Remember when we said, “urinous” (as in ruinous) for the planet Uranus? Then, suddenly, TV announcers began to pronounce it “yuraynis” (as in your playness)? Suddenly, everyone using the former pronunciation felt old, or ignorant, out-of-the-loop.
Something similar happened with Oriental. Couldn’t refer to Chinese or Japanese people as Oriental. Who changed that? You have to say Asian. But the meaning expanded. It now refers to everyone on that continent, including the population of the nation of India. Only, those Indians aren’t Oriental. So, this replaces two, more specific terms, reducing the exactitude for which the English language is famous.
Another term came in the 1970s – the courtesy title Mizz, spelled Ms. We are post-feminists and no longer sensitive to this issue, but it was huge when we worked in the newsroom of the Statesman-Journal in Salem in the late 1970s. The (male) editor and publisher wondered whether to adopt “Ms.” as a courtesy title in the newspaper, or whether women could be identified by last name only, rather than as Mrs. or Miss Smith. They called a meeting of all women reporters, and asked in their PC, evolved way, what we would prefer.
They were stunned to see unanimity among us, whether old or young, general assignment or “women’s page” reporters. IFO and the other women all wanted Ms. if the person in the story preferred the term, Mrs. or Miss, if not. And last name only on second reference. It was only a few years later that all newspapers, except the WSJ and NYT, threw up their hands and dropped ALL courtesy titles.
Ms. pretty much refers to a single woman, whether she is never married, divorced or widowed, or married and using her birth name. However, we think it should have become a more specific term and that more titles should have been invented. But feminists had more fish to fry and more words to change – herstory, anyone?
It was originally intended to be comparable to Mr., hiding the marital status of the person. We always thought Mr. should have become more specific. Now that gay marriage is making its way into the law and culture, we wouldn’t be surprised to see courtesy titles come back.
But, now for the idea that got this post started. English speakers used to say Moslem for people who followed the Prophet Mohammed, PBUH. But suddenly it became Muslim, rhymes with muslin fabric. So, just to keep us on our toes, we are guessing that soon the arbiters of who is in and smart and who is out and ignorant, we expect a new pronunciation to appear soon. Probably Mooossleeeem. To rhyme with moo sleem.