I remember "mailman" and "policeman"

I remember “mailman” and “policeman”. I remember objecting to the terms, and making the same stupid comment: “So what, is it going to be a personhole cover next?”

Which just goes to show how big of an idiot I was back in the late 80’s.

I’ve since learned better – but it can be really hard sometimes to explain to others why we should make certain word choices and not others. Here, let’s have a re-enactment:

Random Person: “Don’t do a half-assed job of that.”
Me: “Y’know, half-assed is a sexist phrase.”
RP: “What?
Me: “Yeah. It refers to the way women had to ride sidesaddle. So it means doing it like a woman.” [1]
RP: “So what if half-assed used to be sexist? I don’t use it that way.”

The Portly Dyke helps. In “Watch Your Mouth” (part one, part two, and part three) she clearly runs through how to determine when it’s a bad idea to use such terms (and why), how these sorts of words get changed, reappropriated, and co-opted, and what you should do instead.

These should be required reading. Get to it. 🙂

[1] Yes, I know that you can find places online that claim the term “half-assed” comes from other, non-sexist roots. Except… well, none of them agree on the origin of the phrase, which means that I’m far from convinced of their explanations. I mean, this idea of “half-adzed” sounds like a post-facto justification, which disagrees with all of the possible origins at dictionary.com – and those disagree among themselves on the etymology and the date of origin Let’s just go with the example, okay?

2 thoughts on “I remember "mailman" and "policeman"

  1. From a more authoritative dictionary… The Oxford English Dictionary:


    A mule.

    1587 GOLDING De Mornay xxvi. 414 A Halfeasse of Persia shall come and make vs his thralles.

  2. Did you read Portly's posts? That was really the point of mine – to introduce you to and point you at hers.

    From Portly's third post:

    I've seen discussions about whether the word "niggardly" is racist or not, whether or not the origin of the phrase"rule of thumb" refers to domestic violence, and whether the term "lame" has entered common usage to the extent that people who have difficulty walking should just stop being offended and shut up about it, already.

    Now, I know that the word "niggardly" is not etymologically derived from a racial slur, but so what? If my listener/reader doesn't know this, do I really want to derail from whatever topic it is I'm addressing by pressing that debate, just so I can sound like a Dickens character?

    The point of my post was simply to direct you to hers, not argue about the etymology of my particular example… which is why I originally said "Let's just go with the example, okay?"

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