LINGUIST List 3.752

Wed 07 Oct 1992

Disc: Sexism in Language

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Swann Philip, 3.740 Non-Sexist language
  2. Stephen P Spackman, Re: 3.740 Non-Sexist language

Message 1: 3.740 Non-Sexist language

Date: Mon, 5 Oct 1992 10:14:01 +3.740 Non-Sexist language
From: Swann Philip <>
Subject: 3.740 Non-Sexist language

This discussion is going a bit far! The goal of the original posting
was apparently to gather data to pressure the car-dealer into taking
his sign down because the poster found it offensive. Perhaps the next
target should be t.v. shows like Miami Vice?

Nobody has ever produced any evidence that you can change the way
people think by suppressing the public expression of their thoughts.
This is why free societies have remained so attached to the idea of
freedom of speech, while legislating against harmful actions that may
derive directly or indirectly from speech acts. The way you change an
individual's idea is by selling them a replacement idea that they
perceive as more likely to serve their (selfish) goals: this is called
propaganda. Effective propaganda usually involves lying to people and
therefore inevitably leads to censorship in a hopeless attempt to
prevent people from discovering the lies; when censorship fails to
stop people discovering the lies of propaganda it gets used to
suppress the public expression of people's disbelief. We are all
participants in this universal cycle and, as recent posting here show,
there is probably no escape from it.

Philip Swann
University of Geneva
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Message 2: Re: 3.740 Non-Sexist language

Date: Tue, 06 Oct 92 13:35:00 +0Re: 3.740 Non-Sexist language
From: Stephen P Spackman <>
Subject: Re: 3.740 Non-Sexist language

In 3.740.1 of this list, "Ellen F. Prince" <>

|wrong, as i see it. sure, _dog_ can refer to a male low-life, but i know of
|NO stereotype that says females will attract males of high moral character
|if they have a fancy sportscar. in contrast, there is a very well-entrenched
|stereotype that males will attract good-looking females if they have a fancy
|sportscar. thus which sense of this polysemous item is selected is not random--
|context counts.

I don't think it needs a stereotype! It's a cross-species truism that
good mating displays are important to reproductive success.

In any event, there certainly *is* a stereotype of long standing to the
effect that one of the best things that can happen to a man is to be
picked up by a (beautiful busty blonde) woman driving, oh, an Alfa Romeo
(admittedly with an American sportscar we're on dodgy ground, but that's
just what the ad is trying to change).

Feminist theory may have it, of course, that the driver of the car in
this scenario is being exploited by the hitchhiker, but it's hard to see
this situation as that asymmetric.

The point here is that "high moral character" has nothing to do with the
Sportscar Mating Strategy - low moral character (or whatever else "dog"
might mean) is just the occasion for invoking it. What the sportscar
(supposedly - I would expect it even works better empirically than the
other received strategies based on personal appearance) buys you is your
*pick* of (for the sake of argument) beaux. Many people, for instance,
like them seedy - but plentiful....

(This is not to lose sight of the fact that the billboard as reported
was indeed in questionable taste. But I expect that the intent was
humorous - might it not even have had an aspect of self-criticism?)
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