March 05, 2008

A virtual feminist elbowing his way in

A very intelligent further discussion of the Gelernter's mad rant can be found on Peter Seibel's blog A Billion Monkeys Can't Be Wrong. Amid some good discussion of the literary history, he notes a place where Gelernter fails to live out the true meaning of his creed:

Gelernter gives up the game a bit with this sentence: "Who can afford to allow a virtual feminist to elbow her way like a noisy drunk into that inner mental circle where all your faculties (such as they are) are laboring to produce decent prose?" Surely that should be "elbow his way".

Excellent point. The claim that he can be sex-neutral (the standard Strunk/White/Gelernter claim that CGEL discusses as "purportedly sex-neutral he) suggests that allow a virtual feminist to elbow his way into that inner mental circle should be fully grammatical, even if most feminists are women: it is not impossible for men to be feminists, and there is no definite referent here, so the sex of the referent is indeterminate. Yet the masculine-gender pronoun sounds very strange indeed — as it should, given the CGEL view that it can only refer to a male (and thus any engineer worth his salt really does bias discussion toward the view that engineers are always maile). Seibel's discussion of the point deserves to be read in full.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 5, 2008 04:17 PM