steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Glass-Half-Full Grammar

Those of you who learned French - do you remember the lesson where they taught you about the third person plural pronoun? To recap: if you're talking about a group of males, it's "ils"; if a group of females it's "elles". But if it's a mixed group? Well, of course it's "ils", even if there's just one male and 999 females, so humiliating would it be for any man to have "elle" slapped on him. Besides, the rules seem to declare, men are simply more important.

I'm sure many have raged against this very patriarchal piece of grammar - including my daughter. However, today, my Japanese teacher told me that when she was learning French, her teacher (a man) had a different explanation: "If you have a glass of water and someone pees in it, it doesn't matter whether how much. Even if it's just a drop - you're still not going to drink from that glass."

Yes, I know it's problematic in its own right, but what a useful corrective to an age-old unfairness! (When I told my daughter this, she laughed like a drain.)
Tags: language
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