What's in a name?

As the libbies strive to purge our fairly adequate language of gender, thinking to reform the mores by changing names, we have been harassed by such outrages as chairperson, motorperson,m and even the indefensible Ms.m Though this please the unskillful, it cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of which should prevail. (That's almost a quotation, folkpersons.) A flaw in this philosophy of alternate nomenclature is the incidence of gender when it has no bearing on gender, such as horsemanship,m or the widow'sm end.

This newspaper has had some widow's ends lately, and I am wondering if they are merely the consequence of today's publishing requirements as contrasted with the old days when corrections could be made readily. Perhaps the electronics have their faults. A widow's end is (was, that is) a short line of type on the end of a paragraph that got carried over to the top of the next column -- a continuation that looked abbreviated and was always cosidered abominable typography. A good makeup manperson, laying type into the forms, kept his eye on the continuations, and would "lead out" (lead,m from lead type metal) the story so every column began with at least one full line. I have no idea other than our English-language flair of imagery as to why such short lines came to the widow's ends, but I shall fight vigorously any and all civil rights efforts to change them to something like "terminalities of femaleperson survivor spouses."

Another word for this context is pitman.m

One of our small-town weekly giveaways had an advertisement lately for some pit sawn boards. No price was mentioned, but I expect anybody with pit sawn boards for sale knows well what he has and will ask aplenty. Taken, no doubt, from an ancient barn or dwelling, they may be a yard wide, probably old-growth "punkin" pine, and they were milled away back in Colonial days on a hand-powered up-and-down sawmill. For their antique value they will probably be carefully built into a new home by somebody willing to stand the expense for the sake of showing them off and for their worth as conversation starters. Lore Rogers once made a working model of an early pit sawmill, and it can be seen at the Lumberman's Museum in Patten, Maine.The manperson down below is the pitman.

The frame in which the saw blade was hung had to be lifted and lowered. The sawteeth cut on the downward stroke, and a spring was fitted above to help lift the frame against gravity. The spring brought the frame up without too much help from the sawyers, but the man above had to shove down and the man below had to pull for the downward cutting stroke against the spring. The pit was simply a hole dug into the ground to accomodate this man underneath, and as he worked he was always in a swirl of sawdust and in a great lack of ventilation. His was never ladylike work.

In the water-wheel versions of the old pit mill, the frame moved up and down in exactly the same manner, the log advancing as required to rip off a board, and both the upper and lower workpersons were eliminated. The mechanical beam, or connecting rod, that now worked the frame from below came to be known as the pitman rod. Simple as that, and you will find both pitmanm and pit sawm in your desk dictionary. Thus derived, a pitman rod became useful in other work, and without thought for sawmills, the pitman rod drove cutterbars in mowing machines , and worked paddlewheels on steamboats. In some places a walking beam is a pitman.

Here, you see, is a suggestion as to how language comes about. There would be no such thing as a pitwoman,m and the best reason for that is because in pit mill days a lady didn't presume. Further, she didn't think there was anything wrong in letting a man jerk that contraption under those conditions, and it never entered her pretty head that she was being demeaned because all pitmen were gentlemenpeople. But even so, once the word pitman was turned to a reciprocating bar to work knives in the hayfield, relevancy was completely lost, and the "man" ceased to have gender at all.

I was also going to speak of a dutchman, but I see by the old clock on the wall that my time is up. A dutchman is a jury-rig of one kind or another, meant to hide a fault in workmanship or to tide over until permanent repairs can be made. Shove a hose over a leaky water pipe until the plumber comes, and that's a dutchman. I don't know why, either, but "dutchperson" is no good.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK