Term is archaic, chauvinistic, oppressive â€“ and out
November 2, 2005
There are no more "freshmen" at Amherst
Regional High School in Massachusetts.
The administration at the school has decided to kill "freshmen" â€“
the term, that is.
Freshmen are now simply ninth-graders for reasons of political correctness.
What could be objectionable about the term "freshmen"?
The last syllable of the word has a male connotation.
And, although Amherst is the first high school in the nation to ban the words
"freshman" and "freshmen" from all official uses, the trend
began in some local colleges â€“ including Amherst, Smith and Mount Holyoke.
Not everyone is celebrating the purge of chauvinism â€“ either real or imagined
â€“ from the campus.
"I think it’s kind of weird," said freshman, er, ninth-grader Sam F.
Hart of Shutesbury. He told the local newspaper, the Republican: "There are
a lot of other words that have man in it. I don’t see it as sexist. Freshmen is
what we’ve always been called."
Marta M. Guevara, assistant principal for student support, said earlier this
month the change to ninth-grader was initiated nearly two years ago during a
week that highlighted issues surrounding violence against women. The week ended
with the student production of the controversial play "The Vagina
This summer, Guevara talked over the idea with her staff and it was agreed the
time for change had come.
public schools supposed to define culture or be guided by it?
"We did it in the hopes of having a conversation about what language
means," Guevara said. "It is an issue for some people. The issue has
to do with the connotation â€“ it’s a male word."
“Man” is no more exclusively a
male word than teacher is exclusively a female word. You’d think that highly educated professionals would know that words can have more than one meaning. The meaning of “man” is sometimes gender neutral. Is that too much for the interpretive abilities of the college educated?
I don’t know what the French will do about this. Every noun in French has a
gender. Perhaps the elite in MA need greater exposure to other cultures to rid
themselves of their obsession with the sexual orientation of words.
Guevara went even further, suggesting there is also a sexual connotation to the
word â€“ as in men being fresh toward women.
should people who are utterly ignorant of the etymology of words have power to
control which words people can use?
The Oxford English Dictionary (2d Ed) pegs the first usage of
"freshman" at c1550. The word meant "a new comer; a novice; a
â€˜new hand’"–like "greenhorn." Fresh as in new,
not as in philander. Heaven forbid that students, let alone teachers,
should have to know the etymology of words. They should be allowed to interpret
words based on informal uses and stereotyping in shaping the educated mind,
right? God Almighty!
The second usage of "freshman" began in 1596–over 400 years ago! It
meant–and means–"a student during his or her first year …."
EITHER sex, according to the OED. In fact, freshman, sophomore, junior and
senior all came from college usage and were likely intended to elevate and
motivate high school students, not demean them.
No dictionary on the planet–not even the slang and idiom dictionaries I
checked–defines "freshman" as a male making sexual advances toward a
female. It’s a contrived double entendre.
I have no objection to the evolution of words and the use of language, but
really, when the source of the change is professional educators, then the
rationale shouldn’t be steeped in ignorance.