How are you?’ The checkout chick was efficiently processing my many purchases. The lengthening queue behind me was growing restless, but still she had time to show concern about my wellbeing. The butcher and the electronics salesman had already asked me, how I was, but I sensed their enquiries weren’t sincere. This motherly lady’s interest in my personal problems so touched me that I was tempted to tell her how my beloved parakeet had escaped its cage this morning and that my niece was marrying a loser who had been mooching off her for the past six months. The man standing behind me sensed something was up and aimed some snarky remarks in my direction. I had to content myself with the traditional standby response of ‘fine thanks.’
It’s probably politically incorrect these days to say chick and definitely not appropriate in this case. This particular chick was sixty if she was a day. The term rolls naturally off my tongue, I find it hard to break old habits. Maybe if I could think of a satisfactory replacement term. Check-out lady or person doesn’t have the same ring to it. And even though the electronics salesman was a man, I shouldn’t have called him salesman. Salesperson is the preferred gender neutral term.
Political correctness is a minefield, don’t you think? Especially as the terms of reference are not only changing daily but also inconsistent. You say chairperson for a man but I’ve noticed some women prefer to be addressed as chairwoman. I’m not sure if it’s heroine for one or hero for both, but I’m hearing actor for both sexes. You can’t say guys any more. It used to be a generic term to address mixed groups. The best suggestions I found online were, ‘folks’, ‘people’ , ‘can I get everyone’s attention’ and ‘humans’. (Really. I think that person got it out of the Merriam Webster dictionary). My favourite, though, is Captain Picard’s announcement that he and his crew are heading to places ‘where no one has gone before.’ It surely predicts that future language will shift from gender neutral to gender nullius. Perhaps that’s the answer to life, the universe and gender war.
I think the best way to keep up with the constant changes is to produce a 21st Century online manual that has the capacity to roll with the many and varied changes still to come. It’s obvious that we can no longer keep up with the changes. Perhaps we can direct our electronically savvy children at it.