Impossible to Define This Word?

Let me help with that.

“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman?’” the senator asked the female judge, a candidate for justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 22, 2022.

“Can I provide a definition? No,” the candidate responded. “I can’t.”

“You can’t?” the senator asked.

“Not in this context, I’m not a biologist,” the judge replied.[1]

I realize that Supreme Court candidates are grilled mercilessly prior to confirmation, so I sympathize with the judge, who was thrown for a loop by a difficult question completely outside her field of expertise. I mean, let’s be real here. For example . . .

  • Would you ask me for directions to my house? Good luck!—I’m no cartographer.
  • Should I be expected to tell you if it’s sunny or raining outside? Excuse me, do you think I’m a meteorologist?
  • How does one flush a toilet? C’mon, man, I’m not a plumber, for pity’s sake!

I’m no biologist either, but I know a thing or two about the English language. And being a married man,[2] I know enough about women to assure you that I ain’t one. But I digress.

Allow me to help the good judge by explaining for her what a woman is. I’ll restrict my comments to the realms of lexicography and etymology.[3]

Okay, here we go, your honor! Are you ready? I’ll type slowly, because this can be pretty hard:

 A woman is “AN ADULT FEMALE PERSON.”[4]

Let’s break it down further: An (indefinite article) adult (as opposed to a child or youth) female (as opposed to a male) person (as opposed to an animal, plant, fish, etc.).

That’s the lexicographical answer. Are you still with me, your honor? Good! I know you’re in uncharted territory now, so when you catch your breath, we’ll look at etymology. Fasten your seatbelt!

Woman has been a part of the English language since  approximately 1250 AD. It can be traced back several centuries before that. It probably developed out of wumman or womman (before 1200 AD), and before that from the Old English wimman (c. 1000), which probably evolved from wīfman (before c. 766), a compound of wīf (woman) and man (human being).[5] (You might notice, incidentally, that the word wife originated from wīf—woman). Not exactly rocket science—I mean, biology—now, is it?

I do sincerely hope this little tutorial helps your honor in addressing matters of jurisprudence, biology, or simple word definitions going forward. We don’t want you to be caught off guard again. You’re welcome!


[1] Source: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/ketanji-brown-jackson-bidens-supreme-court-pick-refuses-to-define-the-word-woman

[2] I’m married to a woman, by the way, which, in the history of the world until a few years ago no one would have thought to question.

[3] That is, dictionaries (lexicography) and word origins (etymology).

[4] Merriam-Webster. 2020. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Frederick C. Mish, ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

[5] Barnhardt, Robert, ed. 1995. The Barnhardt Concise Dictionary of Etymology. New York: HarperCollins (p. 847). Partridge, Eric. 1983. Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Greenwich House, (p. 776).

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reflections

The Ideal of a Colorblind Society

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had the right idea about race relations, eloquently expounded during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. His “dream” for his children was that one day in America they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I believe we could call that world a colorblind society. One of the definitions of colorblind, according to Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, is “not influenced by differences of race … free from racial prejudice.” The New Oxford Dictionary similarly defines it as “not influenced by racial prejudice: a color-blind society.” That seems to be the sort of society that MLK lived – and died – for. It is a world in which “all men are created equal,” the ideal of the Founding Fathers.

As a nation, we made great strides toward realizing that dream and that ideal, until the unfortunate rise of cultural Marxism, Critical Race Theory, BLM, and the so-called antiracist doctrines of those who would demonize a certain segment of our society. Today it is no longer good, or even okay, to be colorblind, to be not racist. Now, according to the twisted linguistic and ideological gymnastics of the cultural Marxist elites who shape the prevailing progressive narrative in America, to be colorblind is to be actually racist! Astoundingly, to be not racist, according to this convoluted logic, is to be, in fact, a white supremacist, of all things. Now one must be antiracist.

The net effect of these progressive efforts has been to divide us, rather than unify us, based solely on the color of our skin. The current mantra of the so-called woke is that America is still incurably, systemically racist, as though the hard work and sacrifices of Dr. King and his fellow laborers in the Civil Rights Movement were all in vain, that they amounted to nothing. I seriously doubt Dr. King would agree with that assessment. To preach such a grim, false message dishonors his memory.

I am truly thankful for Dr. King’s tremendous insight, courage, and dedication, all tragically cut way too short by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

Quote of the Day

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Attributed to Carl Sandburg

My Mentors: Jesus and Marx

A helpful clarification.

Those who know me even a little know that I enjoy reading books and that virtually anywhere I go—especially if I anticipate having to hang out in a waiting area (appropriately masked and socially distanced, of course![1])—I will have a book with me. An actual book, mind you, not a digital version.[2] I generally prefer nonfiction to fiction, although, in checking my book-reading log (yes, I actually keep one—call me weird), I see that I’ve read five fiction titles so far in 2020.

Not infrequently, someone will notice my public book-reading–which apparently is as peculiar as  public nose-picking–and make a friendly comment. “I see you have a book there. What are you reading?”

Typically, I’ll do a quick show-and-tell. One time, a young medical assistant’s comment was, “Oh, what a pretty book. The cover’s almost entirely white.” It was Rand Paul’s The Case Against Socialism. I was about to give her a 20-second summary of its contents, but at the last second I thought better of it and instead replied, “Oh, yes! I only read pretty books.”

One “pretty book” I’m reading now is The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. It was a birthday gift from my son, who shares my peculiar sense of humor (sorry, son) and my appreciation of Marx Brothers movies, which I have enjoyed since high school.[3]

I’ve often said through the years, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that my lifelong mentors are Jesus and Marx. That piques the curiosity of some people. Many younger folks, however, respond with a blank stare or a polite chuckle, so I’ll go on to clarify: “That’s Groucho Marx, the one with the big black mustache and eyebrows, the glasses, and the cigar—not Karl, the one with the big bushy hair and beard, who you’ve been taught about in school.” For those who are still confused, I offer this helpful distinction: “In the twentieth century, Groucho Marx was directly responsible for 100 million laughs; Karl Marx was indirectly responsible for 100 million deaths.” That’s it in a nutshell.

Now, about who Jesus is—often equally as unknown as Groucho—well, that’s another story for another post.


[1] Some of my friends seem to care about that sort of thing more than almost anything else, so please be reassured.

[2] I have nothing against digital versions—I’ve read several on my Kindle—they’re just not my cup of reading tea.

[3] I attended high school in the 1970s, when Marx Brothers movies, made between and 1929 and 1949, were enjoying a brief revival. Just clarifying in case you thought I was 98 years old. Close but no cigar.

Meaningless, Lazy, Inflammatory, Taboo Words

Miscellaneous musings on our culture’s spoken and written language.

Meaningless Words

Facebook invited us to toss words into the dust bin when they created those cute little emoticons or emojis. Now, let me say from the get-go that I use those cute little emojis. I am a user. But what do they really mean? Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. The words—and underlying concepts—are virtually meaningless.

Hang onto your britches and let me explain. FB invites us to express supposed emotions with a single symbol, to save us the time and mental effort involved in using vocabulary to formulate sentences to express thoughtful replies. No need to do that when we can express displeasure by inserting an angry-face emoticon, or astonishment with a wow-face emoticon—when we may not feel anything like true anger or astonishment, in which case we’re conveying pseudo emotions. They’re not real.

Sometimes the feelings involved are deep and genuine—I’m not suggesting we’re all phonies on social media (but I think a lot of us are a lot more unreal there than we care to admit). Continue reading “Meaningless, Lazy, Inflammatory, Taboo Words”

From the Wacky-News Desk

RE: Robert Lee, Confederates, and Related Nonsense

Robert Lee

ESPN announced yesterday that one of their broadcasters, an Asian American by the name of Robert Lee, who was scheduled to cover a football game in Virginia this weekend, was pulled from the assignment because (are you ready for it?) someone might be offended by the similarity of the man’s name to that of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee—who is supposedly offending plenty of folks lately with his frightening statues. What in the world is going on with these pantywaist ESPN execs?

So my question is, where will the insanity end? What’s next in Zanyville, USA? Continue reading “From the Wacky-News Desk”

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