Let Us Not Engender the Abuse of Meaning

In his essay Politics and the English Language George Orwell wrote:

A man may take a drink because he feels himself to be failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

On Fox News the other day Tucker Carlson interviewed Ralph Abraham, a Republican Louisiana gubernatorial candidate who happens to be a medical doctor experienced in delivering baby girls and boys. Both madly agreed that there are only two genders; thus, all unbeknown, falling into a linguistic quagmire. Taking a lead from Orwell, this is me writing to Carlson:

You interviewed a doctor today running for a state governorship. Both you and the doctor referred to gender not to sex. Language is important in moulding culture. There are two sexes, male and female. Using the term gender — a modern affectation transposed from the field of grammar, where it is used in some languages to describe the masculine or feminine forms of nouns and pronouns — muddies the water.

I have seen outlandish claims about there being tens upon tens of different genders. It is self-evidently ridiculous to claim that there are tens upon tens of different sexes. Language has allowed outlandish claims to be made and you and many other conservatives (or more generally, if you like, people of common sense) have fallen into the trap.

Sex is the right word as a noun to cover the two categories of people, according to their reproductive function. Stick to that and you expose the foolishness before it gets to first base.

The replacement of the word “sex” by the word “gender” may be a product of random slovenliness. Though I suspect intelligent design on the part of leftists and their LGBTQI allies. Whatever its provenance, it has contributed to foolish thinking. Thus, it is not hard to find lists of 70-or-more genders, replete with imaginative names and descriptions.

When on holidays in the UK earlier this year I picked up a copy of the now defunct weekly magazine Picture Post, dated April 3, 1954. My interest was piqued when I saw on the front page that it had a feature on my old home town of Liverpool. Luckily, as I later discovered, it also had part 4 of Roberta (formerly Robert) Cowell’s “own story.” Racing car driver, fighter pilot and prisoner of war, Cowell (1918-2011) was one of the first men, and the first Briton, to have sex-reassignment surgery, which he underwent in 1951.

I wish I’d known what was inside the mag when I bought it. I would have searched around for the immediately preceding three issues because Cowell tells her story in a charming 1950s kind of way; when, so to speak, men were still men and women women:

I used to stroke my face occasionally, a gesture which a man often uses but a woman never. Standing back to the fire and going up stairs two at a time had to be avoided sedulously…When my nature became softer and less aggressive, I made the discovery that I could actually shed tears!… I discovered that cooking was surprisingly difficult and complicated, but very rewarding.

Love it and there’s lots more like it; but, to my point. Cowell claimed to have “XX male syndrome,” which she believed justified her transition. To quote from a medical source, this syndrome is “characterized by the presence of an XX [female] sex chromosome complement in an individual with male genitalia including both testes but no sperm production.”

Cowell spoke with disdain of those men with XY chromosomes who underwent sex reassignment. At the same time, she fathered two children when married. That does not square with her having the syndrome she claimed. But keep an open mind. Men with XX syndrome might not have a normal sex drive and, ahem, paternity can be hard to pin down. Need I say more.

In rare cases babies can be borne with varying degrees of mixed sexual characteristics, such as those with XX syndrome. But this is because something has gone wrong. It should provoke sympathy and support, not celebration. And Cowell did not celebrate but instead wanted badly to wholly join one of the two sexes. She (known as he at the time) was not at all happy to occupy some twilight world. Yet why not, if there is indeed a multiplicity of legitimate sexual identities.

Some people born male go to uncomfortable and distressing lengths, through hormone treatment and surgery, to take on the appearance of women. Equally, some people born female do the same kind of thing to take on the appearance of men. They are not faced with an à la carte menu of choice of many genders when being wheeled into surgery. There is only one alternative “sex” on the menu.

It is self-evident. There is no third sex, never mind sixty or seventy. Not even the LGBTQI crowd can pretend otherwise. Hence, resort to the nebulous word “gender” and its insertion into the language as replacement for the well-defined word “sex.” It needs to be opposed. To go back to Orwell,

…the process [of using slovenly language] is reversible … if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

Let’s take the trouble by correcting those who say gender when they mean sex.

  • DG

    While some men might undergo surgery to become women look alikes, it doesn’t work: the hands,the shoulders, the hips, the gait, the posture during walking. It just doesn’t work. Conversational topics also tend to go astray (note to women who want to be men: men on average, talk about beer, sport, women, then beer again. They will go to BBQs and promise to come back the next day to pull an engine apart so they can put it back together again…then talk about beer some more.

  • Salome

    I think that ‘gender’ became popular as a kind of euphemism for sex. In my linguistic worldview, gender should be returned and consigned to the grammar book where it originated, and where it belongs. Even the gender warriors recognise the existence of (biological) sex–such words as cisgender are indicative. But it now seems more important to recognise someone’s self-selected ‘gender identity’ and to ignore naturally assigned sex. I feel sure that, even if Mr Smith woke up one morning and felt as if he were really a woman, even the most woke medical practitioner would not dream of referring him/her to a gynaecologist.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Bravo, Peter. The link to the Orwell essay is worth the price of the admission alone. The tragedy is not so much that some people suffer from sexual dysphoria, but that self-interested medical “professionals” and cynical mischief-makers in the media encourage this nonsense.

    Now let’s see the usual suspect turn this into a rant about coal shills.

  • Ian MacDougall

    For the first time ever I find myself 100% in agreement with Peter Smith.
    As my scientific training and education has been mainly in biology I have always used the word ‘sex’ for sex, and ‘gender’ for words. But there is another angle which must not be overlooked. I am sure that there have to be closet LGBTQRSTUVW coal shills out there somewhere; possibly hiding behind piles of coal and scribbling away at articles for Quadrant denouncing renewables, the hoaxers of the IPCC, and the lily-livered shonks who have the cheek to call themselves ‘conservatives’ while supporting turncoats like Malcolm Turnbull and that vixen Zali Steggall who trumped their hero Tony ‘the future is coal’ Abbott.
    And the leader round here of the Abbott cheer squad, who masquerades as Doubting Thomas, when his real moniker has to be something like Ethelred the Unready.

  • Doubting Thomas


  • Tezza

    Uncanny – Ian chimes in right on schedule and on (his) topic!

  • wayne.cooper

    If the dysphoric man who becomes a faux woman on the basis that he/she thought that was their true identity were called insane, great condemnation would follow. But if the same faux woman woke up the next day convinced that they were not only a woman but actually Meryl Streep or Margaret Thatcher, people would be chasing him/her with butterfly nets. If a woman tells you she is really a man the politically correct thing to do is nod your head and say “of course you are – that is your right.” What if she goes on to say that she is Napoleon Bonaparte? Is that not also her ‘right’?

  • Richard H

    Let there be no doubt: the substitution of the word “gender” for “sex” (in the sense of a category of people) is the result of deliberate and concerted action by ideologues who wish to harm Western society. These ideologues promote the idea that a grammatical category can substitute for a biological category because “gender” is supposedly a social construct, like language.

    The ideologues have been astonishingly successful, largely due to the ignorant compliance with their wishes by the majority of politicians, bureaucrats, academics and journalists who lack understanding of what they are saying. But give Carlson his due: he usually uses the word “sex” where most would say “gender”, despite the slips he made in the cited interview. None of us is linguistically perfect.

  • Edward Carson

    “Taking a lead from Orwell, this is me writing to Carlson:”

    Shouldn’t it be: “this is I”?

    • Roger Franklin

      Taking another lead from Orwell: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

  • Peter Smith

    Edward, I looked up “me” in Fowler’s Modern English Usage. I think it is fair take that he gives permission in various circumstances for the use of “me” rather than “I” – where “I” is more formally correct – because that is where modern English usage has taken the language. Of course, there is room for different views. But, to back up Roger, “I” sounds as funny as a fit to me in the sentence in question.

  • lhissink

    Actually the late Danish comedian Victor Borge maintained there were three sexes in Denmark, male, female and convertible.

  • Finn MacCool

    I studied sociology back in the late 80s and found the concept of gender roles quite plausible. Of course, the view back then was that the sex of a person was generally male or female, however the social expectations of acceptable behaviour (norms) were different for each sex. In other words, gendered. This was true of every culture. It is debatable whether this was nature or nurture (although that dichotomy is blind to nuance). There does seem to be a strong biological basis to people’s choices. The conflation of sex and gender is pretty stupid really. I think it may have come from academics desperate to make a reputation in a stagnant field of study. They can appear to be intellectual giants by proposing outlandish theories with no basis in observed reality. Sadly, young minds are impressed by this psuedo-intellectuality, as are the decion makers in business and government.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    Semantics are fine, but one has to dig deeper.
    Just as between black and white there are shades of grey, between sex and gender there are for some – psychological – shades of grey: androgyny.


  • rod.stuart

    This misunderstanding and use of the word “gender” is something that I have been pointing out to people for a long time.
    As Peter points out there are many other misunderstandings and misuse of the language. One of the most common is the conflation of the word “climate” with the word “temperature”.
    If one fully understands the meaning of “climate”, the way in which it is classified, and its intention to allow the weather of one region with that of another, the fact that the phrase “climate change” is meaningless nonsense becomes clear.
    Another example in then same vain is the phrase “the science” When bed-wetters mention “the science” or worse still, “scientific proof”, you can be absolutely certain that they have absolutely no understanding of the process called “science”, and know absolutely nothing about that which they are babbling.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    rod.stuart – 18th October 2019
    “…the phrase “climate change” is meaningless nonsense….”
    Agreed, especially when the climate is always changing. The WMO used to define”climate” as average weather over a 30-year period, Why not 40 or more years?
    Anyway, too precise for folk at The Guardian, who prefer something more emotive. From its WE BELIEVE Climate Pledge: “We will use language that recognises the severity of the crisis we’re in. In May 2019, the Guardian updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world, using “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”. We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on the urgency of this issue.”
    What comes after “Climate Emergency”? Climate Apocalypse.?

    As for “the science”, spot on. They go on about it like fundamentalists do about their Holy Book, despite it being decidedly unsettled. In Pakistan they terminate the blasphemer. In the West, the media has other ways of silencing the heretic. The Guardian again: “climate science denier” or “climate denier” to be used instead of “climate sceptic”.

  • rod.stuart

    Alice, please allow me some nit-picking……..
    I know that many a learned sceptical scientist repeats this “climate is always changing” meme, but I say “Which climate are you talking about?”
    In order to determine change, a metric is necessary.
    The only logical metric for “climate” is a Koppen-Geiger classification a Trewartha classification.
    When the venerable H.H. Lamb came up with the definition of climate, he pointed out that a period of 30 years is a bare minimum, and in order to account for the entire 60 year temperature cycle, longer is better.
    There are nearly 60 Koppen-Geiger classifications. Each classification can be assigned a region of the planet If you examine the shape, size, and classification of individual regions you will note there is little change since Koppen came up with this system. Granted, some regions may grow and shrink on a decadal basis, but over that entire period since 1884 there are few if any that have changed significantly and permanently, as natural forces proceed through their cycles.
    Granted they must have all changed over the vast expanse of geologic time, but the phrase “the climate is always changing” implies that the entire globve has a “climate”. This is tantamount to insisting that there is a global language, or a global currency.

  • Alice Thermopolis

    Well, there are plenty of nits to pick in the climate space, even excluding the nitwits.
    “…the phrase “the climate is always changing” implies that the entire globe has a “climate”. This is tantamount to insisting that there is a global language, or a global currency.”
    You are, of course, right. Likewise a “global temperature”, which is another statistical artefact trumpeted as if it were a meaningful and measurable variable (often to two decimal places) by all and sundry.
    This brings us back to Peter’s article, semantics and the corruption of language and integrity of enquiry.

    See The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change (George Lexicon, Athena Books, 2018)
    Climate change, n., 1. A state bestowed by God upon the ignorant as a reward for their credulity; or on the wicked for their destitution of conscience, concupiscence, conspicuous consumption, lack of guilt about the size of their carbon footprint, etc. 2. The alleged cause of any natural or unnatural phenomenon for which no other cause is known, esp. one that is or will be bad for someone somewhere; syn., Devil, dangerous anthropogenic global warming, etc. 3. Logic: an argument by default of the form: “we do not know what is causing the climate to change, therefore it must be our fault.”….10. A deliberately vague expression that can mean whatever you want it to mean, if anything.

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