Cheney Free Press -

Neutering our state's language taking away from more important things

In our opinion


Goodbye penmanship.

While the study of how to properly craft the written word on paper with a pen or pencil – now to be known as handwriting – has been largely a thing of the past in our schools for years, the word itself will no longer exist – at least in the lexicon of the state of Washington.

And while it maybe makes some sense in an ever-emerging digital world to put less emphasis on the actual written word, the idea that the word itself will go away from use in the language of the laws of the state is the important thing.

It’s all part of Senate Bill 5077, sponsored by Democratic lawmaker Jeanne Kohl-Wells from Seattle’s 36th Legislative District, which encompasses Ballard and the Queen Ann areas. It’s a nearly 500-page document which we hope is entirely gender neutral.

With some revisions that eliminated, hmmm, duplication of sections, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the original bill. A new version, however, was signed and will become law July 28.

Along with words and titles that we’re now familiar with such as firefighters, clergy and police officers, get ready for ombuds in place of ombudsman and security guards for watchmen. Those will join dairy farmers, formerly known as dairymen and freshmen replaced by first-year students.

So just who is this cleansing of volumes and volumes of state law such a big deal to that it is taking years of time from state’s code reviser to accomplish?

Well, Seattle City Councilwoman (‘er Councilmember) Sally Clark for one. Clark was one of the catalysts for the change. She and a former colleague brought the matter up to Kohl-Welles in 2006.

“Some people would say ‘oh, it’s not a big thing, do you really have to go through the process of changing the language,’” Clark told the Associated Press in February. “But language matters. It’s how we signal a level of respect for each other.”

But of the 150-plus comments posted about the story, just a tiny sliver agreed the effort was worthwhile.

Kyle Thiessen, the state’s code reviser, along with two attorneys, has been working on the project since 2008. We’re waiting for his office to give us an idea of the cost, both up to this point and the cost moving forward.

We’re all in agreement when there is a seriously offensive word or term. Mapmakers for years have been busy cleansing mountain peaks, valley and creeks of notably offensive – generally to Native Americans – terms. Hangman Creek has reverted in name largely to its geographic roots of Latah Creek.

The question should be raised, when does the tedious process of sanitizing the state’s language supersede:

• Balancing a still out of whack budget?

• Giving more money we don’t have to a broken education system?

• Grappling with how the state will deal with the emerging endless unforeseen mazes found in the Affordable Care Act?

Does the long-held term manhole cover offend women enough to demand such a costly change? What’s harmful about a term whose origins simply described it for what it was or is?

Is the word freshman really derogatory and hurting the self-esteem of first-year students at Eastern Washington University that much? Enough that not only will the language of state laws be altered, but likely volumes of written, printed and online material from EWU, the city of Cheney, Cheney schools and so on and so on. All at a cost we’re sure Kohl-Wells and Clark have never even thought about.

This process to neuter our nouns and alter adjectives actually began a full 30 years ago back in 1983 with “All new statutes to be written in gender-neutral terms.”

Still, the end result is not at all likely to alter how Joe and Jane talk publicly.


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