A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: June 2009

First mention: first use of "Ms" in print

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts. When an author puts on the title page of a book Marion Smith, it is not even possible to be certain of the sex of the writer, and it is decidedly awkward for a reviewer to repeat the name in full over and over again. It would be a convenience if explanatory titles were added to the signature, but it seems to be regarded as “bad form.” Signatures to letters also cause no end of trouble to correspondents. The “Miss” or “Mrs” sometimes added in brackets are but an awkward makeshift, and often it is taken for granted that the recipient of the letter will remember the proper style of the writer, when, as a matter of fact he does nothing of the sort. Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expression any view as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler, or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation “Ms” is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as “Miss,” which would be a close parallel to the practice, long universal, in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.

Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican, November 10, 1901. Via Ben Zimmer.

Update: Ben Zimmer wrote to note that, in the last sentence, a word I could not decipher was “oral.”

Third person singular human

It has often been noted that English is deficient because it lacks a third-person pronoun that can refer to any person, without respect to sexual gender. Although some claim that “he” can refer to anyone in sentences like (1), most linguists agree that maleness is much more salient in these cases than a generic sense.

(1) Everyone should do his own work.

There are at least six common solutions proposed:

  1. Use he or she (or she or he). (Everyone should do his or her own work.) This includes everyone, but at the cost of more words.
  2. Use impersonal they. (Everyone should do their own work.). This includes everyone, and there is ample practice (both contemporary and historic) to support its use, but the plural sense is still somewhat salient.
  3. Use she. (Everyone should do her own work.) This “makes it fairer” by compensating for past male pronoun use, but the femaleness is even more salient (the ‘female’ tending to be more marked than the ‘male’–and, of course, some will say this is the point). I see this frequently in philosophical writing, sometimes combined with a strategy for alternating between ‘he’ and ‘she.’
  4. Use a newly invented term, such as e and ir. (Everyone should do ir own work.) This potentially solves the problem, but has never caught on; nor do I suspect it will.
  5. Assert forcefully that ‘he’ includes ‘she’ and deny there is a problem. (Everyone should do his own work.) This is just wishful thinking.
  6. Rewrite to remove the generic construction. (Our motto should be: Do your own work! or You should do your own work.) This is nothing wrong with this solution; it takes more effort, though, and sometimes the result is awkward. (Work must be done only by the person who is responsible for said work.—Is that awkward enough to prove my point?

I had the mad idea last night of another solution: Start using he/him/his to only refer to the generic third person, and invent a new series of pronouns for male references (for example, e/im/is). At one grammatical swoop, we fix all the generic third person problems, and force saliency on the marked gender case (Everyone should do his own work./Each girl should do her own work./Each boy should do is own work.). This solution is no more likely to achieve consensus than (4) above. But just in case the English Academy dictates this use, I want credit for inventing the Fitzgerald pronoun.

Were children again: Report from Camp Fasola, 2009, Session 1 (Adults Emphasis)

At nearly the last minute, Tom Malone suggested that we drive down to Camp Fasola on the Sunday before Camp began in the evening, and return on Thursday, the last day of Camp. I had to work on Friday (“Work—the curse of the singing class,” quipped Richard Schmeidler at dinner one day), and Tom is in the midst of a move back east. So, it was convenient to do this—as if driving 13 hours one way is anyone’s idea of ‘convenient.’ Still we jabbered away and then were blessed to run into Joyce Walton at the memorial marker to Seaborn and and Thomas Denson at the Winston Country Courthouse in Double Springs, Alabama (near camp), and things just keep getting better.

Camp McDowell is surprisingly posh. The “cabins” contained a large (air conditioned) common area with a fridge, sink, tables, and (most importantly) a coffee maker with coffee provided. The rooms had two beds, their own washroom with shower, and an in-window air conditioner (not really needed during our stay, we still appreciated its promise). Unfortunately, much of this requires electricity, and major storms had moved into the area earlier in the day; so, all the lights and air conditioning and water were off. The undefeatable Camp staff still managed to pull together food for us. We had an evening singing in the beautiful chapel, which was cut a bit short so we could walk back to the cabins before dark descended. Just before “lights out,” the lights came on, so all was well.

During the three days of class, many of us started the day singing out of the words only Lloyd’s Hymnal with Eugene Forbes, most of us sitting in comfortable rocking chairs. It was a delight to see Eugene at Camp; I’d met him two years previously, but neither he nor I were able to attend Camp last year. Then a hearty breakfast (note to northern singers: when eating grits, think “polenta,” not “cream of wheat,” and you will be delighted). And then, on to classes. Oh, there were so many good ones! You can see for yourself by looking at the schedule. My only regret this year was several programs I was unable to attend.

I’d say a major theme of the Camp was paying attention to the Rudiments, the teaching (found in the beginning of our tunebooks) of the basics of time, tune and accent. There were some very new singers there (one man, I believe, had never sung this music at all), and others had been singing for years. But under the leadership of the Camp teachers, we “were children again” and learned to sing better. I don’t have time to describe all of what we learned, but here are two vignettes. Several teachers described the importance of accent: that is, the “stress of voice or emphasis on one part of a sentence, strain or measure, more than another.” Familiar tunes became new again as we began to sing them with the accenting principles described in the rudiments. A second class highlight for me was Aldo Ceresa’s session, “And then I’ll be at rest,” where we paid close attention to the rests in the music: resting where we’re instructed to rest; starting and stopping those rests together; and singing when we’re instructed to sing. Several tunes came alive to me in new ways. Others will have different favorite learning moments, but these are a couple of mine.

There were three thematic sessions. On Monday, Harry Eskew commemorating the 200th birthday of William “Singing Billy” Walker (who was born the same year as Lincoln and Darwin). On Tuesday, Tom Malone did a eulogistic lesson on the songs of Hugh McGraw, who gave us the gift of his presence at Camp. There was also a slideshow of Hugh McGraw’s life at lunch immediately before the lesson, including high school pictures of the young man anointed “cutest boy” by his class. It was a good thing to be able to pay our respect to Hugh, and many heartfelt words were said during the lesson by Richard DeLong, Joyce Walton and others. On Wednesday, Tom Malone and Sandra Wikinson also did a eulogistic lesson on the Kitchens family, especially the life and music of Elder J.E. Kitchens (1912-1979), a Sacred Harp singer and composer, and former president of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. Several members of the Kitchens family, including his four daughters, were present. There are three tunes by Kitchens in the Denson book (279, 512, 568), and we sang from these as well as other tunes, including the very delightful God-given tune “Oh, Come With Me,” a baptismal meditation on Song of Solomon 4:8 and other scriptural images.

And the evening singing sessions. David Ivey promised us that our singing would get better over the three days, and his promise was kept. Everyone will have his or her own favorite moments, but watching Miss Josie Hyde lead 507 (Sermon on the Mount) on Wednesday night was surely a lesson. (There is a YouTube video of Miss Josie leading 507 at the Aldridge Memorial Singing right before Camp).

Other highlights including singing on the porch with Cheryl and Rick Foreman (in the dark because of another power outage); the interesting tunes and amazing sight-singing ability of the others at Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg’s “Composium” (new compositions singing); and “The First Annual No Book Rocking Chair Convention,” about which perhaps little should be said, except that I’ll never think of David Ivey in quite the same way again. And you might think that Jeff Sheppard could not jig, but you might be surprised.

I will fail if I try to do my thank yous properly, but I am grateful for David Ivey’s leadership in putting Camp together, and Karen Ivey’s yeowomanly efforts to make Camp a welcoming and comfortable place. I’m thankful for the Camp McDowell staff who literally guided us through storms. I’m thankful for the excellent teachers and the willing students. And I’m thankful for the composers and authors and compilers and teachers of this music.

Renewing Mennonite communal worship

A response to R Dean Hudgens’s Tongues and Tribes: Musical Change in a Mennonite Congregation.

I am very, very grateful for the time I spent at Reba Place Church (1990-1996, 1998 or so), and loved the music there. I was very grateful for the intentional way that the call to anti-racism worked itself out in music and worship. This included being part of the gospel choir, which developed my spirit and my musical abilities and helped me on an anti-racist path.

Still, I think it is fair to say that Reba Place Church, and the Mennonite Church as a whole, has missed important opportunities to provide space for people to worship in community.

Worship has turned more into a performance with some audience participation than the people of God worshipping together. In my experience, this is true in many Mennonite (and non-Mennonite congregations), even when the worship team is not very talented. You have, at the center, a choir, or worship team, or a talented soloist, which is the focus of the whole audience/congregation. (This is somewhat exacerbated at Reba, which attracts many talented people, including talented musicians.) I think that even the humblest of God’s servants cannot withstand the pressure to perform well for the audience rather than their stated goal of *leading* worship.

But other models are available. One is reclamation: reclaiming the a cappella heritage of European Mennonites and African-American heritages of camp meeting music, “Dr. Watt’s music” and spirituals. Another is engaging with contemporary shape note practitioners who also have a long history in community singing and practical pedagogy. Another is engaging with African and African-Mennonite communal singing and worship practices.

Unless music worship leaders of a church see as the major responsibility of their leadership to help the community to worship and to develop the community’s ability to worship through music, churches will naturally accept the performer/audience model. It is the model of popular culture, and it is the model accepted by almost all music education (including Mennonite musical education). It is a Power.

But Mennonites used to teach one another to sing. Mennonites used to have singing schools. Mennonites used to think it important to sing together. I think it is time for Mennonites to reclaim this as an active, living spiritual practice. I could hope that Reba would be a leader in doing this in a ‘catholic’ and anti-racist way.