How’s that rule go again? Oh, yes: It’s i after e, but ze before ou. If you’re unfamiliar with ze and ou, it’s probably because you aren’t enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. (aka, Vassar of the West), which is attempting to change English by force.
The Associated Press (via CNSNews) notes that selected students at the school, which admits only women, want to replace the current crop of personal pronouns with variants that better accommodate the needs of those students who do not think of themselves as females.
The weekly meetings of Mouthing Off!, a group for students … who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, always start the same way. Members take turns going around the room saying their names and the personal pronouns they want others to use when referring to them — she, he or something else.
[I]ncreasingly, the ‘shes’ and ‘hers’ that dominate the introductions are keeping third-person company with ‘they,’ ”ze’ and other neutral alternatives meant to convey a more generous notion of gender.
Skylar Crownover, president of Mouthing Off!, is quoted as saying, “Because I go to an all-women’s college, a lot of people are like, ‘If you don’t identify as a woman, how did you get in?’ I just tell them the application asks you to mark your sex and I did. It didn’t ask me for my gender.”
Crownover represents a reportedly growing segment of the population that chooses to self-identify as “genderqueer” — neither male nor female but an androgynous hybrid or rejection of both. Others prefer agender, bigender, third gender, or gender-fluid.
Since everything needs a name (Linguistics 101), English need to distinguish among these brave new categories. Hence, ze, sie, e, ou, and ve. The AP writer doesn’t specify what these curiosities are meant to signify, but seriously, how much do you care?
The article does note that neologisms like ze have begun to find their way into students’ academic papers, and not just at Mills but at institutions of higher learning as far away as Connecticut.
And how are they being received by faculty? Lucy Ferris, a writer-in-residence at Trinity College, in the Nutmeg State, is quoted thus:
There is an initial discomfort. I think it’s probably hypocritical to pretend there isn’t, to say, ‘Ok, that’s what they want to do’ and leave it at that. The people I know who teach will say ‘This is weird and it’s cumbersome and it’s not going to last because it’s not organic.’
So does Ferris believe students should avoid using nonsense words? Not entirely.
Mail carrier did not evolve organically and it’s a lot easier to say mailman. Decades ago there were poets who refused to be called poetesses. Most language has evolved organically, but there have been times — and when it comes to issues of gender there probably have to be times — when there are people willing to push the envelope.
Ferris doesn’t elaborate on how mail carrier is easier to say than mailman, but don’t expect to see ze, sie, e, ou, and ve in the dictionary until blooffgherbxvs can fly. Blooffgherbxvs is our word replacement for pigs, which carries negative connotations.