The economy is at best stagnant, but at least the English language is moving full speed ahead. ‘Only cross with green figure,’ say new pedestrian-crossing signs in Lincolnshire, consigning the familar green man to oblivion. ‘It’s seen a little bit like it’s sexist,’ explains a Boston borough councillor, proudly displaying the command of English style we’ve come to expect from public officials.
It is sexist, more than a little bit — there’s absolutely no doubt about it. In fact we’ve known for a long time that the word ‘man’, along with the corresponding personal pronoun, is deeply offensive no matter how it’s used. True, old codgers are obstinately clinging to such foul obscenities as ‘chairman’, not realising how much more mellifluous, not to mention progressive, Mr Chair sounds to anyone with a modicum of sensitivity. Said codgers even dare object to sentences like ‘Every one of ManU players knows their role.’ Yes, as the team features only men (their today’s performance notwithstanding), claim the insensitive pedants, we wouldn’t offend too many people by following ‘one’ with ‘his’. Just goes to show how behind the times they are: never mind grammar, it’s the principle that counts.
Quite right too. My only quibble — and I know I have to watch my step here — is the word ‘figure’ as a replacement for the ‘m’ word. There’s nothing wrong with it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve grown so fond of ‘person’ that I’ll be sorry to see it go. But this nitpicking in no way casts aspersion on the noble effort to bring our language in line with our innermost feelings.
In that spirit I suggest that Boston council hasn’t gone far enough. That the ‘m’ word, meaning a human person-figure of the masculine sex — pardon me, gender — needs to bite the dust goes without saying. What I propose is that the ghastly combination of letters should be banned — and I do mean banned, act of Parliament and all — altogether, even if the letters don’t add up to anything seen as remotely sexist or chauvinist in Boston. Better safe than sorry, I say.
This kind of figurepulation (or figuregling, if you’d rather) of the language may take some time for some figures to get used to. But give us a year or two, a few court cases, and this change will be not only figuredatory but cordially welcomed by all, from London to Figurechester. Before long the use of the letter combination I no longer can bring myself to spell out will be regarded as bad figureners. Perhaps in time a style figureual could be issued advising on how to incorporate this verbal figureure into everyday language. That way we’ll all concentrate on things that are really important in life, rather than such incidentals as economic meltdown, or patients dying of hospital-acquired MRSI, or criminals mugging old figures in the street.
Happy New Year and big thanks to every figure and wofigure who reads this blog. God willing, I’ll continue my reactionary musings in 2012. Always provided I give Boston a wide berth.