9.12.2005

Quotable

I have a fairly strict policy of not blogging about work, but I couldn't help sharing this quote, uttered by a venerable, somewhat-older-than-average coworker this afternoon: "She's the Man!" I thought that this was linguistically interesting for several reasons.

1.) For one, of course, the fact that a woman can be "the Man" might not be self-evident. But, of course, a woman can.

2.) Secondly, how would our understanding of this phrase change if it was, instead, "She's the Woman!" or, perhaps more interestingly, "He's the Woman!"? If you think that sexism is dead, consider this last question fairfully. Any and all answers are welcome, of course, from all three of my readers.

3.) Thirdly, I found it interesting that someone a bit older than average would use this expression. Now, this somewhat-older-than-average coworker is generally quite with-it, and I think that this is particularly true linguistically. (This, unlike some people, whose aquisition of slang seems to have stopped when they were in their 20s, whatever decade that was.) But I still found it interesting, and wondered when that expression became common. Anyone know? Or have access to a reliable idiomatic dictionary?

3 comments:

David said...

I had a similar incident: Anna, Patrick and I were being interviewed, and Patrick said that because we're older, we don't really write songs about "fighting the Man."

I replied, "we are the Man"

Anna said "and the Woman!"

Anna is British, so the idiom "the Man" may not be as internal for her as it is for me, but I thought that was interesting...

I think that "the Man" has two identities - one is positive, and conveys success, while the other is negative, and conveys opression.

So given that there are both positive and negative meanings, I don't see it as a sexist issue - more of a "the way slang developed" issue. But hey, I could be wrong...

ALG said...

I agree that "the Man" has both positive and negative identities, but its positive identity isn't what makes it potentially sexist. What makes it potentially sexist is the use of the word "Man" to describe some attribute of people in general. Like "mankind," who can be described as doing pretty awful thing, but that doesn't make the use of the term any less sexist. (That wasn't a perfect analogy, but maybe it made some sense anyway.) In other words, it's the removal of women from slang and from discussion overall that's sexist, not whether the slang or discussion is positive or negative. If one is prone to getting riled up about these sorts of things. (I am not. There are worse thing going on, like women not being hired or promoted equally, being paid less for the same job, being portrayed exclusively as sex objects, etc.)

ALG said...

I agree that "the Man" has both positive and negative identities, but its positive identity isn't what makes it potentially sexist. What makes it potentially sexist is the use of the word "Man" to describe some attribute of people in general. Like "mankind," who can be described as doing pretty awful thing, but that doesn't make the use of the term any less sexist. (That wasn't a perfect analogy, but maybe it made some sense anyway.) In other words, it's the removal of women from slang and from discussion overall that's sexist, not whether the slang or discussion is positive or negative. If one is prone to getting riled up about these sorts of things. (I am not. There are worse things going on, like women not being hired or promoted equally, being paid less for the same job, being portrayed exclusively as sex objects, etc.)