct”, and corresponds to a person’s sex “role” or self-identification. Thus, a biological male can be a self-identified female in gender, someone can identify with both genders, often using the pronoun “they”, or there can be people who assume genders that don’t involve either male, female, or a mixture. As I’ve repeatedly said, while biological sex is a binary, gender, while also fitting a bimodal distribution (most people identify as either male or female) is a bit less of a binary, since there are more self-identified intermediates. And there’s no reason not to respect people’s self-identification.

But let us have no nonsense about “gender reveal” parties. It is not the fetus’s gender that is revealed, but its sex. The parties are revelation of one prong of a binary: male or female. No hermaphrodites are revealed, nor any “genderqueers”, “neutrals”, “pangenders”, or any of the other 58 genders listed here.

Gender is a role or an identity that you adopt after you’re born, usually well after. It can’t be revealed before birth.

And so the parties should be called “sex reveal parties.” QED

Why do they use the “gender reveal” term? I have two theories, both of which which are mine:

1.) “Sex reveal parties” sound too much like parties in which people flash their genitalia.

2.) “Gender” is a more woke and trendy-sounding term than “sex”. Naming a party with “gender” shows that you’re cool. That, however, leads to the misnomer identified above.

If you’re gonna have one of these parties, for Ceiling Cat’s sake get it biologically correct!

The most repugnant headline ever

May 20, 2019 • 5:00 pm

It’s from HuffPo, of course, and I count 4.5 repellent words or phrases in the  two headlines below. If you click on the screenshot, you’ll see another stinker in the second-page headline:

Apparently this is the way HuffPost thinks its readers talk, and perhaps they do.

And of course it’s about a tweet: that’s all that HuffPo reports on these days since its “reporters” are too lazy to do anything but look at Twitter.

More words I hate

May 19, 2019 • 1:45 pm

It’s time for another installment of “words and phrases that repel me”. Today we have four, and I’ll use as examples my favorite website to hate, HuffPost. (Click on screenshots to see the shameful usage.)

1.) Impactful.  I’m not even going to look this up to see it’s a word; it probably is in the OED or some place similar. But it’s odious, repugnant, and odiferous. Yes, I know it’s shorter than the alternatives, though some adjectives, like “effective” can occasionally replace it. It sounds awkward.

2.) Dragged.  As in “throw shade on”, meaning, “criticized” or “vilified”. It’s with-it millennial jargon, and it’s also confusing, for those who don’t know its use in the argot might think that someone is literally being dragged. (And don’t get me started on “literally”.)

3.) Haters. To shut down discussion of any topic, just refer to critics or opponents as “haters.” Nobody wants to be a hater, and it’s a good way to mock (even if it doesn’t silence) those whom you don’t like. And no, AOC didn’t “shut down” anybody: as far as I know, the GOP critics of her views are still there. I may have used this word before in a “words I hate” post. I guess I’m a word hater.

4.) Minoritized. This is an example of Orwell’s notion that new words and phrases can be constructed to carry a hidden political message.  It used to be “minorities”, which was accurate in singling out groups that were not in the numerical or political majority. By referring to “minoritized” people, you now add the notion that they have been diminished or oppressed. That may be the case, but sometimes it’s not, and, at any rate, why not use the words “oppressed minorities” or “oppressed” instead?

Now, of course, it’s your turn to vent.

More words I hate

April 18, 2019 • 12:30 pm

It’s time for another edition of Words I hate, with the implicit invitation of readers to share words (or phrases) that they find repugnant. I have but two today:

1.) Relatable. Yes, this is in some dictionaries, but it really grates on me for reasons I can’t understand. Perhaps it’s because HuffPo, my bête noire, uses it so frequently, as in the following article (click on screenshot).

2.) Word.  And here I mean the use of this word in a single sentence, as in this entry from the Urban Dictionary:

But I often see an individual using it to praise themselves, meaning “What I just said was awesome, and pay attention to it.” For example, to put a number of things that irritate me in a single sentence, “Beyoncé’s new album from Coachella just dropped, and it’s awesome. Word.”

Have at it. After all, the purpose of this post is to blow off steam. And if you want to say something like “Languages evolves, and this is fine,” please refrain.

Words and phrases I abhor

March 10, 2019 • 1:15 pm

It’s once again time to list words and phrases I’ve heard that grate on my ears. As always, readers are welcome to vent as well. Remember, this is a lighthearted rant, so let’s not have any tut-tutters here.

Many of these come from HuffPo, which seems to think that if it uses the “with-it” argot of the young, it will get readers. I really have to stop reading that rag, but I read on both the Right and Left, and HuffPo is the Wokest of the Left. Note: I may have posted about some of these before.

1.) Tone-deaf.  This is a HuffPo favorite phrase, used to chastise those who are ideologically impure. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but its frequent use irritates me. Here’s one (click on screenshot):

2.) Mood. Where the hell did this annoying word come from? All of a sudden it’s all over Facebook, appearing as a single word. What does it mean? Here’s the Urban Dictionary definition:

As far as I can see, the word is completely meaningless, and could be replaced by other words that make sense. But it’s “cool”:

3.) Gets real.  This word is used when somebody says something strong or honest, even if they are always sincere. When used by outlets like PuffHo, it means “Person X says something that we approve of.” viz. :

In fact, I find this rather insulting, as it implies that the person at hand doesn’t “get real” most of the time.  It bothers me in the same way that the phrase “To be perfectly honest. . .” does when someone’s speaking to me. When I hear it, I immediately think, “What? You mean you haven’t been perfectly honest before?”

4.) Sesh for “session”. I first heard this when I read about the text-message exchanges between Columbia University’s Mattress Girl (Emma Sulkowitz) and her boyfriend Paul Nungesser (she wrote him, “I feel like we need to have some real time where we can talk about life and thingz, because we still haven’t really had a paul-emma chill sesh since summmmerrrr”), but now it’s ubiquitous. It’s grating and sounds like a swamp or a bog. Example (note also the odious HuffPostian favorite “clapback” in here, too):

 

5.) Badass. This is defined as follows by the Urban Dictionary:

I see it more often as one word, “badass”. It’s not so grating except it seems to be applied only to women, and rarely (as in the above) to men. Why can’t men be badass too? Also, the word “ass” disturbs me a bit. Note in the following example the odious phrase “rocked” for “wore”, something I’ve condemned before:

6.) Fam, short for “family”. This resembles “sesh” in being a contraction that makes you seem cool. Every time I read it, the soles of my shoes curl up:

 

The Oxford comma wins in court

February 28, 2019 • 9:00 am

The Oxford comma is a comma before the final item in a list. For example, it’s the one after “toast” in this sentence:  “We had eggs, toast, and oatmeal for breakfast.” If you left out the Oxford comma, it would read “We had eggs, toast and oatmeal for breakfast.”

It’s also called the “serial comma,” and there’s a big article about it on Wikipedia. Why? Because there’s an ongoing squabble among writers and grammarians about whether one should use it.  A summary of the issues at hand is in the Wikipedia article, to wit:

Common arguments for consistent use of the serial comma:

  1. Use of the comma is consistent with conventional practice.
  2. It matches the spoken cadence of sentences better.
  3. It can resolve ambiguity (see examples below).
  4. Its use is consistent with other means of separating items in a list (for example, when semicolons are used to separate items, a semicolon is consistently included before the last item even when and or or is present).
  5. Its omission can suggest a stronger connection between the last two items in a series than actually exists.
  6. Its use can “prevent any misreading that the last item is part of the preceding one”.

Common arguments against consistent use of the serial comma:

1. Use of the comma is inconsistent with conventional practice.
2. The comma may introduce ambiguity (see examples below).
3.  Where space is at a premium, the comma adds unnecessary bulk to the text.

You can see examples of all of these issues in the article, but I find the arguments for its use to be stronger. In my view, the comma resolves ambiguity more often than it creates it. And as for “inconsistent with conventional practice”, that doesn’t cut any mustard with me, nor does “adding unnecessary bulk to the text.” Unnecessary bulk is less important than clarity.

Now, however, the Oxford comma has been ruled as “necessary”—in at least one case—by a COURT. To see the case and the decision, read the article below from The Write Life:

The issue, decided by an appellate court in Maine, was about whether drivers for a dairy in Maine were entitled to get paid overtime for some types of work. According to state law, drivers are supposed to get 1.5 times their normal pay for working overtime (more than 40 hours per week). But the law spells out some exceptions. You do not get special overtime pay for the following:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

1. Agricultural produce;
2. Meat and fish product; and
3. Perishable foods

Note the absence of a comma after “shipment” in the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution”. This creates ambiguity. If there was an Oxford comma after “shipment”, then the drivers would not be entitled to pay for either “packing for shipment” OR for “distribution”, two separate activities. If the Oxford comma was not placed after “shipment”, as it stands, then drivers wouldn’t get paid for “packing for shipment or distribution”, one packing-related activity, but could get paid for distribution itself, which doesn’t involve packing.

So here the absence of a comma created an ambiguity. Are drivers supposed to be paid overtime for distributing a product or not? The Oakhurst Dairy said no: that the exemption from overtime pay, despite the absence of a comma, was intended to cover the activities of both “packing for shipment” and “distribution”. The drivers disagreed, saying that the absence of a comma meant that “packing for shipment or distribution” meant a single packing-related activity, and that they should be paid overtime for “delivery.”

The drivers won. As the site reports:

Without that comma, as the judge maintained, this distinction was not clearcut:

Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.

As a result, the court found in favor of the drivers, costing the dairy an estimated $10 million.

I think that settles it, as it’s a legal judgment about how to resolve issues when the absence of a comma creates ambiguity.

I always use the Oxford comma unless my mind slips, and so I agree with this usage. Note, however, that in some instances the comma can create ambiguity or fail to resolve ambiguity. In most cases I run across, however, the comma is useful in resolving ambiguity, and so I use it. If I see ambiguity remaining with such use, I resolve it another way.

So the absence of an Oxford comma has cost a dairy $10 million. It’s not the dairy’s fault, but the fault of those benighted legislators who wrote the law. Bad punctuation can have serious consequences!

And I’m not even mentioning the “grocer’s apostrophe”, which really gets my knickers in a twist:

A grammar question

February 24, 2019 • 8:16 pm

So I was reading a book this evening that mentioned a Canadian hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, I know that team, and always thought the name sounded curious, but then I thought, “Why isn’t it Maple Leaves?” After all, the plural of “leaf” is “leaves”.

Now you might say that the word “Leafs” is not a plural, but simply the name of the team. But that doesn’t make sense either, as there is no noun “leafs.” And suppose the team was named after an appropriate waterfowl, the Canada Goose. Would they call the team “The Canada Gooses”? No, they’d call it the “Canada Geese“.

Now I’m sure there’s an explanation for this, and that a Canadian reader will school me. But I’m still puzzled.

This is not right

Grammatical annoyances of the week

September 26, 2018 • 3:15 pm

This one I heard two days ago on NPR; I can’t remember the exact word in quotes, but the announcer’s sentence went something like this:

“The evidence, quote, unquote.”

If you’re going to use verbal air quotes, please place them properly. In this case it’s, “The quote evidence, unquote.”

Is that so hard?

And I hate this one, which I heard today: the word “peeps” for people. That is a form not of virtue signaling, but of “I’m with it” signaling.  PEEPS ARE NOT PEOPLE; they are these! (I do love this confection, though!)

As always, use the comments to vent about your own language peeves.

Sign errors of the day

June 2, 2018 • 12:45 pm

This sign, photographed by reader Will, has one apostrophe error and a completely obscure description of a tap. Will noted this when he sent it to me:

This is a sad sign of our times in several respects, I think. (Photographed today in the rest room of a fish & chip shop in Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England.)

When I asked him what a “motion censored” tap was, he responded, “I discovered it meant the taps were fitted which motion sensors, which turn the water on when you put your hands beneath them. Of course, it COULD mean the owners were offended by the concept of taps which move when twisted — and had decided to take appropriate action.”

I thought it was a tap that you could twist only a limited amount!

I emailed Platten’s Fish and Chips to help them, showing that I can be as much of a grammar Nazi as anyone. I think it would be fun if a bunch of readers wrote them polite letters! The email address is below:

White House letter redacted by English teacher, mostly improperly

May 28, 2018 • 8:30 am

This may seem petty, but Donald Trump’s inability to write, or even communicate clearly, is yet another black mark on the man and his Presidency. (Note: he does have a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.) But, as reported by the New York Times, (click on screenshot below), a letter he wrote, “corrected” by a retired English teacher, has gone viral.  Click on the screenshot below:

The letter below (enlarged for your delectation at bottom) was Trump’s response to Yvonne Mason, 61, a retired English teacher in Atlanta who had written the President asking him to visit the families of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, School shooting. While attempting to convince Ms. Mason that he had indeed responded, Trump, according to Mason, committed a number of grammatical, capitalization, and stylistic errors. And, politically, the letter didn’t really satisfy Mason:

The letter she received did not address her concerns, she said. Instead, it listed a series of actions taken after the shooting, like listening sessions, meetings with lawmakers and the STOP School Violence Act, a bill that would authorize $500 million over 10 years for safety improvements at schools but had no provisions related to guns.

She went into English-teacher mode, corrected the letter, made a copy, and sent it back to the White House.  Not all of her corrections were on the mark, though:

There was more, but she didn’t correct everything. “I did not mention the dangling modifier,” she said. “I focused mainly on mechanics.”

“Nation” was capitalized, so was “states.” Ms. Mason circled both.

However, a style manual for the federal government calls for capitalizing “Nation” and “Federal” when the words are used as a synonym for the United States. It says “State” should be capitalized when it is referring to the government or legislature. In letters from Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush that constituents posted online, words like “Nation” and “President” are capitalized.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter stood in contrast to other letters she has received from politicians, Ms. Mason said. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, sent “beautiful” letters that struck a tone that “makes me more important than him,” she said.

In light of the government style manual, most of the errors, involving capitalization, seem to be Mason’s, not Trump’s. The letter isn’t all that bad, and surely wasn’t even written by Trump! Believe me, I’ve gotten much worse from undergraduate students here.

Nevertheless, people have posted this letter repeatedly in my Facebook feed as just another example of Trump’s stupidity and illiteracy. Yes, the man isn’t that bright, has the attention span of a gnat, and can’t seem to emit a single coherent sentence. But we have much larger problems with Trump and his administration than this letter, which was seized on by the many people unaware of the style-manual rules. These are the people looking for any excuse, no matter how trivial, to jump on Trump. They are some of the people who have been made unhinged by Trump’s election, acquiring TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome).  Bigger problems: the lack of meaningful action on gun control, the Supreme Court, the complete mess in the Administration’s organization, the Mueller investigation and Russia connection, the unsteady foreign policy, the despoliation and plunder of the environment and our national resources, ad infinitum.

There’s no need to go after stuff like this letter to demonize Trump: he’s demonized himself. But before you circulate this letter, read what the New York Times says.

Addendum:

Here’s another instantiation of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Ivanka tweets a picture of herself with her young son:

. . . and HuffPo brings out the outrage (click on screenshot):

When you’re demonized by the Left, there’s no aspect of your life that’s free from criticism and outrage.