Aaaaaaaagh so tired of people. I have serious posts underway about empathy, racism, and unusual music, but I really am in no mood to talk about grim matters, so for starters – let’s talk about gender in language. That always cheers me up.
I’ve gone on in the past about how ‘man’ used to be neutral, ‘wif’ indicated female, and ‘vir’ indicated male. And what continues to bug me is that while ‘man’ became male-specific, language did not shift to maintain common use of a neutral term, so that now we end up with a modern English whose euphony still likes to be able to refer to all people with a single syllable but whose supposedly-neutral term is blatantly gender-referential. Let’s be very clear: this is not a woman-only issue (oh look I just realised what the next short post will be about). This is a legitimately egalitarian thing – treating ‘man’ as generic both exoticises/marginalises women and it generifies men, contributing to the idea that men are not special, not important, et cetera.
So, if the formerly-neutral term is now male-specific, I think it’s time we dust off the formerly-male term and declare it the new neutral. In its older form, this would be ‘vir’, but the direct modern descendant is ‘were’*. Plural weres. Fireweres, fisherweres, congressweres, policeweres, salesweres. Imagine a stereotypical surfer dude thoughtfully addressing a stranger whose gender identity is not clear to him: “Were, that was a sick wave you just rode, were! Weeerrrreee that was awesome. Waves like that separate the weres from the kids, were.” Imagine Aragorn rallying the army in front of the gates to Mordor: “By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Weres of the West!”
Eventually it stops sounding ridiculous, like most words. (I think I once said ‘blogosphere’ with a straight face: a shame I may never overcome.)
Since we’re already redefining the word (just as has happened to ‘man’, I remind you) its parameters can be whatever we want. It doesn’t have to be age-specific (though it was in the surfer example); it doesn’t even have to be species-specific. ‘Were’ could refer to any sapient life. That dinner conversation in Star Trek VI could have been made a lot less awkward if they could have smoothly referred to ‘were rights’ instead of talking about ‘human rights’ to a bunch of Klingons.
The only people I could imagine complaining about this might be particular fans of therianthropic fantasy, but they should probably already know that the ‘were’ part of ‘werewolf’ is referring to being part-human, not animal transformation. Linguistic rigour is important in your hobbies. But possibly there are other flaws I’m overlooking, which people are invited to detail in the comments.
I’m just sayin’, y’know, we have the option, were.
[Edit] *I think ‘were’ is probably the best spelling to use, but alternatives could include ‘wer’ for simplicity or ‘wair’ if that made it more phonetically sensible.