The EU’s plot to ban ‘ladies and gentlemen’ was pure wickedness

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As the Swinging Sixties began, Lonnie Donegan enjoyed four weeks at number one in the hit parade with My Old Man’s a Dustman. Today it would have to be My Non-Birthing Parent’s a Refuse Collector.

No absurdity is too great for the warriors for whom expunging sexual differences in language is “our new national mission”, not sticking needles in arms for Covid boosters.

But now they have gone too far even for the European Commission, which has binned (recycled) a 32-page document banning phrases such as ladies and gentleman (to be replaced with dear colleagues) and man-made (human-induced or synthetic).

I suspect the only reason that the document has been dumped is that normal people who do not spend all day in meetings with dear colleagues have responded with rage and mockery. No doubt EU commissioners will regroup and smuggle through ever more foolish demands about the words we use.

This is not a marginal silly-season tale of avoiding offensive terms like black bags (for Lonnie’s dustbin). Indeed a responsible council like Carmarthernshire’s still has a whole section online headed Black Bags (“Remember you can put out a maximum of three black bags every fortnight”). No, we’re talking about the native tongue by which people express identity and define their thoughts.

The European Commissioner responsible for equality, Helena Dalli, is out to destroy more than casually sexist terms such as fireman (to be replaced with the bellicose firefighter). She wanted the word Christmas dropped in favour of holidays. This is objectionable to my ears not just because it is an Americanism, but because it suggests that everyone takes time off at the end of December simply to thicken their fat deposits and sleep off their hangovers, without the slightest reference to the birth of Jesus.

It’s nonsense to try to ban the word Christmas even in unbelieving Britain, as it’s the nation’s most popular festival. Indeed the great motive at the moment to avoid spreading Covid seems to be to ”save Christmas”. But more common words have already been made taboo here, as if they were unmentionably dirty.

For a generation we have been told that man must not be used to mean “human being”. And it’s worked. It wouldn’t work in German, where man had come to mean “one” or “you”: Man darf das nicht “You mustn’t do that.”

This is the real trouble with rewriting languages, especially in a bloc like the EU, where people have died for their nations and languages. Languages have real genders, and they can’t be changed by declaring a new gender identity, like some man who declares himself a woman to get into the women’s changing-rooms.

If European commissioners stuck to French, the natural language of bureaucracy, instead of using English when it suits them, they would have to admit that a car, voiture, is feminine, and if they wanted to talk of a man’s car they must use a feminine possessive adjective: sa voiture. And, to speak of a woman’s new bag, sac, which is masculine, they use the masculine possessive adjective: son sac.

In English, we are rather tempted to use their when we want to keep secret the sex of the person referred to. “I met someone who wanted to show me their etchings,” a husband might report to his wife when he gets home late.

The trouble is that to adopt they, them, their, theirs as a universal gender-neutral suite can get us into ambiguities about how many people we’re talking about.

Anyway, I very much regret that the use of language has been turned into a party political thing. The Left think that the Right are not people with different opinions, but that they are bad people. Now we’re in danger of being deemed bad people for using the word policeman or postman.

The RAF has just banned airman in favour of aviator. I can’t say I find aviator offensive. It was invented before heavier-than-air flying-machines, as in The Clipper of the Clouds (1887), a translation of a Jules Verne novel whose hero, Robur, flies a sort of battery-driven helicopter.

The RAF would like more women to fly aircraft. Perhaps some people want more women to be dustmen, though it doesn’t seem an ambitious career goal. The dustmen in my neighbourhood are still male, though I notice that the dustcarts are no longer called Dennis.

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