A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Semantics of Realmannspracht

About a year ago, I came across a lengthy paragraph in a book that I thought was quite illuminating. I am glad to have rediscovered it just recently. Consider what it has to say and how it might pertain to our ideas about manhood ...
The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentleman" you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then came people who said--so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully--"Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behavior? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?" They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man "a gentleman" in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is a "gentleman" becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A "nice" meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan, 1973), pp. 10-11] [emphasis mine]
Yes, C. S. Lewis said that. It's not much of a leap to take a page from the good professor and level a similar charge against realmannspracht (that term I have coined for any talk or discussion about "real men" and the such like). I submit that the words "man," "manhood," etc. have suffered pretty much the same fate as the word "gentleman." These terms are often employed in an imprecise, highly subjective manner. They have become essentially meaningless. While the term "woman" remains sacrosanct in what it conveys to the modern ear, the term "man" has been reduced to a fashion statement, covering everything from Axe body spray to Browning Buckmark decals on pickup trucks. Bastardization of our language is the price we pay to further the stupidity of gynocentrism and misandry.

Let me close by saying this: People are in the habit of asking, "What makes a man?" That's the wrong question to ask. The better question is, "Who makes a man?" The answer to that question has already been determined. God makes a man, and we have no choice but to accept the fact of the matter (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 11:12). In sum, realmannspracht is not only anti-male, it's linguistic rubbish.

7 comments:

Elusive Wapiti said...

Anakin,

A good point. I guess I need to go and re-read Lewis.

I still think that there is utility in shaming language in shaping the behavior of those it targets.

The trick, I think, is to restore the legitimacy of shaming language as applied to the feminine. One way to do this would be to freight the word "woman" with meaning more than just a description of sex. Another would be to bring the word "lady" back into the lexicon, and have it mean a woman who acts with restraint, with tact, with concern for the welfare of those around her, and with chastity.

Will S. said...

Regarding the word 'gentlemen', and the corresponding term 'ladies', I've noticed that not only has the term 'gentlemen' become even further debased beyond what it meant in Lewis' time, to the point where strip bars get referred to as 'gentlemen's clubs', but the term 'ladies' also has come to be used for just women in general. And in fact, one will often find the word 'ladies' used just so, without the word 'gentleman' invoked for just men; e.g. some places have washrooms where the men's room is called just that, in terms of the sign on the door, but the women's room is referred to as the ladies' room, in terms of the sign on the door. So, today, women are automatically 'ladies', while men aren't even automatically 'gentlemen'. Is it any wonder, then, that most North American young women today have such entitlement, princess mentalities, and will say they love it 'when a guy treats me like a lady', without believing they have any corresponding duty to act in a modest, ladylike manner (i.e. according to Elusive Wapiti's definition above)?

As for the whole 'real man' nonsense, why indeed is it, that women get a free pass; no-one suggests that to be a 'real woman', a woman has to behave a certain way, or accomplish certain things; why then do men let others dictate what supposedly constitutes manhood?

Learner said...

CS Lewis was brilliant and quite insightful, and he makes an interesting point. I don't know how much it applies to contemporary American society since we didn't have ladies and gentlemen here in the sense Lewis is referring to, or at least haven't for over 200 years, so I don't think those terms quite carried those meanings here. I suppose the issue is the vague definition of these terms in modern use which is an issue, and particularly as Will pointed out, that women like to be treated like a lady while acting in a coarse manner.

It's like my brother always told me before he married, if a woman claims she is a "classy lady" he would run the other direction. he said a "real lady" wouldn't need to announce that, her behavior would bear that out.

Amir Larijani said...

Learner says: It's like my brother always told me before he married, if a woman claims she is a "classy lady" he would run the other direction. he said a "real lady" wouldn't need to announce that, her behavior would bear that out.

Kind of reminds me of something Margaret Thatcher once said, to that effect.

It's kind of like being humble. If you have to say it, then you probably are deficient in that department. . .

Triton said...

It's kind of like being humble. If you have to say it, then you probably are deficient in that department. . .

The saying I'm familiar with is "Humility - once you think you've got it, you've lost it."

vysota said...

Again, what's the point? Are you railing against the evolution of language? Is C.S. Lewis? OK, yes, language changes, words mean different things today as opposed to what they meant hundreds of years ago. So?

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