Chinese whispers | AspenTimes.com

Chinese whispers

Dear Editor:Have you ever heard of a game called Chinese whispers? When I was a kid, we called it gossip. You need several people to play. One person whispers something into a second person’s ear. The second person whispers to a third, and so on. The last person says out loud what she heard. The fun part, of course, is hearing how the last communication differs from the original.I was reminded of this game when I read your printed version of my recent letter.I wrote: She even lost her own name and was subsumed into “Mistress His Name.” [The abbreviation “Mrs.” stands for “Mistress.”]You printed: She even lost her own name and was subsumed into “mistress his name.” (The abbreviation Mrs. stands for mistress.)No, it does not. “Mrs.” stands for “Mistress” (capital M). You changed the meaning by changing the capitalization. (You also changed some punctuation, but I’ll get to that another time.)This is a good example of how language can mislead, one of the points I was making.There is a difference between “mistress” and “Mistress.” It’s similar to the difference between “doctor” and “Doctor Phil.”By changing the capitalization in the phrase “Mistress His Name,” you also changed the effect I intended. I wrote “His Name” to avoid the trite “John Doe” (which you would probably have printed as “john doe”).Let me state one point more clearly. There is no such person as “Mrs. John Doe.” “Mrs.” is a feminine title. “John” is a masculine name. There is a contradiction in putting them together. Are you indicating a woman or a man? (One has to ask, because a title is never a name.)When a woman marries, she might choose to change her last name, although there is no requirement to do so. But she does not change her first name.Why would she? So there can be two Johns in the family? A woman is not an appendage of a man. A woman is an individual human being, just as man is. She has her own name, just as a man does. Simple language equity.People need language. When spoken or written language is incorrect, misleading, ambiguous, or used for negative purposes, we all suffer.In less free times and places, the print medium has been among the first to be suppressed by dictators. In this medium, you serve as a go-between (which is what a medium is). You are also community leaders and are thus held to higher standards.You have a responsibility not to play Chinese whispers with information that passes through you.LinelleAspen


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