Used to be there wasn’t as much difference between generations but we’re living in accelerated times. Everything’s happening in a hurry. I guess we’re into Gen Z now, which means there are 68 million new sheriffs in town, and there are new rules. We can take offense (as often as possible), but we must never give offense. That’s laudable, but confusing for us elders, because we never intend to and don’t know exactly when or how we’re doing it.
That’s where the new rules come in. Once you memorize the rules you won’t even have to think. You just consult the lexicon. This is a rather different protocol than we grew up with.
That accelerated-generation thing was underway early. A person graduating from high school in 1960 was so different from one that graduated in 1970 that they might as well have been fifty years apart. I have a friend only about ten years older than me who still says “Oriental” instead of “Asian.” He hasn’t kept up. Every time I hear him say it, I wince. Lately I got to wondering how “Oriental” became offensive. It just means Eastern; it’s really not much different from Asian. I guess it just carries the stain of the condescending attitude of those who used it, or rather our assumption of that condescension. (It didn’t help that my friend usually used it in the construction “A little Oriental gal.”)
It’s probably a hallmark of every new generation that they can see clearly the ills of society and what needs to change, and change can’t come soon enough. Which is fine, if you can accomplish it, but these things might take a little time. Young people are impatient; they don’t have enough years stacked up to see the changes.
So check this out, my young darlings. There used to be a riddle that utterly confounded people in the ‘60s. It went like this: Father and son are found in car wreck, father is dead, injured son is taken to hospital. Doctor takes one look at the boy and says “I can’t do the surgery, he’s my son!” Confounded, I tell you. His father was dead! What could this possibly MEAN?
There is no one under sixty today who would even know how this could be a riddle. It shouldn’t be. But that’s how much things have changed.
Now, for us old people, who, I might remind the young, have experience with the ephemeral nature of trends and the pendulum of time and a long perspective and seriously-calcified brains that we are nevertheless still fond of, we are required to keep up with the demands of a new earnest generation and their revisions and commandments, which seem constant and perplexing and too mercurial to grasp. We are expected to adopt new language and concepts, and we are expected to learn a person’s preferred pronouns and current preferred name, which is subject to change, when we were already having trouble keeping track of what we shouldn’t serve them for dinner.
It’s a lot to ask of a generation that spends a lot of time standing and staring and wondering what they came in a room for. That brain thing is no joke. There’s all these little holes. Stuff crusts over in there and sometimes little chunks rattle around and fall out. Every now and then the crust breaks through and an idea or a memory or the end of our sentences come shooting out, but then it slips out one of the little holes again. We have perspective and knowledge and wisdom, a greater grasp of time—we’re sure of it—we just can’t remember the words for it. We sound dumb as hell. We might well be, but we think it’s something else.
So, back to the 68 million new sheriffs. I have a younger friend in whom empathy is a well-trained muscle. She is patient, thoughtful, wise, and loving. She is my guiding light for remaining open to the new; I rely on her to counter my crankiness. And she sees all this up close with her own children. They are compassionate by decree, and studiously sensitive to everyone but—oh—her. Her take? Well, they feel aggrieved. Victimized, often. They’ve learned to see injustice everywhere and they’re determined to correct it. She pauses to absorb the feeling, the better to appreciate it. And so they feel entitled to tell you what you are, and are not, allowed to say and what you are, and are not, allowed to think.
Can you break that down for me?
They’re little assholes.
All righty then. I’m careful before signing on to any new doctrine; I‘ve seen how quickly they change. But basically, good on ‘em. A lot of things in the world are still wrong but all I know is if you can suck six figures out of a jury by enduring a non-consensual butt pat, I’m due for some serious reparations.
I have to admit that I have trouble with the whole pronoun thing. I wish that they had just made up some non-gender specific pronouns instead of using plural pronouns for single people. Sometimes I’ll be reading an interview with someone in the Sunday NYT magazine (and if one is reading a newspaper, FFS, you know you’re old!) It will be the interviewer and the interviewee. Then they’ll start with the they/them, and I’m wondering, “Wait a minute… who are these other people? When did THEY show up?” So I’ll scan the opening paragraphs, and there it’ll be: their preferred pronouns. I’d like to say this has only happened a time or two, but sadly, no. There are definite disadvantages to being a speed reader, but it’s the only way to get through the Sunday NYT.
I’m wondering how the French are taking all this. After all, they assign gender to inanimate objects. They even have officials who assign genders to new words. Even as a high school student taking 2 years of French, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how a book or a table could have a gender.
The French use “On” as in one. Works well I think. I wonder if they are having any she/her, he/him controversies. I would imagine if “on” is still in use, they wouldn’t. I have a granddaughter who uses they/them and I can’t get used to it. They is/are? 20 so I’ve called her “her” for a very long time. Old dog, new tricks, etc.
Yeah, you guys, I am actually surprised with how often this trips me up. And I do think it’s an old dog thing. When I waver, I remind myself that I do not want to recycle Republican talking points.
Hmm. I’ll no doubt be in the minority here, but that’s not unusual.
I fear this sounds a lot like my dad, 55 years ago: “You kids today, with your hair, and your music. In my day…”
I have three kids, youngest is 34, and 3 grandkids, all who fit the profile of “I’m pissed, and it’s your generation I blame”
Can’t say I disagree…we did a lot of good, causing the end of the Viet Nam war, getting government to act on civil rights, etc.
Then, we kind of eased back into the roles our parents inhabited. Oh, we still would sometimes wake up and protest some random thing, but we elected Reagan, two Bush’s, and after toying with being ‘woke’ again with Obama, we elected trump.
So we don’t have much to suggest that we were a ‘great generation’, nor to argue that we have much to teach to the youngers. They have all the evidence in front of them, on wikipedia. lol
Not a minority opinion here, I don’t think.
Hope I’m not being too didactic here, but “Oriental” became offensive when we realized how Eurocentric it is. Directions are relative, right? I mean, Asia is west of you, Murr, and me too (I’m in Sacramento). But it’s east of Europe, so calling Asia “the East” implies that you think Europe is the center of the world. And even though most Americans believe that mantle was transferred to America a long time ago, a lot of our terminology still betrays that old Eurocentric (i.e., white) bias.
I guess, but doesn’t most of the world call us the western world? What’s the consensus worldwide of what the “eastern” and “western” hemispheres are?
“eastern” hemisphere is verbal and “western” hemisphere is spacial? 😆
I feel spacial!
The first use of “they” as a singular pronoun, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in 1375. Apparently it took the medieval romance “William and the Werewolf” to use it.
More recently (1800’s, I think) it was used to conceal the gender of someone involved in a crime, mostly in legal write-ups. Why say “she” is suspected of murder when you really don’t know yet and don’t want to prejudice the public. No need to telegraph who you think did it. The suspect was often referred to as “they” just to conceal their gender.
Might be sort of the way it works now!
I very much approve of the recent switch (I mean official switch) to “they” to avoid “he or she.” I got that one under my tongue in a heartbeat.
“They” sounds schizophrenic when referring to a singular per-son/per-daughter. I prefer reserving that pronoun for multiple bodies. In my frustration, might I recommend a replacement for the multi-personality “they?”
For a scholarly presentation of objections to the word “Oriental,” see Edward W. Said’s 1978 book “Orientalism.” The Wikipedia summary looks pretty good.
As for pronouns, I wish people had come up with an entirely new pronoun that’s not an obvious plural, so I wouldn’t keep making number errors when reading about people. I’d be willing to go along with that, peculiar as it might be.
That said, the phrase “pregnant people” that I suddenly started noticing drives me nuts. (“Short drive,” my wife would say.) I had never before seriously considered using the phrase “politically correct.”
And BTW, Mike, “WE elected Reagan, two Bush’s…WE elected trump”? C’mon! Yes, a list of my mistakes would reach from here to there and back again but THOSE are not among them.
Gotta say, though, my cohort changed pretty fast once we got that war out of the way and started making money.
I’m still calling everyone he and she or him and her unless they specifically tell me otherwise. So far no one has objected.
I remember that riddle and still remember the answer.
It was not obvious in the ‘Sixties.
“Garden gloves…hat…garden gloves…hat…” is me, heading into the garage and trying to remember what I went there for. I still forgot the hat.
“Foot…” is me in the shower, trying to remember that I am washing my foot and don’t have to do it later.
I lather rinse forget and repeat.
I can write things down on my shopping list, in the very order i will find it in the store, cross off what I’ve put in my cart… and I STILL forget things! My husband, after going on a bike ride and obviously having had his keys on him to get here, couldn’t find them. He was looking everywhere… and then I spotted them tucked into the back of his bike shorts. (Not a pretty sight at our age.) I used a few expletives about this.
This looks like a good spot for the relevant Billy Collins poem (the first of his that I ever read):
BY BILLY COLLINS
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Good one. I can’t reliably navigate to the end of a sentence I initiated.
My problem is remembering the beginning of my wife’s sentences by the time she gets to the end. Sounds like you and I are both stoned.
Don’t you think perpetual outrage must be really, really exhausting?
I watch a lot of old movies — 1930s to 1950s — and if you want plenty of casual sexism, racism, whatever backward “ism” you like, that era’s a cinematic hotbed. But my reaction tends to be huge eye-roll, rueful laughter, and a loud, “JEEZ!”, rather than red-hot anger. “Let him who is without sin . . .” and all that jazz. We really HAVE come a long way, even if there’s lots of road yet to be traveled.
BTW – I have trouble with “they” as a singular pronoun, too. Need a new word, instead. Once you hit 70, it’s a tough realignment, especially for grammar nerds.
(Also, in an interesting synchronicity, I was just recalling that very riddle a few days ago, and rolling my eyes!)
Perpetual outrage is exhausting and contagious. I veer.
I read a book about social media and how they exacerbate outrage. Whatever you click on, they give you more of it. AND it turns out that outrage ups your dopamine levels. But they quickly drop, so you need more outrage to get you going again. And social media is glad to comply, because the more clicks you give them, the more money from their advertisers. In other words, outrage is addictive. Frankly, I prefer alcohol.
And I don’t really watch old movies anymore, but I do listen to jazz. Some of the lyrics, I just roll my eyes and bang my head. They’re usually sung by women, and have lyrics about him being bad to her, but she LOOOOVES him! One I especially roll my eyes at is Black Coffee. A woman just sitting in her rocking chair after her man leaves her, drinking black coffee and waiting for him to come back. FFS! Get out there and have a martini in a bar and chat with strangers! Or take a class! Just get out there and forget about that mo’ fo’.
You gotta watch that eye-rollin’ though in case it snaps the cord and it’s perpetual sunshine.
“Just roll them eyes right out that door!” — Walt Kelly
I was in the student office at PCC and they had these cute wooden pins with strange words , looked like Chinese, and I brought them home. My 27 year old daughter told me that they were alternative pronouns! I try to jog along with the cultural trends but I’m a bit slow.
How many were there? University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee has a gender pronoun usage guide complete with a table of subjective, objective, possessive, and reflexive pronouns — amounting to 45 pronouns. Should I ever find myself plunged into a largely LGBTQ+ environment I will probably learn them, and if I don’t, I probably won’t.
Aw, jeeze! I think I’m going to start referring to myself as “we”, “us”, and “our” when dealing with young people (which, fortunately I do not have to do very often.) When they ask “who is “we”? I can say, “Yah! You SEE how confusing this is?”
Also, I can’t keep the letters straight in this acronym. I wish they had come up with something a little “catchier” and easy to say.
OMG–when I’m addressed by a nurse with the question, “How are we today?” I will invariably answer, “I can’t speak for you, but I’m . . . ”
However, the chance to confuse a whole ‘nuther generation by adopting its use hold some allure.
I once read that the answer to that question could be “Judging by the way I feel and the way you look, we’re both in trouble!”
Wait, I’m not visualizing the pins.
I keep vacillating between candlepins and duckpins, with an occasional belaying pin thrown in.
This is, by far, the best explanation I’ve ever read regarding pronouns: https://thebloggess.com/2021/06/09/non-binary-pronouns-its-complicated-but-wonderful-things-usually-are/
It educated me and changed my perspective forever. Go, bees!
My dad always called the wondering thing “Thinking about the Hereafter”, as in, “What am I here after?”
That’s a good one. Here’s where I’m at: when someone asks me “Well, what does it mean to you to feel like a woman?” I have to say “I have no idea.” I never have. Even when I was a teenager I couldn’t imagine feeling any other way than Me. And who knows who that is? Perhaps if I’d had the vocabulary (the vocabulary, I’m certain, changes how we think) I’d have said I was non-binary, but I doubt it. I have too little allegiance to the accepted standards to feel offended by someone’s mischaracterization.
Also, I have no idea, this time of night, if what I just wrote made any sense.
At this time of Happy “Hour”, it makes perfect sense.
I hope you’ll explain the riddle!
In some families we have pronouns that are correct for only a short period of time, until those family members consider other possibilities. Recently I used “they” with one of my exploring grandchildren and was informed by their brother that the correct one was now “he”.
Oh dear! And please tell me you’re kidding about the riddle.
As a 77 year old, well past fertility, and well past menopause, I go by “it.” Nevertheless, I’m still brazenly OUT as a ‘heterosexual’.
I’m brazenly out as a “who cares.”
Yeah, I no longer even have a libido anymore since menopause. But I still dress as a woman and identify as a woman, even though I am basically a eunuch in drag.
As a 77 year old, well past fertility and well past menopause, I go by “it.” Nevertheless, I’m still brazenly OUT as a heterosexual.
As several people have suggested above, I too, would like to see a totally new pronoun created, one that would avoid the singular/plural confusion caused by using ‘they’. I think back to school, where we were taught that the 1st-person singular could be “he, she, or it”. Why not combine all three options into a new, neutral pronoun? Oh wait. In rapidly spoken speech, the amalgam of he-she-it, would come out as “h’shit” — more like someone having a sneeze while speaking Hebrew. I guess that would be a little distracting, huh?
BTW, I want a copy of that picture of you playing guitar while sitting on the trunk lid of the family’s Volvo. That’s classic!
Why, I’ll shoot you one. That photo was taken in North Carolina a few hours before the solar total eclipse of, maybe, 1970?
CORRECTION: That is “3rd-person singular”, not 1st-person singular!!!
I always thought of the word ‘oriental’ as opposite to ‘occidental’. It does make the point for ‘point of view’ being Eurocentric.
And when confused, I just shout out, “The hippies were right!’.
This is all wonderful….many thanks for making my day.
“You” used to be only second person plural and second person formal, IIRC. Things change. People are already comfortable using “they” and “their” as singular in some contexts, e.g. “someone left their keys”.
Our oldest grandchild requests “they/them/their” pronouns, and it has taken some getting used to, but well worth it in my opinion. More confusing is using “she/her/hers” to refer to them with their parents.