He/she, PC, Tee-hee!

Many years ago, before it became fashionable, I rewrote the general conditions for an owner to make them gender-neutral. The task wasn't really all that difficult, usually requiring only minor changes in sentences and paragraphs.

Occasionally, though, it is difficult to express an idea without referring to a given entity more than once in a sentence. In those cases, it is possible to use the proper name twice, but using a pronoun sounds better. For example, "The Contractor shall protect his backside" reads a lot better than "The Contractor shall protect the Contractor's backside." The neuter pronoun "it" is o.k. when referring to the contractor, who can easily be seen as a corporate entity, but we tend to think of the architect and the engineer as people.

Unfortunately, we don't have a good gender-neutral pronoun. We sometimes see "he/she" in print, but don't use it in speech; the closest we can come is to say "he or she," "him or her," and so on. Still, it does make sense to use gender-neutral terms when speaking of companies, or of offices or positions that are held by individuals. We continue to have difficulty with it in everyday speech, but written documents can be made gender-neutral with little effort.

Robert Rules!

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter recently revised its bylaws. If you're not familiar with the process, the chapter prepares a draft of its revised bylaws, then sends it to Institute for review. Institute makes necessary corrections and returns it to the chapter. Assuming the chapter has no objections to the changes, they are incorporated into the bylaws and it is presented to the chapter for approval.

As required, we published our new bylaws in the chapter newsletter. And then the fun began. We received a number of calls and e-mails asking a question I had already raised. "Why is it that wherever we used the term 'chair' it was changed to 'chairman'? In other words, why was our gender-neutral document changed to use gender-specific terms?"

The answer? Because Robert's Rules of Order uses the term "chairman". Excuse me? We stopped using fireman, mailman, policeman, etc., so why does Robert continue to live in the last century? It's especially strange in this case, as it was already accepted practice to refer to the office of the person who leads a meeting, e.g., "I wish to address the chair" or "the chair recognizes so-and-so."

This reminded me of a story I heard several years ago about a municipal waste control agency. An agency head decided that the word "manhole" was offensive, and directed that the term "maintenance hole" be used instead.

The result was an addition to the project manual: a paragraph stating that those things that looked like manholes were really maintenance holes. It went on to say that wherever "manhole" was used in a quotation or the title of a reference standard, it really meant maintenance hole.

2002 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA


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