Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 11:06 on 22-07-2010, Arthur B
I approve of grammar pedantry being used to argue that you can do certain things with grammar rather than the opposite. I love seeing the enemy's weapons used against them. ;)
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at 10:19 on 22-07-2010, Dan H
I particularly like:

The only problem with this view is that all you’ve managed to learn about English is how to get your brain to release some satisfying endorphins every time you blindly regurgitate some authority figure’s unjustified assertion.

I'm totally going to use that.
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at 02:30 on 22-07-2010, Bryn
More Legend of Korra. The series is looking more and more promising the more information comes out.

This page presents a lot of evidence that the singular 'they' is unambiguously correct. However, I don't know whether this will be interesting to you or seem just as annoying as the grammar pedants with the opposite opinion.
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at 00:56 on 22-07-2010, Rami
Are you advocating metapedantry?
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at 00:34 on 22-07-2010, Andy G
But what about being a reverse grammar pedant? I love using [sic] when quoting somebody who says 'he' when they should have said 'he or she' or 'they'.
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at 23:00 on 21-07-2010, Dan H
I absolutely hate grammar pedants.
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at 22:44 on 21-07-2010, Arthur B
I have a lot of time for "they" as a gender-neutral single pronoun. Anything that makes grammar pedants rage meets my approval. ;)
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at 22:40 on 21-07-2010, Andy G
From a linguistic point of view: I know that there are certain categories of words that are closed, which means that it is impossible to introduce new terms into them and make them stick. It is possible to invent new nouns, verbs and adjectives, but it is not possible to create new prepositions or conjunctions. I don't know if that's also true of pronouns, which could explain the resistance to introducing gender-neutral or genderqueer pronouns - if it needs any explanation beyond prejudice/ignorance. This isn't to say that the existing pronouns can't be used in different ways - many languages use them without gender implications in most circumstances, and singular they has been introduced instead of he as a gender-neutral pronoun.
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at 22:07 on 21-07-2010, Dan H
Actually I'm saying pretty much the opposite.

The reason using ungendered pronouns works is because they highlight the fact that the use of gendered pronouns masks a lot of unconscious sexist assumptions. When we say "he" to mean "an unspecified person of either gender" we are, in fact, assuming that the unspecified person is male. If you say "zie" (which is the version I've heard) then it stands out, and confronts you with the fact that you're making assumptions.

The problem is that if the ungendered terms were commonly used, they'd wind up being effectively gendered anyway, because the same assumptions would get attached to them. Yes, most people will assume that a "chairman" or a "policeman" are male, but people make the same assumptions about a "doctor" or a "scientist" or a "captain of industry."

Ironically if we used *non* gendered pronouns as standard, I suspect the use of gendered pronouns would actually be quite a good way to highlight the same issues (for much the same reason that the racially-derived pronouns make such an impact in the essay Jamie linked to).
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at 21:06 on 21-07-2010, Arthur B
I don't, and I'd love to hear you expound on the subject, as it's one I've wrestled with quite a lot over the past couple years. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion this conversation has just about passed its "best if consumed by" date, and if that's the case, I won't attempt to keep pushing it forward.

Only Dan can answer for Dan, but for my part the whole ey/sie thing doesn't quite work for me because they just don't seem like real words - they jump off the page at you and shout LOOK AT ME I AM DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND UNUSUAL, when surely the point of the exercise should be to make the use of ungendered pronouns seem entirely unremarkable and ordinary.
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at 20:30 on 21-07-2010, Robinson L

Robinson L: I've also tried out the other options, including the “wh” and “bl,” but they just produce pronouns like “wher” and “ble,” which doesn't seem to be making a point about racism.

Jamie: Shani has helpfully pointed me at the probable origin of the 'ble' / 'whe' thing, which is a very clever bit of Swift-like satire from the 1980s.

Oh, I see. With that essay for context, I'd have to say yes, that is indeed quite clever. (Unfortunately, I can't seem to get either "wherblim" or "bler/whim" to work on ferretbrain. Poot.)

On genderless pronouns:
Dan: I kind of think they only work because they feel unnatural, if you see what I mean.

I don't, and I'd love to hear you expound on the subject, as it's one I've wrestled with quite a lot over the past couple years. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion this conversation has just about passed its "best if consumed by" date, and if that's the case, I won't attempt to keep pushing it forward.
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at 19:32 on 21-07-2010, Viorica
IT LOOKS SO AWESOME.
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at 18:23 on 21-07-2010, Bryn permalink
at 17:05 on 21-07-2010, Dan H
As a way of fiddling with pronouns, I can see the sense of it, although personally I'm not sold on genderless pronouns. I kind of think they only work because they feel unnatural, if you see what I mean.
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at 00:15 on 21-07-2010, Jamie Johnston
If you look at what we did with the tool when we got hold of it, we basically played around with names we already knew and picked up on the errors.

Without wishing to outright disagree - you make a fair point - I should say for the record that actually what I've mostly been doing with it is trying to get my head around 'ey' and 'sie'. I just didn't mention that 'cause frankly who wants to hear about My Struggle With Pronouns?

I like the book-spine poems.
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at 20:36 on 20-07-2010, Robinson L
I have to agree with Dan that the point is undermined by the propensity to change around gender-neutral terms such as Capital-A Art, and by missing a whole slew of gendered terms such as “chick,” “Sir,” “fangirl,” “misogynistic,” “bitch,” and several others which presently slip my memory, not to mention its complete failure to address anatomical terminology.

At the same time, I agree with Rami that the re-gender process does do its job, if not as well as it might. Jamie has shared how its gotten him thinking, and in my digging through the archives I've more than once caught myself thinking 'Gosh, that's really quite a lot of female authors/directors, oh, wait …' Also, I've found reading through articles which deal directly with gender dynamics not only lends to much mirth, but also gets me thinking in terms of switched genders and the implications thereof. It's all well and good to imagine gender-flipping a discussion as a mental exercise, but it's quite another to see and feel what a gender-swapped discussion would actually be like.

For instance, the other day I had a look back at Earth-Kevin Robinson's mini-rant on Vernon Mars and dear lady but the gender dynamics in that show are creepy as hell.

I would also argue that just because we've mostly just been having fun with the re-gender process seeing what silly results we get (“Arundhati Robert,” “Timothy Barry's Alberta,” “my sound system still being KIMBERLY,” the month of “Angela”) doesn't preclude the application working as its primarily intended. In other words, I'm saying the regender feature can work as a source of childish amusement and as thought-provoking social commentary at the same time. It may even work better as the latter because it also serves the former function.


On a different subject, I've also been having a go at the I Write Like feature. Of my three Ferretbrain articles so far, The Problem With the Iron Ring and the Oracle Renamed apparently follow the style of H. P. Lovecraft, whereas Race in Popular Culture is reminiscent of Dan Brown.

In my livejournal archive, my reviews of Doctor Who Series Three and Four most approximate Douglas Adams in style. My NaNo novel (intro and full) is a close cousin to the writings of one Mr. Stephen King. Well, I always knew it was terrible. Also, I have a short time-travel story which puts the feature in mind of Raymond Chandler, and a short-short comic horror piece which might've been penned by Arthur C Clarke.

It thought my reflection on the recent Sherlock Holmes movie most resembled Arthur Conan Doyle in style, which follows Dan's experience. It was at this point I began to suspect the author generator was playing silly buggers. In confirmation, my reflection on 1984 came out in the vein of George Orwell. (Interestingly, my thoughts on Homage to Catalonia, with much fewer Orwellian buzzwords, came out as written like Chuck Palahnuik.) Also, I fed Ptolemaues' epic smackdown of that one chapter from New Moon and Melissa's Twilight article into I Write Back and they both came back with Stephenie Meyer. (ouch)

Additionally, I'm convinced I Write Like has a randomized “12% of David Foster Wallace” application, as a lot of random articles (including my review of David Tennant's last five Doctor Who specials) of mine, one prose story and my one and only poem all came back with his name attached.

I've also been feeding some other authors into I Write Like. From his thoughts on Doctor Who, Terry Pratchett writes like Dan Brown. From his short stories available free online, he writes like either Edgar Allen Poe, *ug* J. K. Rowling, and yes, David Foster Wallace.

Melina Marchetta (from the first three paragraphs of On the Jellicoe Road, writes like P. G. Wodehouse. From a couple of short snippets from Saving Francesca (review still pending) I got Dan Brown for the longest, Mario Puzo for another, and *gag* Stephenie Meyer again.
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at 17:42 on 20-07-2010, Rami
If you look at what we did with the tool when we got hold of it, we basically played around with names we already knew and picked up on the errors.
I think that may be not because of the flaws in the Regender site but because of our tendency here on FB to rip things to shreds...
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at 11:55 on 20-07-2010, Dan H
It's striking, but it's striking in the wrong way.

It's striking because all the names get swapped around for poorly chosen equivalents, and because it makes mistakes. If you look at for example this rather amusing thing I found recently the effect of the regendering is far more subtle (and arguably more effective, since it actually catches the things it's supposed to be catching in the first place).

If you look at what we did with the tool when we got hold of it, we basically played around with names we already knew and picked up on the errors.
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at 01:09 on 20-07-2010, Arthur B
Also, for some reason, the regender-device has no problem with the term "chick".

I put in the wikipedia article for "rooster", and you know what? "Cock" isn't recognised as a gendered term either...
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at 00:21 on 20-07-2010, Rami
The immediate impression made by looking at a Regendered site, though, is still quite striking -- and I think that's a sufficiently useful point in itself.

Perhaps I'm inclined to give the guy a break because I can see the engineering trade-off at work here. A relatively unsophisticated search-and-replace is the work of an afternoon, while a real language-level rewriter is the work of a computer science thesis.
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at 23:57 on 19-07-2010, Dan H
Except, as Jamie points out, it's not really trying to be fun so much as to make a serious point about gendered language, the problem being that the point is undermined if it incorrectly diagnoses entirely neutral terms as gendered. Ironically it winds up doing exactly what people *claim* that people who object to gendered language want to do - replace everything that even sounds gendered with something clearly silly.

It's not using gendered language to say that rabbits live in a Warren, or eat a Dunkin' Donuts or to sing Away in a Manger.

Also, for some reason, the regender-device has no problem with the term "chick".
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at 23:46 on 19-07-2010, Rami
There are a few clbuttic errors, sure. It's probably just a big search-and-replace. Who needs to be sophisticated to be fun ;-)?
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at 23:44 on 19-07-2010, Dan H
... also, it has trouble distinguishing the possessive "her" from the pronoun "her".
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at 23:23 on 19-07-2010, Dan H
I can't help but think that the point would be better made if their algorithm was just a *little* bit more sophisticated.

While "man" might be gendered language "don't" most certainly isn't.
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