Harvest time

Hampshire Harvest Festival This weekend it’s the Hampshire Harvest Festival hosted around Winchester Cathedral. As well as kid’s activities there will be a variety of stalls showcasing the county’s agricultural produce. With that in mind here are some harvest, (and harvest related) words.

Close Door

Photo J Beddington

Harvest appears first in English as a noun (in 902 OED) and is derived from Old English, with related words in a number of old Germanic languages. Around 1400 it started to be used as a verb as well both uses are still current.

The harvest originally refers to the time of year autumn (or fall for our American readers) but now is most commonly used in compounds like Hampshire Harvest Festival, Harvest Faire, Harvest Moon Etc.

harvest

photo credit: christian.grelard Vintage harvest via photopin (license)

It’s also widely used to talk about the outcome of some work even if that work has little to do with agriculture. Ex, ‘The harvest of new contacts from the latest advertising campaign was down on predictions again. I think we need to reconsider the approach.’ This more metaphorical approach also works as a verb Ex. “Analysing the survey data took longer than expected but we were able to harvest some really significant leads, even if the data is not entirely conclusive.”

A threshold, we may commonly understand to be the liminal space in the doorway say between two rooms, a room and a hallway and/or the inside and the outside of a building. The term comes from thresh (what you do to grain crops to separate the edible bits from the straw) and hold meaning to keep. Originally thresholds were put in the doors of barns to stop the grain blowing out.

A harvest moon is a large often orange-ish moon in autumn that would allow agricultural workers to work late to get the harvest in, or at least to return late from the fields before we had streetlights, torches (flashlights for you Americans) and cars.

Reap what you sow: this old saying means that you get what is coming to you. If you are nice and helpful towards others (even when you don’t have to be) then they are likely to be kind to you when you are in need. If you only do what you need to, then they are likely only to help you as much as they have to. Reaping is one of the first stages of harvesting many crops especially grains.

grim-reaper

photo credit: Anthony Quintano Banksy Grim Reaper New York City via photopin (license)

The grim reaper: this goes back in folklore to the idea that there is a spirit or “angel of death” that collects the souls of the recently dead and takes them to heaven. Normally depicted as a skeleton in a black hooded robe with a scythe, the grim reaper is a common theme for Halloween costumes.

To scrump: this means to take fruit, (especially apples) from trees that are not yours. Don’t forget scrumpy a type of strong cider perhaps made from these apples.

Father

Father

It’s been observed in the UK that fathers have been in the news a lot lately. Whether it’s furore over the financial affairs of David Cameron’s family especially his father  or the birth father  of Arch-Bishop Justin Welby,  it’s been hard to avoid mention of them in the news.

20150924151034!David_Cameron_official -via wikimedia

Official photo via wikimedia

Putting this aside the word father or a substitute (dad/daddy) shows up quite a lot in English idiom so let’s look at some of those phrases. Some of these are interchangeable but often there is a subtle shift in meaning between father and mother, as for the persistence of this in English look here.

“The father of x” while this can be quite common identifying tag “Steve is the father of Mary from round the corner.” It also acknowledges importance (often founding) in a field. “Jon is the father of post-modern deconstructionism”. This can also be applied within organisations indicating responsibility but not necessarily founding status. “Simon is the father of our Bournemouth operation.” This is occasionally used across gender lines but most would switch to mother if you’re not sure then use something else. To many people, “Madonna is the father of modern pop” just sounds weird.

“To be a father to x” this indicates a paternal (sometimes literally) role towards someone else, possibly a mentee/mentor relationship but often less formal. “Carl is like a father to me, he’s taught me so much about running the business”.

“To grandfather/ (be grandfathered) in” This one comes from employment unions when someone is grandfathered in they are accepted but not as a new applicant/apprentice but as a skilled, valuable and experienced person (often with a higher rate of pay, greater responsibility). This one can be used for members of either sex, although it may sound odd to some. “In recognition of her years of experience Sue was grandfathered into the union.”

“X is the daddy” to say that something “is the daddy” means it’s the biggest and or best of the type. “While it came late to the console market for many people the X-box remains the daddy of them all.”

“Who’s your daddy?” this is usually an assertion of victory, dominance or primacy often used quite aggressively and in fairly childish contexts. “Despite losing all night “Who’s your daddy” he shouted at the pinball machine every few minutes steadily feeding more coins in.”

“Dadspam” these are those jokes, images & videos that most of us get from older relatives who have recently (finally) gotten email.

“Dad-splain” a version of man-splain where a man regardless of relevant knowledge and/or experience attempts to explain something to a woman who may know a lot more about it than them. “Dad-splain” is when fathers (let’s face it guys it usually is) try to explain something to their children despite not knowing much about it, often embarrassingly in front of the children’s friends.

“Father: give me strength/have mercy” these reference prayers part of the Christian influence on the English language. In prayer and hymn God is often addressed as father.

Happy 100th birthday to the Women’s institute (gendered language in English)

Today is the 100th anniversary of the WI (Women’s Institute)  in the UK. This very stereotypically British organisation was actually originally founded in Stoney Creek Ontario in 1897.

Our local branch is just outside the Historic Roman and Saxon cities of Winchester.

WI House from Google Streetview

In Honour of the centenary let’s look at gender in the English Language.

English is less inflectional and less gendered than many other European languages. However, there are some areas where English is still quite gendered and one area is our pronouns.

He/She/It (the 3rd Person):

It’s annoying when students assume that because someone is an academic, and a professor that they are male. Especially as more and more women are staying in academia longer and more successfully. Keep in mind that the only person to ever win two Nobel prizes in different fields was Marie Skłodowska Curie.  So claims that “language hasn’t caught up yet” and “it’s only a recent phenomenon” are hollow and puerile.

There remains some debate about how to talk about lone (or hypothetical) individuals of neutral or neither gender. Using “he” is problematic because the person may or may not be a “he”. Statistically speaking in the UK despite the fact that slightly more male children are born than female this indefinite person is more likely to be female.  Using “she” is just as problematic. Historically, there was a bias towards using “he” but switching to “she” is overcompensating and when traditionally masculinity, roles, and identity are undergoing changes already this could only worsen the impact for many.

If you find “(s)he”, “she or he”, and “he/she” or my personal bête noir “it” awkward, clumsy and generally lacking in style and flair. You wouldn’t be alone. There have been numerous attempts to insert a gender neutral third person singular pronoun into English. The fact that there have been so many attempts should tell you something; they failed. Whether it is “X” “Xe” (incidentally this would be pronounced ‘she’ by speakers of some languages) “ ‘e” or even the Greek letter sigma “∑”. None of them were widely adopted, remained persistent within certain groups, or even consistently applied within the originating academic disciplines and/or schools of thought.

The problem is inventing a new word isn’t easy. Inventing a new word in a closed syntactic category is next to impossible. One thing all the examples above lack is pronounceability. A novel word needs to be pronounceable or it won’t catch on. Another is that English already has words which (in almost all situations) meet this need. What is this magical expression you ask “they”. Yes traditionally they and there are associated with plural 3rd person usage. But, English would not be alone in using a plural for a singular in certain situations. Additionally, this use is already fairly widespread and in most situations does not introduce any ambiguity.

Consider this sentence. “Sam said they’re still coming this morning but they’d be late; they have to drop their children off at school.” We don’t know in this case whether Sam is short for Samantha or Samuel (or perhaps just Sam. But, we do know who “they” and “their” refers to.

Women’s / Men’s magazines:

The glossy press is one area where gendering is still particularly strong. But, both the terms “men’s magazine” and “women’s magazine” are quite dismissive. Perhaps this is because they are being defined by their target audience and assumptions about them as a group rather than their content.

Chairperson:

We’ve probably all heard the joke that “90% of chair people are women” the punch line is that “it’s still only 10% of chairmen that are chairpersons”. Chairperson is one of the terms thought of collectively as political correctness and perhaps because of this not as widely used as it might be. In academia there was already fairly wide use of “Chair” as a role before chairperson became common. However, this remains persistent Google has 24 million hits for chairperson, and 249 million for chairman (more than 10 times as many) so we still have a lot of work to do. And that’s not all, there is still a huge pay gap.

Marginalisation through child terms:

Women are still much more likely to be called girls, than men are to be called boys. Where men are collectively referred to as boys it’s usually an affectionate closeness. While this does cover some uses of girls the term is applied much more broadly.

Personnel Access Conduit Sealing Device:

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

Image under creative commons from The Tire Zoo on twitr

This is the politically correct term for what was historically referred to as a “Man Hole Cover”. So perhaps correctness can go a bit far. When nobody knows what you mean any more; you’re not using language effectively.