I recently joined English Language & Usage because I enjoy the topic of English language and have (so far) had positive experiences at other Stack Exchange websites. I also wanted to comment on what I thought was an interesting question:

Gender-neutral alternative to "craftsmanship"?

This title summarises the question well. The answer, I would think, could either dispute the premise of the question or answer it. In other words, this should not have been a controversial question: you can answer the question by either giving examples of words that are gender-neutral or provide reasoning for why "crafstmanship" is gender neutral. Simple!

The accepted answer does a good job of answering the question by providing non gender-specific synonyms, but the most highly voted answer, which received quite an extraordinary number of votes and was posted by a seemingly reputable member of this community, didn't answer the question and didn't provide (sound) reasons for why the premise was false:

Yes, there is: realizing that "craftsmanship" is gender-neutral. People who think it is not should take it up with themselves, not the word.

If I see discrimination where there is none, the root of the problem is myself and not the language. It is also a textbook example of an etymological fallacy.

Craftsmanship implies "man" about as much as woman does.

I interpreted these 3 paragraphs as follows:

  1. The OP is irrational and should seek introspection, as he/she is lashing out at a word.
  2. The question contains a logical fallacy, and the questioner is the root cause of a perceived problem.
  3. The premise of the question is incorrect.

The first paragraph doesn't add any value, and shouldn't really be part of an answer. If the answerer was intending to make the argument that the word craftsmanship is in fact gender-neutral, he or she didn't make the reasons for this clear, and therefore the paragraph really only serves to deride the questioner.

The second paragraph begins with a dubious segway into the topic of discrimination and then makes the assertion that the question contains a fallacy, neither of which address the question.

The last paragraph seems to be a conclusion based on the "arguments" provided.

This is clearly a poor answer. The answer only addresses the question in so far as it claims the question is invalid, but fails even in that regard because it provides no meaningful explanation as to why.

This website is for linguists, etymologists, and serious enthusiasts, so while I can understand that poor answers come up once in a while (stack overflow is by no means immune to this), I was disappointed to see such strong support for this answer, which was provided by a user with a very high rating who is clearly a significant member of this community.

The community clearly accepts this as the correct answer.

Does this answer reflect the views of the community, or did the question just happen to touch a nerve for some members?

Am I incorrect in my interpretations of the answer and my view that it fails to address the question?

  • 16
    You are very new to ELU, having so far contributed nothing but complaints. However, we will give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that you will grow to become a participant not just a spectator or kibitzer. In contrast, the individual you are complaining about has contributed quite literally infinitely more than you have. Were those positions reversed, I rather doubt we would be having this conversation. There’s a good reason why it’s called reputation you know.
    – tchrist Mod
    Nov 2 '14 at 6:28
  • 31
    @tchrist Is the point that I'm not supposed to post here about his answer? I don't get it.
    – quant
    Nov 2 '14 at 6:38
  • 7
    @tchrist I don't think we disagree about any of the facts; I just got here and had a whinge, fine. You're a reputable member; do you think it was a good answer?
    – quant
    Nov 2 '14 at 6:43
  • 10
    @tchrist, well we both seem to agree he didn't qualify his point, and we know that he didn't answer the question, so disregarding our opinions on the subject, I still don't see how this is a stellar answer.
    – quant
    Nov 2 '14 at 6:54
  • 31
    You've written a balanced fair and objective first meta post. I hope you stick around, EL&U should be encouraging native speakers such as yourself to contribute. We all had to start from somewhere.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 2 '14 at 10:25
  • 15
    @tchrist I don't believe that quant has posted only "complaints", I think they are fair observations which he posted beneath the top scoring answer. The poster didn't reply, which I can sympathise with, but likewise it's understandable why quant is confused. He didn't read the interminable train of comments that contributed (IMO) to the frenzied attention that the " elegant alternative to sportspersonship" question had attracted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 2 '14 at 10:56
  • 3
    @Mitch I think we're all in agreement on that, my point was that this is not what the answer did.
    – quant
    Nov 2 '14 at 22:07
  • 6
    I see only strong community support for a good answer on a bad question ;) Nov 3 '14 at 3:23
  • 42
    @tchrist: Doesn't the entire Stack Exchange network, and EL&U in particular, have a policy of judging a post on its own merits, rather than on the merits of the person who posted it? If you want to say that this question is too much complaint for too little content, that's fine. But your comments that the poster is too new and too complaining, and that it's somehow not his place to criticize an established user on this site is unjustified and condescending. Read quant's question again. He is criticizing the quality of the answer. He has no quarrel with the answerer.
    – John Y
    Nov 3 '14 at 16:42
  • 31
    I'm pretty flabbergasted that this answer is being defended so vigorously, given that it does NOT provide either: 1. An answer to the question as asked or 2. any sort of evidence to support the claim that the question is unnecessary. This is the fundamental flaw with Stackexchange, that someone's reputation grants them license to ignore the rules. Moreso, I'm flabbergasted that a perfectly legitimate question about this dubious answer is being defended with logical fallacies like "you complain too much" and "That poster has been here a long time" as if these somehow had any relevance.
    – barbecue
    Nov 3 '14 at 17:44
  • 9
    @barbecue Consider answering the question, “What is the gender-neutral version of human?” Sometimes the right answer is that the question is wrong. This is one of those times.\
    – tchrist Mod
    Nov 3 '14 at 22:19
  • 12
    @tchrist: I agree that this is one of those times. However, an answer saying “your assumptions are wrong!” is doubly obliged to back up its claims, or at the very least, explain them carefully. The answer in question simply states its claim as though it were obvious and indisputable. So I (reasonably reputable, if not so active recently) would agree with quant that, while right, it leaves a lot to be desired.
    – PLL
    Nov 3 '14 at 23:16
  • 14
    @tchrist Your last comment misrepresents the question though. Even if "craftsmanship" is a gender-neutral word, the poster asked for an alternative. Unlike your example with "human", there are gender-neutral alternatives to it—"artisanship" is listed in the oxford dictionary with the same exact definition as "craftsmanship". So the question is not "wrong", wrong is the assumption by seemingly everyone that whoever posted the question had an agenda.
    – kadu
    Nov 4 '14 at 12:58
  • 8
    There is a well know asynchronicity with questions that hit the super collider. Drive by voters with just the rep from the association bonus can only vote up not down. So even if it was viewed by as many people that rolled their eyes at it as agreed with it the votes would only go one way. Nov 4 '14 at 22:59
  • 3
    The OED's etymology for Human is completely different. The truth is, claiming that the words "craftsman" and "human" are equally gender neutral is demonstrably factually incorrect. Human: oed.com/view/Entry/89262 Craftsman: oed.com/view/Entry/43712
    – barbecue
    Nov 8 '14 at 17:37

The question apparently hit the network-wide superconducting multicollider, which pulls in drive-by voters from all SE sites everywhere. It is therefore possible that most of those votes were not actually from regular members of the active ELU community.

However, all SE sites’ have postings whose votes totals can seem disproportionately high. There are some truly mystifying examples of one-liners garnering votes far beyond what one would imagine. Some of these high-scoring ELU postings “make sense”, but many of them do not.

Everybody has their own reasons for voting as they do. You should not expect this to always “make sense”. Short, simple postings that are easily digested are always going to draw votes quicker than things that require work to read through; it’s just how people are. Consider this question or this answer. Does that seem sensible? Furthermore, joke postings have always been an issue.

Although we can really never know why this one has skyrocketed, I would not be surprised if the votes came from people strongly agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the poster. You will notice that it has as many downvotes as the OP-selected answer has.

However, I do think that you are coming down too hard on that answer. It is not a bad answer, and it is not derisive that I can see.

It’s perfectly germane to point out that a word’s origins are irrelevant to its currently understood meaning, and that it is a fallacy to believe they do matter. They don’t.

As far as I can see, the answer is correct, because craftsmanship really is no more a gendered term than manikin is, whatever their origins. We don’t need a new word for manikins in store windows sporting women’s lingerie, either, and it is a fallacy to think that we somehow ought to do that. A manikin is just manikin; it is not a man any longer, not even a wee one.

That’s the sort of thing that leads to nonsense like forbidding the use of alternate or between for more than two choices, or avoiding inculcate or connotation because they might appear to contain a somewhat rude word-element (well, if French) inside them, or being afraid to use seminal for ideas unrelated to procreation.

Nobody expects unmanned drones to be carrying women in them, either. A “gay-rights” campaign against the Canadian practice of buying homo milk would be similarly misguided, just as one driven by a bunch of troglodytes to rename the genus of Homo sapiens to something more all-inclusive of women like Pan sapiens would be.

Those all sound silly. Or at least, I sure hope they do.

All this over-sensitivity about non-existent issues smacks of political correctness gone mad, like people are just looking for something to complain about. It’s just like how insisting on the ungainly monster-construct “he/she” instead of the more natural they is bound to annoy people. Quite a lot of people are fed up with all that bother, you see, and for a very simple reason: because being told how you can or cannot talk really rubs people the wrong way!

This is especially galling when it’s making stuff out of thin air as appears to be the case here, but even if it weren’t, it would still vex.

Eventually, there’s going to be push-back in response to these teapot tempests about in-words and out-words. It rankles. Perhaps that’s why so many voted that answer up, because they are tired of being rankled by such silly-in-their-eyes hassles, and they see that posting as speaking to that matter.


In the final analysis, we cannot know why that answer got the votes it got, but it does not matter that we cannot know why. These things always happen, and there is no reason to get upset over them. All SE sites have similar issues — or non-issues, as the case may be.

  • 9
    It is not a bad answer, and it is not derisive that I can see. - maybe derisive was a poor choice of wording. I meant that the answer was not productive and was clearly the product of an emotional response. The points you make are all valid, but they are yours, not his. Don't you think a good answer would have backed up some of these claims? I take your point about drive-by voting.
    – quant
    Nov 2 '14 at 6:28
  • 26
    There are about 3,590 results in Google Books for her craftsmanship. The ratio between that and his craftsmanship is around 1:8, which is much the same as the ratio between her skill and his skill. I upvoted Reg's answer without the benefit of that supporting information, because I agreed with what it said. I certainly don't accept that I erroneously endorsed a "bad" answer. Nov 2 '14 at 23:17
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers Based on what you wrote I'd say you have probably misunderstood the original question, as well as my post here.
    – quant
    Nov 3 '14 at 5:05
  • 8
    @quant I too agree with the answer being questioned and I'd give it my upvote. I believe "craftsmanship" is gender-neutral. Take mankind for example.
    – majidarif
    Nov 3 '14 at 8:04
  • 8
    Another driver-by. The sentence "All this over-sensitivity about non-existent issues smacks of political correctness gone mad" makes me question whether the highly voted answer and the original question are being upvoted based on reasons entirely external to the issue at hand. Since when do SE communities judge the quality of any question or answer based on the perceived political agenda of the poster?
    – kadu
    Nov 4 '14 at 13:00
  • 2
    @quant I object to the "not productive and clearly the product of an emotional response" part. I am not one bit invested in this, one way or the other, emotionally or otherwise. I can argue the exact opposite viewpoint with the same gusto and dedication. Or rather, the same lack of dedication. The question asked for a word that meant 'craftsmanship' without being gender-specific, and I posted one such word. Just like everyone else did. The rest is just voting, over which I have no influence, and endless discussions in comments, in which I neither had nor desired a say.
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Nov 4 '14 at 14:19
  • 2
    @Fumble I did reference woman for just that reason — even though I thought it superfluous. Same goes for that Wikipedia link I added. The thing is, I expected "a gender-neutral term for craftsmanship is craftsmanship" to be a boring truism, the likes of "a term for craftsmanship with 13 letters is craftsmanship". I went out of my way not to attack anyone in particular ("people"), and indeed to explicitly include myself in the group of those being attacked ("I"). Alas. Hindsight is 20/20, and when people want to misinterpret a post in the most unfavorable manner, they will.
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Nov 4 '14 at 15:36
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt: As ever, you have a veritable armoury of additional justifications to call upon when pressed! :) Personally, if I were in your position I think I'd probably stick to my guns and refuse to pander to prejudice by fiddling with the text of a perfectly valid answer to a relatively tiresome question. But then again, I'm not a mod. And given the current furore over another mod-related issue, it does rather look as if the mod-baiting season has just opened. Maybe something needs to be done to lower the temperature. Nov 4 '14 at 16:04
  • 3
    @RegDwigнt I obviously don't know what you were thinking when you wrote the answer, if it were in the original post I'd adjust it. What I don't understand is how you could have answered the question in such a way without having been just a tad annoyed at the question. I don't think that's an unfair assessment. Obviously this whole thread has gotten a bit out of proportion. But am I wrong? Did you not read into it a bit too far and get just a little annoyed to see yet another PC fanatic when you read the question? Be honest.
    – quant
    Nov 4 '14 at 21:24
  • 5
    And I'd like to add that I don't find craftsmanship neither offensive nor sexist, but that's me. BUT I don't find the request for a gender neutral equivalent to be absurd, or worthy of derision, as proven by the shameful number of downvotes on the OP's questions, and the equally shameful number of upvotes for that answer. Furthermore, allow me to point out yet another blindingly obvious question which nobody has addressed. The proportion/ratio of male voters vs, female voters. What is it? And how many women would agree with the highest up-voted answer, given the opportunity?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5 '14 at 4:47
  • 4
    And, finally, whether anybody likes it or not, the connotations of craftsmanship is male. A man who is skilled at his craft is a craftsman; not a craftsperson, a craftsbeing, or a craftsapiens. From the term craftsman we obtain the noun, craftsmanship. Ha! I've coined a new word, craftsapienship.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5 '14 at 5:00
  • 4
    @RegDwigнt: Include yourself in those being attacked? Please. That is utterly disingenuous. Your "explicit self-inclusion" was of the form "If I am so stupid as to believe X, I should be questioning my own intelligence." That is not a dispassionate way to express your view. You clearly don't consider yourself stupid enough to believe X. Let me try a less incendiary formation: "If I have a billion dollars, I'm rich." Let me ask you: am I explicitly including myself among the wealthy there when I say "I"?
    – John Y
    Nov 5 '14 at 7:29
  • 2
    It seems to me that, even if it's true that craftsman has a non-gender-specific origin, it is a gendered word now. Language use and meaning changes, and if today we perceive it as implying male artisans rather than female ones, then it does. So the search for a gender-neutral alternative is perfectly valid. Nov 7 '14 at 13:53
  • 2
    @Mari-Lou: I think we're going round in circles. You start from the position that craftsmanship [still] implies gender, which Reg & I dispute. Those are conflicting opinions. But you've consistently ignored the fact that skill is a reasonably close synonym that has no gender implications, which means it is meaningful to compare gender-specific usages for craftsmanship/skill. That gives us statistical information about actual usage, which is not just opinions. There might be flaws in Google Books, or in my reasoning, but as yet you've identified none. Nov 7 '14 at 14:18
  • 2
    Apropos nothing, I'd guess that the reason the his/her ratio for art being somewhat closer (at 6:1) than those for skill/craftsmanship is that historically/sociologically, women are more associated with (creative) art than they are with (technological) skill. The ratio with his/her novels falls to about 3:1, reflecting the fact that women have been able to overcome the undeniable cultural gender bias more in novel-writing than in areas requiring technical/practical expertise. Nov 7 '14 at 14:45

I agree with tchrist said in regards to why the answer has so many upvotes, especially this bit:

I would not be surprised if the votes came from people strongly agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the poster.

Which is to say: I believe that it is so highly upvoted because, even though the website itself is for linguists, etymologists, and serious enthusiasts, users have all sorts of backgrounds. This answer is not being upvoted for its merit as an answer, it's being upvoted because it addresses the question asked for its perceived intentions, rather than answering it.

To be more specific: the answer presumes that the question has a hidden political agenda (which I also fail to find). And the user answering has a clear problem with the political agenda they perceive, whether or not it is there. And so does the SE community.

In support of this theory, I offer that tchrist's answer makes, more openly, the same assumption:

All this over-sensitivity about non-existent issues smacks of political correctness gone mad, like people are just looking for something to complain about (…) being told how you can or cannot talk really rubs people the wrong way!

This is especially galling when it’s making stuff out of thin air as appears to be the case here, but even if it weren’t, it would still vex.

Let's roll the clock back a bit. The question at hand is:

It's straightforward to refer to a "craftsperson" instead of a "craftsman" if one doesn't want to imply a gender. But "craftspersonship", "sportspersonship", and the like seem pretty cumbersome. Is there a more elegant alternative?

I fail to see anything accusatory in it, it's not proposing that this word be banned or that people use a different one and it's not complaining about anything. So I also fail to see why tchrist thinks it "smacks of political correctness gone mad".

I agree entirely with your interpretation of the answer. It is derisive in presuming that the person wants a gender-neutral alternative because they feel "craftsmanship" is not gender-neutral on its own. It bashes at people who disagree with his view ("People who think it is not should take it up with themselves, not the word"). It assumes the poster "sees discrimination where there is none", while none of this is said in the question.

The answer ignores completely the question and addresses what the user who offered it thinks the context is. They don't care if the author of the question wanted a word that a feminist character in a book might prefer. They are more interested in lashing out on people who might prefer it for political reasons.

In fact, the answer is ridiculous if you ignore the political agenda it forces on the question. The question doesn't even explicitly state that "craftsmanship" is not gender-neutral, it merely asks for an alternative that is. While the use of the word "alternative" might arguably imply this, that is not explicitly written anywhere, and there's no other reason to assume the user who made the question thinks that way.

In a different SE community, such as the cooking one, it might have gone as this:

Vegetarian alternative for margarine?

It's straightforward to use margarine instead of butter if one doesn't want to consume animal products. But for frying, risotto and the like, margarine doesn't add to the flavour. Is there a more flavourful alternative?

And the answer in question would be:

Yes, there is: realizing that margarine is vegetarian. People who think it is not should take it up with themselves, not the food.

If I see animal products where there is none, the root of the problem is myself and not the food. It is also a textbook example of not reading the label.

Margarine has animal products about as much as lettuce does.

I hope this parody sounds absurd, because this is exactly the level of absurdity I see in the answer posted.

In my opinion, even putting aside the unnecessary aggressiveness, the answer is still very poor. It fails to answer the question (as it doesn't present an alternative) and doesn't provide any form of justification for the opinion presented. It would be perfectly fine to answer something like:

According to the Oxford dictionary, the word "artisanship" conveys the same meaning as "craftsmanship". Please note, however, that even though "craftsmanship" doesn't appear to be gender-neutral, it in fact is, according to [insert reference here].

The unprovoked aggressiveness of the answer, the unwavering support for it, despite the utter lack of quality (no matter whatever merits the user who posted it has) and the dimension of the reaction to this question lead me to one conclusion: none of this has nothing to do with the question. The question itself is, paraphrasing a comment, the windmill that several senile Spanish knights were looking for in this website.

I would also paraphrase the infamous answer by saying that there is nothing in the question that justifies such extreme reactions. People who think there is should take it up with themselves, not the question. If one sees political agenda where there is none, the problem is in oneself.

I will, however, do no such paraphrase, as I haven't amassed enough internet-kudos to make this type of outburst acceptable.

  • 9
    It is entertaining, though also a tad confusing, to see this answer exhibit the very things it is railing against: presumptuousness, absurdity, and failure to answer the question.
    – RegDwigнt Mod
    Nov 4 '14 at 14:36
  • 5
    The questions asked were (1) whether the answer reflects the views of the community, which I deferred to the previous accepted answer and expanded upon, (2) whether the interpretations offered were accurate, which I agreed upon, and (3) whether the answer in discussion fails to answer the question, which I stated that it does. This, however, is an answer to a discussion post in Meta, so my subjectivity is, I understand, allowed. That wasn't.
    – kadu
    Nov 4 '14 at 14:53
  • 9
    @RegDwigнt that's a nice opinion... you should back it up with reasons. you're pretty pretentious basically all the time from what i've seen. writing short sentences doesn't preclude pretentiousness.
    – user428517
    Nov 4 '14 at 18:23
  • Basically, this ballyhoo would have been avoided if the OP had given a different title to his question. Gender-neutral alternative to "craftsmanship"? It seems (superficially) that many users did not stop to read the content of the question posted. And, the highest uprated comment, which also happened to be the first posted below the question, said something similar to "man meaning mankind is gender neutral". The EL&U user's comment had already received 50 upvotes before it was deleted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 6:13
  • I'm inclined to believe that comment, which reinforced the tone; pushed and gave users permission to jump on the bandwagon. Please note that an almost identical answer, posted a day later, has to date received 48 upvotes. That answer, infuriated me much more than RegDwight's. At least his was grammatical, eloquent and logical. It didn't make it a good answer but it made sense. On the other hand, the "copycat" answer is, in one word, nonsensical. Was I the only one who read that thinking "What?". That answer is unquestionably bad.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 6:20
  • 3
    @kadu +1 Well put, insightful, clearly done. I thought the margarine example was particularly helpful Nov 8 '14 at 11:51
  • @Mari-LouA It wasn't logical at all. Sorry Nov 8 '14 at 12:06
  • @Araucaria it certainly made more sense, and therefore more logic than the copy-cat answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 13:21
  • It seems to me that your margarine example has a flaw in its first line - "It's straightforward to use margarine instead of butter if one doesn't want to consume animal products. " implies "I know margarine is vegetarian". Maybe you meant to say "...use olive oil instead of margarine..." - then the rest of your example would have made sense.
    – Floris
    Nov 8 '14 at 22:23
  • 3
    The margarine analogy doesn't quite fit. Flavor is subjective, where language nuances are objective. So when someone says "I don't like the flavor of margarine; what else can I use?", you can't answer with "you are mistaken about margarine, you should like it." Meaning is objective, so if someone says "If I want to be gender-neutral, what word should I use for craftsmanship?", you can reply with "Craftsmanship actually bears out a gender-neutral usage, so you can use it." This would be different if the question were "I want to avoid the lexeme -man-, what can I use instead?"
    – Daniel
    Nov 9 '14 at 2:33
  • 2
    @Daniel The margarine example is not meant to mean that gender neutrality is subjective. I'm not a linguist, therefore not equipped for this discussion. It's meant to indicate that, as well as you can ask for a vegetarian alternative to margarine—**despite it being vegetarian already**—, you can equally ask for a gender-neutral alternative to whatever gender-neutral word you want.
    – kadu
    Nov 10 '14 at 4:47
  • The OP's request clearly stated that the "problem" with craftsmanship was in the suffix man. He gave craftsperson and sportspersonship as examples of "gender neutrality". As I mentioned previously, it was the OP's title (not the body) which gave users the excuse to vent their anti-PC frustrations.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 16 '14 at 4:47
  • "I fail to see anything accusatory in it, it's not proposing that this word be banned or that people use a different one and it's not complaining about anything. So I also fail to see why tchrist thinks it "smacks of political correctness gone mad"." It proposes - incorrectly - that people who don't change their language are failing to adopt gender neutrality, and it is trivially easy to infer a negative political judgment from that. Dec 19 '21 at 17:20
  • "It's meant to indicate that, as well as you can ask for a vegetarian alternative to margarine—**despite it being vegetarian already**" You can, but it's absurd if you actually know it's vegetarian, and doing so therefore implies that you don't think it is. Gender neutrality is an inherently political topic because people can and have faced policy repercussions for failing in such neutrality. Asking for new words to replace those in common use necessarily makes the argument that there is somehow something wrong with those words, and necessarily is an act of advocacy. Language is power. Dec 19 '21 at 17:25
  • "it's absurd if you know it's vegetarian"—"alternative" means "one of two or more available possibilities", people have reasons other than vegetarianism for not wanting margarine, as my answer already stated. // "it is trivially easy to infer a negative political judgment from that"—which doesn't change the fact that the question can be answered objectively, yet commenting on its political subtext seemed more relevant to several participants. Language is political in many ways, this is no excuse to ignore the language question and discuss the politics of it in this SE.
    – kadu
    Dec 21 '21 at 1:51

There have been many responses to the question and I think it makes the most sense for me to try to collate them somehow, rather than picking a single answer. I'm reluctant to hijack my own question like this but unless someone comes up with an objective review I don't think it makes sense for me to accept the other answers.

I had initially chosen tchrist's answer because it did address my question, but it also contained some the same emotional digressions that prompted me to write this post in the first place. Given the strong response to my post I think this page deserves a more complete answer.

Let's start with (a summary of) the original question:

What is a gender-neutral alternative to craftsmanship?

There are at least 2 ways to read this question:

  1. "What is a gender-neutral alternative to craftsmanship?"
  2. "Saying craftsmanship is sexist, what's a non-sexist word?"

Obviously these are extremes; the first is a cold literal reading and the second is a disproportionate response that could not have been made by an objective individual. There is a spectrum between these two interpretations and as human beings it seems we are unable to separate emotional inference from the words we see on a page. Those who read the words closer to 2) might have further inferred intention and interpreted this question as something along the lines of:

I wish to impose upon you a non-sexist version of craftsmanship. What word should I use?

When I read the question like this, it makes much more sense why it received the kind of response it did. With this paraphrase of the original question in mind, let's look at the winning answer again:

...[realize] that "craftsmanship" is gender-neutral. People who think it is not should take it up with themselves, not the word.

If I see discrimination where there is none, the root of the problem is myself and not the language. It is also a textbook example of an etymological fallacy.

Craftsmanship implies "man" about as much as woman does.

I was initially baffled by this response, but if we read it in the context of my paraphrased question, it makes sense.

If the original question was an unnecessary attack on our right to use our language freely, I too might have been inclined to respond like this!

If you are still not convinced, here is an excerpt from tchrist's response to my question:

All this over-sensitivity about non-existent issues smacks of political correctness gone mad, like people are just looking for something to complain about

This is another example of a response that is not really a response to the question (mine nor the original question), but a response to a perceived attack or infringement of rights.

I do not think I've taken this line out of context, as there is no mention in that post of this over-sensitivity being only perceived or inferred. He seems to be quite adamantly claiming that such over-sensitivity is real and that the questioner was erroneously propagating such an idea.

If we put down our argument sticks for a minute and accept, for better or worse, that the original question was in fact viewed through a lens from which the literal meaning of the question is skewed, then these responses begin to make sense. The ensuing arguments are then simply the result of a disconnect in perception; one side was defending itself against an attack on liberty, and the other against an attack of bigotry.

Both of these are noble goals which are not all mutually exclusive. Had this difference in perception been communicated there would likely never have been a conflict, or at least a far milder one. I think we have to view the discussion in this light if we genuinely want to understand and learn from the reactions to the original question.

The strong community support is likely to have been in a similar vein. As tchrist pointed out, the question hit the "network-wide superconducting multicollider" and the answer might therefore have benefited from upvotes as new members with only the association bonus didn't have enough reputation to downvote the answer.

Having read through the comments and answers here and on the original question, I think that this is at least a rough description of what happened. I can't of course know what everyone involved really thought. At the end of the day, we're emotional creatures, and my argument that the answer was objectively a poor one was perhaps missing the point as much as those who upvoted the answer in the first place!

This has been a wonderful learning experience for me. I think I could spend years learning about what happened here, how it would have gone differently among different cultures, and what analogues of this scenario manifest in the various conflicts we engage in on a daily basis.

If I were Cai (the poster of the original question), and knowing what I have learnt over the last few days, I would have phrased the question in the following way:

Without discussing whether or not craftsmanship is a gender-specific term, and disregarding any etymological arguments one way or the other, could you suggest a synonym that is less likely to be inferred as having a gender-specific connotation?

I believe that such a phrasing of the question would have had a greater chance of garnering the desired responses, and might have pre-emptively disarmed some of the commentary we have seen.

  • 2
    Your perspective is refreshingly balanced. Thanks for not contributing to the take-sides mentality.
    – Daniel
    Nov 9 '14 at 1:56
  • 3
    Excellent analysis. Forgive the effusiveness, but I think it's great to have your voice here.
    – John Y
    Nov 9 '14 at 21:14
  • Wow, you're actually taking time out to understand another person's mindset. Holy crap, we have the beginnings of understanding each other. Apr 10 '15 at 4:35
  • "a disproportionate response that could not have been made by an objective individual." The only reason to have the question is a belief that the word is, as they say, "problematic". To ask, in a public space, "what is a gender neutral alternative to X?" is inherently to charge that one thinks X is not gender neutral, contra the margarine analogy. Which, in turn, is inherently a moral value claim that X needs to be changed for the benefit of society - because you wouldn't want to not be "gender neutral", right? Dec 19 '21 at 17:55
  • @KarlKnechtel I think that's one valid interpretation, yes. Although I'm not sure I agree that you wouldn't want a word to not be gender neutral. There's nothing inherently wrong with gendered words, at least not that I'm aware of. Maybe I've missed your point?
    – quant
    Dec 21 '21 at 3:44
  • The rhetoric "because you wouldn't want to not X, right?" is intended to connote a particular sort of political pressure. My claim is that such pressure was commonly exerted on the Internet in 2014 and is still an important phenomenon today. I happen to value freedom of speech and the English language both very highly, and as such I am extremely averse to what I perceive as attempts to impose artificial changes to the latter. Dec 21 '21 at 15:54
  • 1
    @KarlKnechtel I think one of the challenges of creating constructive dialog in a community like this (or any community, really) is to be able to compartmentalise and remain focused. I personally didn't take any implied political pressure from the question, but if anyone felt it was implied I think the correct response would have been to ignore it in the answer and correct the bias in the question.
    – quant
    Dec 21 '21 at 23:01
  • ... or at least, addressing the substance of the question and the political agenda separately.
    – quant
    Dec 21 '21 at 23:14
  • My argument is that the question cannot be asked without bias. The point of asking such a question is to express the bias I describe, and "the bias in the question" comes from its fundamental premise. People who don't have that bias, don't have an interest in having questions of that sort answered - because they necessarily understand that there isn't a problem with the word. No words following this pattern were ever biased, and society as a whole was wrong to try to correct them in the first place - in the early 90s just as in the mid 10s. Dec 22 '21 at 19:11
  • Sorry you've lost me. I don't understand how a question about a word is necessarily biased. If you're trying to say that the original word is gender neutral already, then that's a perfectly valid answer. If someone had asked for a gender neutral word for "king" would your response be different?
    – quant
    Dec 24 '21 at 0:00

Strong community support for a bad answer; why?

Because it was a bad question; at least poorly worded. And for whatever reason users decided to upvote the throw this in your face answer instead of downvoting the question or suggesting an edit. Don't y'all get so pissed when your next question is "Closed because it's unclear what you're asking". This is the result of moderator failure and a community bandwagon event; when the cat's away...

I agree with (TLDR- whoever said it) that the OQ should be deleted or fixed as I have also suggested in a comment there: (It is an embarrassment to SE)

This entire page is garbage until the question is altered to ask whether or not 'craftsmanship' is gender-neutral, or unless changed into a single word request and thereby deleting answers that don't provide one; cleaning up this non-applicable NOISE.


As I already pointed out on the question, the situation is extremely simple:

(1) undeniably, each of the five sentences in the answer at hand, is just a political rant against "non-sexed language".

Note that, and this isn't relevant, I personally am completely opposed to the 'non-sexed-language' movement!!!!!! But the situation couldn't be simpler. "Given" the 'non-sexed-language' movement, the question asks a very specific, technical, clear question about a particular word.

(2) In answer to the question posed here

(i) Voting on the ELU site, in particular, is often nuts

(ii) In spite of the absurdist facade of "referenced! encyclopaedic!" answers, voting on all network sites is, often, essentially political.

Funnily enough here we have a couple hundred right-wingers expressing their dislike of the 'non-sexed-language' movement with a vote -- typically it's more the left-wing that crowd votes en masse here.

Please note (OP) that I already marked the answer in question for deletion, since, it should be deleted.

Obviously, on this site the mods just delete any comments they don't like, so this has all been wiped clear on the QA in question.

Regarding the sort of pure nonsense the debate on this questionhas provoked, I need only paste in my comment from above:

"Sometimes the right answer is that the question is wrong. This is one of those times."

What a load of nonsense. A non-sexed version of "craftsmanship" could not be a more obvious, clear, good, question in the "non-sexed language" field. Note that indeed a number of sensible solutions were discussed. Any number of eg web sites that ALREADY USE NON-SEXED VERSIONS of this word were brought up! You cannot seriously be suggesting the same question featuring say "chairman" would be "not a question". Give me a break.

Here's another example from anotherwise hugely intelligent and astute contributor:

"because craftsmanship really is no more a gendered term than manikin is"

What? OF COURSE "manikin", and "history" ("herstory"!) is a word that is considered and alternatives sought, by the 'non-sexed-language' movement.

Again where is this "obvious" line drawn? Of course obviously "craftsman" would be OK to non-sex but "craftsmanship", not OK to non-sex. How silly.

As someone very astute pointed out in the comments, (in an entrely separate "political language debate") even "niggardly" is treated with great care in the USA, since, (purely "accidentally") it could cause problems.

Good grief.

  • I know for a fact that a user suggested in a comment to RegDwight that the comments ought to be deleted. Each and every single one. The whole atmosphere on that page was inflammatory, to say the least. The comments annihilated without distinction, (pro and con) were those beneath RegDwight's and the OP's posts. I don't think the other posters' trail of comments were affected. That deletion, in my opinion helped to calm down the waters. The day after, visiting that same page, everything seemed to be more quiet. There are new "anti-PC" comments, but NOTHING compared to what it was.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 6:34
  • 1
    The whole episode to me, is fascinating from a human behaviourist viewpoint. It has been a real eye opener experience.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 6:38
  • 1
    Your comments just there appear to have no meaning, because, all the comments REGARDING COMMENTS BEING REMOVED, HAVE BEEN REMOVED. That's one way to win a debate!
    – Fattie
    Nov 8 '14 at 13:05
  • So they have. [pause] I'm speechless.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8 '14 at 13:23
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    @Mari-LouA Me too! I don't know what you've taken from this but to me it represents a really intriguing tendency in people to infer strong connections which then shade the words we read and influence our understanding of them. I can't speak for the commenters, but it appears to me like some had literally read the question as "I disagree with the usage of craftsmanship and wish to infringe upon the literary freedoms of those who use it: Discuss.". It's fascinating, I only wish I could know when I fall victim to this! I'm sure we all do it in different facets of life...
    – quant
    Nov 9 '14 at 0:24
  • 2
    @quant, but that's exactly it. The discussion is perpetuating the notion of "craftsmanship is wrong because of gender bias, I'd like to impose a new politically correct term on the world". It seems to me like politically correct overreach. Apr 9 '15 at 10:14
  • 1
    @DoctorJones That argument has been addressed ad nauseum.
    – quant
    Apr 9 '15 at 11:22
  • 1
    seriously.... history? Is this going to turn into a clbuttic scenario, where we just censor the male gender completely? Apr 10 '15 at 5:10

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