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The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing: For writers, editors and speakers [Paperback]

Kate Swift
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 11, 2001 0595159214 978-0595159215 2
Man, he brotherhood, founding fathers. It is argued that such words are and always have been used by educated people to encompass all humanitymen and women. Psychological and historical research in the past few years has produced evidence to the contrary: for most people false generics seldom if ever convey a female image, nor are they ancient unchangeable rules of the English grammar that have always been used by the educated.Using hundreds of examples, mostly from published sources, the authors illustrate what certain words are saying to us on a subliminal level. Solutions are supplied that range from word substitutions to suggestions for rewriting. Without a trace of self-conscious righteousness, and with refreshing humor, Miller and Swift provide surprising insights into the English language and the ways in which people use it and are used by it. They demonstrate that to be in command of the language, we must find clear, convincing, and graceful ways to convey our ideas accurately. We must recognize and replace exclusive, distorting, ambiguous, and injurious words.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Casey Miller and Kate Swift worked together as coauthors and freelance editors for nearly thirty years until Millers death in 1997. Miller, an Ohio native and graduate of Smith College. Was formerly an editor with the Seabury Press and other publishers, including Colonial Williamsburg, Inc. She served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Swift, a New Yorker, had been a science writer with the American Museum of Natural History and later the Yale School of Medicine, A graduate of the University of North Carolina, she served in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse; 2 edition (January 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0595159214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0595159215
  • Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,126,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and very helpful September 26, 2001
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Ercongota, daughter of a seventh-century English king, as "a wonderful man." No, she didn't have a sex change. In her day, "man" was a true generic term meaning "person" or "human being." Many older English writings do indeed use "man" in this sense. But, as this book explains, our language has changed, and this generic usage is no longer appropriate. Problem is, many writers who grew up on the classics have internalized the outdated language of our literary ancestors. One of the reasons I bought this book was to learn how to update my writing style.

The first chapter, "Man as a False Generic," traces the history of gender usages in the English language. This chapter did a great deal to help me personally overcome my initial negative reactions to "feminist" language by explaining how English has grown and evolved over the centuries. For example, "you" was once a plural only (the singular being "thou"), and the use of "they" was once a legitimate generic singular pronoun. Such classical writers as William Thackeray, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even William Shakespeare used it regularly. Only later, in the 18th century, did it go out of fashion. Now it's back in style again, as a gender-free alternative to "he." (Example: "Each person can decide what they want.")

What I like best about the Handbook is the way it uses actual examples (both good and bad) from published works to illustrate its points. Especially interesting were the references from old grammar books, some of which were so absurdly outdated that I literally laughed out loud.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What will I do when my copy wears out! November 1, 1998
I'm so very sorry to see that this book has gone out of print! I'm an editor and writer and this gem has taught me a great deal about writing in a genderless way. Plus it has snippits about how our language got the way it is -- let's bring it back!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly good. Certainly worth reading. May 9, 2001
My views on the English language are somewhat conservative, so I approached this book with suspicion and an intent simply to broaden my horizons. To my relief, even though I do not agree with all its conclusions, I've found the book definitely worthwhile.
It is short but well-written and thorough, tackling major issues in nonsexist writing with humor and clarity. Its detailed, structured table of contents is especially helpful as it enables the reader to get quickly to a desired topic, whether it be the use of "man" as a suffix, "'they" as a singular, gratuitous modifiers, assigning gender to gender-neutral terms, or whatnot. Its examples of (allegedly) sexist and nonsexist writing are useful, and frequently are pulled from actual published works. Shakespeare, for example, is quoted as having written "God send everyone their heart's desire," which is used as evidence that "their" as a singular pronoun has not always been taboo in English; it is only since the eighteenth or nineteenth century, the authors argue, that grammarians began eschewing "their" in favor of "his." Helpful reference notes to books and scholarly articles are included for readers who want to check up on such claims. (This I certainly intend to do in a few cases, in particular with regard to the authors' interesting assertion that Thomas Jefferson meant only males when he wrote in his Declaration that "all men are created equal.")
I must mention that the authors occasionally lapse into what I can only term idiocy. For example, they apparently believe that the use of "man" as a verb (e.g.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I am fortunate enough to have known both Kate and Casey. Having written this book, they made great use of what they knew and taught us. My favorite story is about convincing a Connecticut congressional representative, Nancy Johnson that she was not a Congress Man, but it took several attempts. Finally, another Republican woman Rep. switched, and so did Congresswoman Johnson.

It was a process that would play out many thousands of times with as many women and more. We are all grateful to them for giving us the language and courage to make what we say more accurately describe our experience.

I worked with adolescent girls for years. Given some cultural influences on them, their struggle is not between using 'man' or 'woman,' but in not seeing one thing wrong with referring to each another as 'bitches' and 'hos'.It happens across all cultural and economic strata. For them the book is even more relevant now than then, as it is for the women in their lives who serve as role models, teachers, and family.
Gayle Brooks
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