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Posted: 14 May 2007 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Air hostesses rather than hosts probably because it was originally an (almost) exclusively female profession. It is precisely the same in Swedish - there are flygvärdinnor (female) but no flygvärdar (male).

Actually, originally it was an all-male profession. Then in 1930, airlines started hiring female flight attendants. The rationale was to shame male passengers into overcoming fear of flying--"if these women can do it...”

“Flight attendant” is certainly the term of art among US airlines nowadays.

My most recent flight was on Singapore Air, and they used the term “stewardess.” (They were also very upfront about how they choose attractive stewardesses--hiring practices that would be a law suit engine for a US airline.) The in-flight magazine referred to male flight attendants on Singapore Air (none on my flight), but for the life of me I can’t recall whether or not they used the term “steward.” I noted it at the time, but have forgotten.

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Posted: 14 May 2007 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Skibberoo, I read somewhere that Pre-Madonna was a pop-cultural eggcorn for prima donna.

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Posted: 14 May 2007 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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languagehat - 14 May 2007 09:16 AM

Well, exactly.  Which is precisely why many women would like all such terms to be gender-neutral.

But only because sexists think the female term is somehow inferior.  The problem is with the sexists, not the word.  Using “waiter” instead of waitress isn’t going to make the sexists go away, though it might confuse them for a bit.

Skibberoo - 14 May 2007 10:40 AM

And then there’s Diva and Prima Donna.  Haven’t heard of many guys being described as such.

I used to work with a plasterer that everyone reckoned was a prima donna.

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Posted: 14 May 2007 01:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Dave Wilton - 14 May 2007 10:41 AM

Actually, originally it was an all-male profession. Then in 1930, airlines started hiring female flight attendants. The rationale was to shame male passengers into overcoming fear of flying--"if these women can do it...”

Were the male flight attendants called stewards? (just like to know if steward => stewardess or vice versa)

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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The problem is with the sexists, not the word.

You could say the same about ethnic slurs, and yet the victims of them dislike the words as well as the bigots.  As I said before, I’m perfectly happy to go along with whatever the people affected by disputed terms want in terms of usage, regardless of what I think of the logic of the case.  An extreme example is the word niggardly, where of course it is silly to see any racist implications — and precisely for that reason it’s a useful litmus test for racial attitudes.  Many white people have an unseemly eagerness to mock the umbrage taken and even take pleasure in using the word specifically because of the umbrage taken, etymology giving them license to vent their underlying feelings about “ignorant” black people.  My own reaction is to accept that the word is not usable for the time being, my minor regret at the loss of a word counterbalanced by my realization that it is a very rarely used word anyway.  It is helpful to bear in mind that some languages ban the use of words or syllables that occur in the names of deceased members of one’s family, reigning emperors, and the like; sometimes this necessitates the replacement of extremely common and useful words, and yet they manage without much ado.  Much as I love words and language, there are more important things.

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Were the male flight attendants called stewards? (just like to know if steward => stewardess or vice versa)

Yes, stewardess comes from steward, but both words were in use long before air travel. Maritime use of steward to mean one in charge of preparing meals for the officers and crew goes back to the 15th century. And the word was also used to refer to railroad employees who waited on passengers since at least 1906.

The use of stewardess in the waiting on passengers sense goes back to the 19th century in maritime use.

The OED has cites from both terms in the context of air travel from 1931, with steward appearing a few months later than stewardess. I wouldn’t draw a firm conclusion from this, though. I’ll bet steward is somewhat older in air travel context.

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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My own reaction is to accept that the word is not usable for the time being.....

Better get used to doing without the word denigrate then. See this blog entry.

Here has been excised a passage in which I describe being corrected in class by several students for using the word “denigrate” in a sentence for reasons explained here They believed it was racist, much as a very publlic figure was once criticized (wrongly) for using the word “niggardly.” I also believed the students were wrong, but subsequent events caused me to take it down a few days before the Purge of April 3. I have put it back up minus the passage that makes at least one student identifiable so that readers can see an interesting set of comments by fellow bloggers on teaching etymology and on the correct use of the word “denigrate,” that followed. I comment on those comments here.

(The first italicized ‘here’ is a link in the original but I can find nothing relevant by following it. The second italicized ‘here’ does lead in the original to a discussion of the word.)

My own personal opinion is that this way lies madness.

[ Edited: 15 May 2007 05:48 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 15 May 2007 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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My own personal opinion is that this way lies madness.

An easy and common reaction, but I think a mistaken one.  There are really not very many words subject to this kind of objection, and I suspect the fad for such objections will not last long.  In this case, the reaction against denigrate seems to be localized — I’m not aware of any mass protests such as occurred with niggardly.  Should it become a similar nationwide flashpoint, I will shrug my shoulders and avoid, for the time being, another word that I don’t use all that often anyway.  Context is important; if a particular word becomes an issue in a particular class, the teacher can ignore it, give in, or use it as a teaching point depending on his or her disposition, but it is not automatically a sign of the end of the world.

Note that (white) Americans also tend to express this-way-lies-madness reactions to the changing “acceptable” terms for black people: “First they want us to call them Negro, then colored, then black, then Afro-American, then African-American — what next??” Well, it’s really not that difficult to keep up; is it that much more difficult than, say, keeping track of one’s offspring’s ever-changing Significant Others?  The racial situation in the US is incredibly knotty and will take a long time to normalize (whatever “normal” might be); in the meantime it is not really surprising that the changing racial climate is reflected in the language.  It seems to me that simple politeness urges us to call people what they want to be called (a form of politeness that can be called on in early childhood, when your friend Billy suddenly decides he wants to be Bill from now on).

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Posted: 15 May 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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I agree with your last point completely but when people start syllable-picking (and I’d like to think it’s a small minority) then I consider it unacceptable. Where does one draw the line? And who is to draw it?

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Posted: 15 May 2007 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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One of several previous discussions in which these same issues were debated.  (Links therein lead to some others.) I note that WlmJames predicted there that “denigrate” would soon become a target of the “Gotcha, You Racist!” squads (my characterization, his prediction).

N.B. that I think there’s a big difference between being asked to respect people’s choices about what they want to be called and being asked (or told) to avoid using normal English words because of mistaken ideas about their history.  It’s one thing if Bill wants to be called William, it’s another if he wants me to ask for the william at the end of a restaurant meal.

[ Edited: 15 May 2007 09:36 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 15 May 2007 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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N.B. that I think there’s a big difference between being asked to respect people’s choices about what they want to be called and being asked (or told) to avoid using normal English words because of mistaken ideas about their history.  It’s one thing if Bill wants to be called William, it’s another if he wants me to ask for the william at the end of a restaurant meal.

Sure; like I said, context is important.  Each of us makes our own decision in each case, based on the merits of the case as it looks to us at the moment plus our general attitudes.  I’m certainly not saying everyone should always jump through whatever linguistic hoops someone else decides to put up, just providing another perspective (because the “it’s all going to hell"/"where do we draw the line?” one is so common).

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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aldiboronti - 15 May 2007 07:02 AM

I agree with your last point completely but when people start syllable-picking (and I’d like to think it’s a small minority) then I consider it unacceptable. Where does one draw the line? And who is to draw it?

One draws the line where one feels like drawing it. And, as always, you are the one to draw your own lines. If you feel like confronting people for their attitudes towards language, go for it. My experience is that those sorts of conversations stopped being entertaining for me years ago and so I no longer engage in them. But whenever you ask the"Who’s captain of this ship?” question, unless you’re actually on a ship, the answer is almost always that you are.

I’ll add to lh’s comment that in addition to politeness, I also consider whether or not I’m trying to make a point and if there is any chance of the point being made. Usually my conclusion is that while I may be ready to go to the guns over a certain issue, the person I’m speaking with really doesn’t give a rat’s ass what I think. So I smile politely and have another sip of draft and wonder what sort of dinner conversation I would have if I were having dinner with Helen Mirren.

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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"It’s one thing if Bill wants to be called William, it’s another if he wants me to ask for the william at the end of a restaurant meal.” (Dr T)

In similar vain(sic), for followers of British TV (’Keeping Up Appearances"), doesn’t Mrs Bucket (Hyacinth) make you want to kick the bouquet?

PS Dr T, on your ‘bill’ point:  London Cockneys (mid-19C - 1900s) used ‘William’ in this sense. To ‘meet sweet William’ meant to pay a bill as soon as presented.

Edited to add ‘PS’

[ Edited: 15 May 2007 06:32 PM by Skibberoo ]
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Posted: 15 May 2007 06:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Each of us makes our own decision in each case, based on the merits of the case as it looks to us at the moment plus our general attitudes.

Exactly. I’m with Languagehat in saying niggard is a very problematic word. Forget the etymology, the potential for being misunderstood if you use it--especially in speech--makes its use perilous. It is best avoided. A shame in a way, as it is a great word, but things often come to an untimely and undeserved end in this world.

Denigrate on the other hand...that’s just silliness and no one should put up with a proscription on that word because it might, somewhere, somehow, offend someone who is ignorant of its history, and more importantly, its usage.

Again, it shouldn’t be etymology that determines what’s offensive, but rather usage. No one objects to grandfather clause, but given its history, it should be far more offensive than many other problematic words. It’s not offensive because no one uses it in an offensive manner.

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Posted: 15 May 2007 11:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Denigrate does seem to be a good example of people seeking to be offended by a word, as it is not even apparent it contains the problematic three letters n, i, g unless you see it written down, unlike niggard, where they are pronounced together in a single syllable.

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