You may have seen the image on Facebook: a poster on a “Wholefoods” storefront window asking customers and employees to avoid “gendered” speech, such as “Hello Sir,” and “Thanks Brother.”
It’s actually misleading. The Whole Foods Market in the United States does not have such a policy, but a restaurant in Australia with a similar name, Monash Wholefoods, does and that’s where the notice was posted in September. It duped a lot folks on Facebook, including me.
Like many, I was taken aback at first by this extreme form of political correctness on a friend’s Facebook page and posted the comment, “Glad to be living in Latin America!” Which garnered lots of likes, along with lots of crude suggestions for non-gendered forms of address, such as, “Hey, fathead.” I’m being nice: the actual suggestions were a lot more abusive.
My Facebook friends include both all-English and mostly-Spanish speakers, so a few didn’t get the gist of it. I tried to explain the image and follow-up comments to my Ecuadorian friends, and it was tough — almost impossible to do. If you know any Spanish, or any Latin language, every pronoun has gender. So in the case of “fat-head,” which far from being an insult, is a real — and affectionate — nickname in Spanish, “cabezon,” you’d have to be gender-specific, either male, “cabezon,” or female, “cabezona.”
After struggling to find a good example of silly, non-gendered address in Spanish, beyond the stodgy, “hey person,” I could only come with, “usted, animal.” It got a big laugh.
But what followed, perplexed my Ecuadorian friends even more. I tried to explain the recent, U.S. crusade to promote non-gendered speech, to avoid the male, “Latino,” and female “Latina,” in addressing Spanish-speaking folks (although the words also refer to Portuguese, French, Italian, Catalan and Romanian speakers), by coining an awful-sounding, gender-neutral pronoun only a gringo could invent, the neoteric term” “Latinx,” (pronounced, “La-teen-ex), placing the unbiased “x” at the end of the word, instead of the gender-telling “o” or “a.”
From there, it’s all downhill. You’d have to change the whole Spanish language structure to eliminate the sex bias, since our semantic ascribes X and Y chromosomes to everything, including inanimate objects. Despite that, why should English speakers agonize with gendered words like “Latinos and Latinas” when you have the perfectly good, and totally gender-neutral term: “Latins.”
Don’t neuter the Romance languages.