Ivory Tower Of Babel

  Ken Gorrellby Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

It took them more than a week to recognize they had become laughingstocks, but University of Tennessee president Joe DiPietro finally ordered the Knoxville campus to remove a pronoun guide posted by the public university’s Vice Chancellor for Diversity. The guide had made the Knoxville campus the latest stop on the “50 Silliest Places on Earth” tour.

Attempting to bring a “welcoming and inclusive” tone to the limiting and marginalizing English language – or at least to that version of the language spoken by students and faculty in the Volunteer State – the guide provided non-words like “xe,” “zir,” and “xyr” as replacements for the sexist “he” and “she.” University officials told reporters they didn’t want to “dictate speech,” but the guide had been published on the system’s website and emailed to every faculty member by a vice chancellor. Perceptions matter.

In his retraction, DiPietro bemoaned the fact that the University had tried unsuccessfully to communicate that the guide was not directive. Like the “pirate code,” these were not actual rules. “The social issues and practices raised by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion are appropriate ones for discussion on a university campus,” he pointed out, trying hard to divert attention from the fact that his diversity czar’s email to faculty looked prescriptive.

The guide, written by Donna Braquet, head of the university’s Pride Center, included this “suggestion”:

“In the first weeks of class, instead of calling roll, ask everyone to provide their name and pro-nouns. This ensures that you are not singling out transgender or non-binary students.”

Braquet offered this helpful conversation starter: “Oh, nice to meet you [insert name]. What pronouns should I use?” File that under “Sentences I will never utter in a social setting.” I can only hope this inclusive-grammar contagion doesn’t spread beyond college campuses.

Keeping with tradition, wielders of the inclusiveness cudgel struck at opponents rather than addressing issues they prefer to consider settled. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, defended the policy. “There is a growing trend in the United States, especially in colleges and universities, for some people to use and prefer nontraditional pronouns.” She continued, “…that [Republicans in] the legislature would even weigh in on this pronoun issue, let alone demand to micromanage it, should be as embarrassing for them as it is troubling for the really good people of Tennessee. The students must have known for some time that their legislature is willfully and proudly ignorant of difference and change…”

Those darned Republican legislators, weighing in on an issue that brought international attention and ridicule to their publicly-funded university system. Call me “willfully and proudly ignorant,” but I’m a bit of a grammar purist. I still bristle when I see “they” used to refer to a singular noun, as in “If your child is thinking about getting a good education, they might not want to consider UT Knoxville.” I will never use creations like “xe” or “zirs.”

Language evolves, but how it should change, and why, matter. Diversity cheerleaders insist that change must come now, students must be in the vanguard, and the reason, according to Braquet, is that it “…alleviates the heavy burden for persons already marginalized by their gender expression or identity.” Never mind that universities should be preparing students for life in the real world (imagine a job interview where the recent college grad sprinkles her sentences liberally with xe, zirs, and xyr). Forcing the majority to bend language based on the feelings of every aggrieved minority faction is a prescription for chaos. A common language helps to bind us into a cohesive polity. Turn it into a free-for-all and we will break apart, balkanized despite a “common” language.

The story of the tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis is used to explain our multiplicity of languages. God divided humans into linguistic groups, spreading the descendants of Noah across the face of the Earth. Today’s Progressives seem intent on playing gods from academe’s ivory tower, dividing and controlling us using politically-correct language codes, made-up words, and “diversity” dogma.

Of course with Progressive types, sensitivity and inclusion go only so far. New Hampshire made national news last week when a women’s “alternative chorus” replaced “Jesus” with “Hillary” in a gospel song at a campaign event. Their alternative to good taste and respect for the deeply-held religious convictions of Christians reveals much about the inclusiveness movement: Its real goal is to exclude dissenting views. The siege of the First Amendment continues.

Ken can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com