Fainting in Coyles
An occasional letter from the Heart of Euroville

Tuesday, May 27, 2003  

What do they do with their time?

Trawling through the intranet of the EU institutions one realises that the issues that really shake peoples trees are threefold.
1. Pension rights for EU staffers
2. The state of the restaurants/canteens in the EU offices
3. The perpetual language war. French verses English, often fought by proxy by Belgians, Scandinavians and those from the Med countries.

A few comments on each,
Last night at a dinner a young official in the Directorate General for Administration (Jim Hacker, where are you when your country needs you?) pointed out that the Commission has it very easy; Due to the fact that it is still a young body, and that even today there are some people still working for it who can remember almost to the beggining the employed to retired ratio is still about 4 - 1, meaning that old fashioned structures still work. However attempts to reform the system (By Kinnock - gad I cannot believe that I am about to approve of something he is trying to do) are being opposed by all and sundry. I even had a convesation with an English official who told me that though they had opposed the UK minors strike in the 80's she was going to go on strike for the first time, because her "pension rights were threatened".

It is generally accepted that the canteen of the European Parlament is the best cheap restaurant in Brussels. Which ,means that every lunchtime it is drowning in officials from the Commission, Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee (and no, we don't know what they are for either) and a myriad lobbyists. The food in the other institutions has the ability to send highly paid staff into a towering shudder of rage. They of course have not considered going outside into the unsubsidised world to scoff - nah they wouldn't do that.

Sometimes it is French complaining that people "oo are not Eeenglish, talking een Eenglish in the ascenseur" and everybody else complaini,g that the bottom of the pile Belgian seretaries refuse to speak English. However recently there has been a discussion that touches upon gender problems in lmanguage and I though that you might appreciate this gem from one unnamed official...

In Old English the principal sense of man was "a human". This is also the meaning of the indoeuropean root, cf Sanskrit manusya (humanity), manas (mind), mana (spirit, drive) and mantra (prayer). It is cognate with Lat. mens, mind, Gk mnesia, memory, Russ. mnenie, opinion, Ger. meinen, and with Lat. manu, hand, as well as homo/hominis, humanus, from which we borrow (via Old French) human. Human displaced OE guma, which in OE byrdguma gives bridegroom (the r is folketymological), cf. German gemein. All, in short, pretty "species-oriented", if not indeed more transcendental.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, tells us that the words wer and wyf (or wæpman and wifman) were used to refer to "a male human" and "a female human" respectively.

Wif is cognate with Ger. Weib, Dutch wijf, from proto-Germanic *kwiba. The word can be traced back to the indoeuropean *ghwibha. It is cognate with queen which we get from Old Norse (cf Swedish kvina). The IE root is to be found in Greek huios, son. It also regularly mutates to filius, filia in Latin. So, in fact, it is wife which is derived etymologically from a root which indicated gender only by its ending.

Wer is easier, you recognise Latin vir, Irish fir, and werewolf (man-wolf). This root means male human. The root also appears in world, proto WG *were-ald, "man-age". Just in case you were worried there wasn't enough male bias in our language ;)

In Middle English man displaced wer as the term for "a male human," while wyfman (which evolved into present-day woman) was retained for "a female human." Despite this change, man continued to carry its original sense of "a human" as well. The meaning of wife as spouse is a derived one, thru semantic restriction of the root, whose wider meaning was displaced by wyfman.

Anyone who finds this upsetting might want to exercise their right to restore the original meaning of the word 'man' by making a point of using one of the many freely available terms for male humans such as guy, gent, dude etc. This seems (to my humble mind) like a better strategy than replacing man and its derivatives in its original meaning by mankind, person, etc.

Of course this instructive morsel fell upon deaf ears.

posted by Eliab | 5:04 pm
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