Awoman: gender-free language in Congress

« previous post | next post »

No, that is not a typo for "A woman". It is meant to be the feminine gendered equivalent of "Amen".

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver closes Congress’ opening prayer with ‘amen and awoman’

By Emily Jacobs, New York Post   January 4, 2021


A House Democrat tasked with leading the body in an opening prayer for the new Congress has gendered the word “amen.”

To close a prayer he delivered from the House chamber Sunday to mark the swearing in of the 117th Congress, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), an ordained minister, altered the traditional “amen” to say “amen and awoman.”

“May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace,” Cleaver said during his two-minute invocation, “peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber.”

“We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.”

His decision to gender the word, however, comes just days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduced new House rules that would “honor all gender identities” by eliminating specific terms such as mother and father, son and daughter, and aunt and uncle.

Instead, only gender-neutral terms such as “parent,” “child,” “sibling” and “parent’s sibling” would be allowed in the text of congressional rules.

Calling the rules “future-focused” in a statement upon their release, Pelosi defended them as “the most inclusive in history.”

The package will be voted on by the House Monday.

 

Etymologies of "amen"

Online Etymology Dictionary

amen (interj.)

Old English, from Late Latin amen, from Ecclesiastical Greek amen, from Hebrew amen "truth," used adverbially as an expression of agreement (as in Deuteronomy xxvii.26, I Kings i.36), from Semitic root a-m-n "to be trustworthy, confirm, support."

Compare similar use of Modern English certainly, absolutely. Used in Old English only at the end of Gospels, otherwise translated as Soðlic! or Swa hit ys, or Sy! As an expression of concurrence after prayers, it is recorded from early 13c.

Wiktionary

From Middle English amen, from Old English, from Ecclesiastical Latin āmēn, from Ancient Greek ἀμήν (amḗn), from Biblical Hebrew אָמֵן(ʾāmēn, certainly, truly) (cognate with Arabic آمِينَ(ʾāmīna), Classical Syriac ܐܡܝܢ(ʾāmên)). In Old English, it was used only at the end of the Gospels. Elsewhere, it was translated as sōþlīċe! (truly”, “indeed!), swā hit is (so it is), and sīe! ([so] be it!).

 

AHDEL 5th ed. Appendix of Semitic roots

ʔmn

West Semitic, to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe.

a. amen, from Hebrew ʔāmēn, truly, certainly;
b. Mammon, from Aramaic māmonā, probably from Mishnaic Hebrew māmôn, probably from earlier *maʔmōn (? "security, deposit"). Both a and b from Hebrew ʔāman, to be firm.
 
 
Selected readings
 



60 Comments »

  1. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:06 pm

    I've thought that it was cognate with "Kamen" ("also") in the tiny bit of Aribic I was taught in Cairo. It that right?

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:20 pm

    Wikipedia notes that speculative/fanciful etymology for this particular word is nothing new: "Popular among some theosophists,[10] proponents of Afrocentric theories of history,[11] and adherents of esoteric Christianity[12] is the conjecture that amen is a derivative of the name of the Egyptian god Amun (which is sometimes also spelled Amen). Some adherents of Eastern religions believe that amen shares roots with the Hindu Sanskrit word Aum.[13][14][15][16] Such external etymologies are not included in standard etymological reference works. The Hebrew word, as noted above, starts with aleph, while the Egyptian name begins with a yodh."

    Separately, while the word in English is pronounced with the same vowel as the etymologically unrelated "men," this coincidence is maybe a bit of a historically-frozen spelling pronunciation. The word came into English from New Testament Greek via Latin, and in Greek the second syllable of ἀμήν has long been pronounced (maybe not since NT times, but since early Byzantine times, at least) with what in English we would call the FLEECE vowel rather than the DRESS vowel, i.e. like "ahmeen." Cyrillically-scripted European languages tend to reflect that shift in Greek pronunciation, e.g. Амин in Bulgarian.

  3. Vireya said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:23 pm

    If you want to interpret "amen" as masculine, why chose "awoman" as the feminine version? Why only one woman? Why not "awomen"?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:37 pm

    I think it's interesting that "amen" and "Mammon" have the same Semitic root.

  5. Dan Romer said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:43 pm

    Victor, it looks like you are going to arouse Mark's ire with your use of 'task' as a verb.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 7:46 pm

    VHM: The Amen/Mammon thing may seem incongruous, but is perhaps akin to the modern AmEng usage of "cash money" to mean "cool" or "awesome", as discussed here? https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=46362

  7. cameron said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 8:02 pm

    Amniyat, from that same root, meaning "security" is a common word in Persian. The Shah's secret police, the dreaded SAVAK, was properly called Sāzmāne Ettelā'āt va Amniyate Keshvar, which means National Intelligence and Security Organisation. In common parlance it was often just called Sāzmāne Amniyat.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 8:12 pm

    @cameron

    Thank you for that note about SAVAK; it is one more indication of how fluid the transfer of morphemes is between Persian (IE) and Arabic (Semitic). in both directions.

  9. Craig said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 8:37 pm

    I don't know anything about Rev. Cleaver, but this incident leaves me with the impression that he's actually mocking Pelosi's statement. "Amen and awoman" is almost too idiotic to support any other interpretation.

  10. William Ockham said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 9:10 pm

    Umm, this is a really old preacher joke. My dad (Baptist preacher from Texas) was telling this joke 50 years ago.

  11. Craig said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 10:08 pm

    Ah, then he was definitely joking.

  12. djw said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 11:02 pm

    @ William Okham, my recollection of east Texas English 50 years ago is that a lot of the parishioners would have heard "a man" and "a woman" because east Texas English back then didn't sound like middle American English today.

  13. R. Fenwick said,

    January 4, 2021 @ 11:23 pm

    @Victor Mair: it is one more indication of how fluid the transfer of morphemes is between Persian (IE) and Arabic (Semitic). in both directions.

    You may enjoy knowing that Persian Sāzmāne Ettelā'āt va Amniyate Keshvar can also be rendered in Ottoman Turkish as Sâzmân-i Ittılaat ve Emniyet-i Memleket. And though the final word does not correspond, even it is also from Arabo-Persian. The extensive language reforms set in place by Atatürk notwithstanding, this extends that chain of fluidity to a third language from yet another distinct family: in this instance, Turkic. Here the flow was more one-way, but even so there are a decent number of Ottomanisms, at least lexically, that have successfully penetrated into Persian and Arabic as well.

    To step on a soapbox for a moment, this is a classic example of why mass lexical comparison à la Greenberg is so dangerous. Disentangling loans from genuinely inherited cognates is a very risky business that requires reliance on well-researched sources rather than first-contact wordlists, and borrowing en masse is also quite capable of generating regular phonetic correspondences. This is why I'm still sceptical about the idea of Altaic.

  14. Renzo Alves said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 1:12 am

    Reminds of one of my old structural linguistics professor's ideas, (Mary Haas), that of "interlingual word taboos." A word in L1 resembles a word with unreleated meaning in L2 but word in L2 is taboo so the word in L1 becomes taboo (to naive users of L1). Taboo by phonetic association.

  15. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:59 am

    But why awoman instead of awomen?

  16. David Morris said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 4:28 am

    But we still sing hymns and not hers!

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 4:59 am

    … or even "herns" — no reason at all why only the male should be allowed a silent "n" !

  18. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 7:31 am

    If a Congressional "prayer" is reusing ancient preacher jokes, invoking every deity under (above, and including) the sun, and poking fun at proposed Congressional rules (however silly those rules may be), it's not really much of a "prayer" anymore, is it? If an invocation prayer has to be so "inclusive" that it's totally lost its function (i.e. to invoke the protection and blessings of G-d(s) over the legislative body), and has lost any sense of reverence, why not do away with the practice altogether?

    Or, even better, appoint a Quaker minister to be the full-time Congressional chaplain. Then, before every session of Congress, the minister takes to the podium and simply stands there, eyes closed in _actual_ religious contemplation and prayer, while the legislature has to sit in _respectful_ silence for a few minutes.

  19. John Shutt said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 9:26 am

    "hyrns"? (or, really reaching, since "n" isn't usually silent after "r", perhaps "hyrhs"?)

  20. Ralph Hickok said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 9:46 am

    This is just silly. What's next? Speciwomen, hywomen, cognowomen, catechuwomen, cyclowomen, regiwomen, abdowomen…

  21. linda seebach said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 10:59 am

    human
    huperson
    huperchild

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 11:06 am

    Don't you find "huperson" a little too speciesist, Linda ? I think we should consider "huprimate", "humammaliaforme", "huchordate", "hueukaryote", …, but even then we are differentiating against those poor downtrodden plants, fungi and so on, so it's not really clear where we should stop …

  23. RachelP said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 11:38 am

    @Philip Taylor.
    "Huliving Organism" seems fine to me. But then that's discriminating against inanimate objects so still not good enough, I imagine.

  24. Craig said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 12:43 pm

    If we really want to avoid offending anyone, there's always this option from Roger Zelazny's novel "Creatures of Light and Darkness" (1969):

    "Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."

  25. Terry K. said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 12:44 pm

    I feel like the original article, and some of the commenters, are lacking in their sense of humor. It strikes me a respectful but humorous reference to the issue of equality that the new House rules address.

    Also, since "Amen" is the closing of a prayer, the "and awoman" would be, really, after the prayer rather than in the prayer.

    And, in the humor vein, replying to the last few comments above… As a reader and watcher of Science Fiction and fantasy, huperson doesn't strike me as at all speciesist. A person doesn't have to be a human. Klingons, Hobbits, etc, are people too.

  26. Phillip Helbig said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 1:32 pm

    There is no satire so biting that it is not surpassed by reality.

    The thing is, sensible people know that Trump is bad. The woke stuff is just as silly but is taken seriously by way to many people.

    Before long, it won”t be possible to refer to the history of the country in Congress. It will have to be theirstory.

    Wait a minute…country is obviously feminine. :-)

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 1:49 pm

    Phillip — "it won”t be possible to refer to the history of the country in Congress. It will have to be theirstory". 35 years ago I had a Canadian girlfriend, to whom, very early in our relationship-to-be, I sent a letter addressed to "Miss G**** S*****s". I was told in no uncertain terms that she was not "Miss", anything, she was "Ms", and if I made that mistake again, it was all off.

    Later on she took me to some feminist bookshops in Toronto, and even then, 35 years ago, they had shelves labelled "Herstory". I jest not.

  28. Ethan said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 2:59 pm

    I have to think that the closing words of Rep. Cleaver were also a nod to the newly appointed incoming chaplain, who is indeed a woman.

  29. David Morris said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:01 pm

    We also need to womention the fundawomental problems of womental health and womenstruation.

    Thanks for the suggestions about hyrns etc. I attempted to type something along those lines but couldn't find the best spelling.

  30. Sophie MacDonald said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:04 pm

    The comments on this post exhibit one of the clearer illustrations I've seen of the dichotomy among LLog commenters, between people who find in language a spark for curiosity and those who find in it an occasion to rehearse tired insecurities.

  31. Craig said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:07 pm

    And let us not forget those who find in this topic an occasion to accuse other people of being "insecure" as a way of delegitimizing their views.

  32. Chas Belov said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:26 pm

    Ashkenazic Hebrew is approximately "o-main" (not quite satisfied with the vowel I put on "o" but the "main" part is def "main" and not "men").

  33. Marc Sacks said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 3:54 pm

    I changed amen to aperchildren a long time ago.

  34. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 4:32 pm

    To Chas:

    Totally off topic, but if I don't ask now, I'll forget — has anyone ever worked out what "Selah" means?

  35. Philip Taylor said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 4:36 pm

    Well, typing it into Google Translate offers "סלח" as the Hebrew and "forgive" as the English. Would this make sense in the context of which you were thinking, Benjamin ?

  36. David Morris said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 6:27 pm

    And womenopause.

  37. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 6:52 pm

    Philip: Not sure. The context in which I’ve seen it has been at the end of certain of the Psalms, almost like an “amen”. But anytime there’s ever a footnote, it’s always: “meaning uncertain”.

  38. Peter Taylor said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 7:50 pm

    On the subject of deriving humour from ambiguities around the word "amen", someone should mention the Argentinian musical comedy troupe Les Luthiers (now, sadly, partially deceased) and their presentation of a monk's musical sex education talk, which plays on "amén" (the prayer-ending symbol) and "amen" (a conjugation of "amar" which in this context is the second person plural imperative: love). Video, transcript.

    @Benjamin E. Orsatti, the commentaries I've read all agree that no-one really knows, but "Pause for instrumental part" is a reasonable guess.

  39. Anthony said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 8:02 pm

    Odd phenowomena indeed

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 8:36 pm

    John McWhorter supports the "it's a creaky-old preacher joke" take: https://twitter.com/JohnHMcWhorter/status/1346548838111309825

  41. R. Fenwick said,

    January 5, 2021 @ 11:05 pm

    @Craig: And let us not forget those who find in this topic an occasion to accuse other people of being "insecure" as a way of delegitimizing their views.

    Repeated mockery of attempts to move towards inclusivity doesn't deserve legitimising in any sense. In this regard I'd also suggest that your talking over the voice of a woman—who more than likely is sick to the gills of having to deal with such mockery pervading most of her daily life in our ragingly patriarchal society—is not helping your case.

  42. Robert Riddett said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 12:50 am

    Senatrix? Senatrices?

  43. jackoer said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 1:57 am

    I feel like the original article, and some of the commenters, are lacking in their sense of humor. It strikes me a respectful but humorous reference to the issue of equality that the new House rules address.
    https://bit.ly/3ldeLOq

  44. Twill said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 3:11 am

    @Phillip Taylor It's סלה with a he (no comment on the present topic). It is very likely derived from a verb of the same root meaning to raise ones voice or to exalt. The main theory is that it simply indicates a spot to insert an acclamation in praise of the Lord in the text, though it could be a musical direction. It's not likely to be absolutely settled until such a time as we can abduct a cantor from two millennia ago.

  45. Peter Grubtal said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 4:51 am

    Sophie MacDonald, R. Fenwick

    What goes under the term "inclusivity" seems to range from some reasonable measures, through unreasonable measures via absurdity to an oppressive totalitarianism (cf. cancel-culture).

    Totalitarians see humour as as bad an enemy as free speech, and one of their first measures is to suppress them both.

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 5:17 am

    And, I would respectfully suggest, saying “amen and awoman” at the end of a prayer is not "[an] attempt to move towards inclusivity" but simply a linguistic joke, on which equally light-hearted comments and analogous nonce-formations such as many of those above are completely in order.

  47. S. Valkemirer said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 8:20 am

    Years ago the tongue-in-cheek recommendation was woperchild:

    If woman contains man, man must be replaced by person. Hence woperson.

    But since woperson contains son, the latter must be replaced by child.

    Hence woperchild.

  48. Terry K. said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 8:55 am

    spam comment above from jackoer. (The text is from a previous comment… mine which is why I caught it.)

  49. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 12:30 pm

    The proposed rule is a rule for the rules, right? I'm not sure why "aunt" or "uncle", for example, would appear in the House rules at all.

    In addition to perhaps mocking the proposal with "awoman", the Rev. Rep. Cleaver seems to have directly contradicted its spirit by addressing the Supreme Being as "Lord", but of course that's free exercise of religion.

    Benjamin E. Orsatti: I'm not sure what the purpose of the invocation is. I suspect that for some it's to ask for a divine blessing and for others it's to appear to ask. I hope Pastor Cleaver is in the former category, but still, he may have felt that a little humor at the end would be a little step toward the peace he was praying for. Whether it actually had that effect I don't know.

  50. Arthur Baker said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 1:53 pm

    Thank the Lord in Heaven I gave up religion 60 years ago.

  51. Haamu said,

    January 6, 2021 @ 5:50 pm

    @Peter Grubtal:

    The quotation marks you've used around inclusivity read to me like scare quotes and suggest you don't think much of the concept, or at least of that term as it is being used of late. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but if not, it's unfortunate, because the concept is good, even if the execution is uneven.

    Cancel culture is a term too easily lobbed, but where it actually exists it exemplifies what I would call exclusionary inclusivity. It embodies hypocrisy and invites legitimate ridicule. But those aren't grounds for abandoning or ridiculing the necessary concept of inclusivity itself.

    To better focus future discussions, I offer the alternative term inclusion, which I posit as an unambiguous moral obligation. Inclusivity, in contrast, is tactical, a mere preference for or tendency toward something, barely (if at all) imperative. And worse: it's been tagged as a shibboleth and stained with those exclusionary connotations. We're witnessing the pejoration of the term in real time, and your comment has joined the corpus of examples.

    All of which is a lecture I'm sure you don't need. But I decided to indulge myself when you triggered me with your casual use of the "cancel culture = totalitarianism" trope, against which I have sworn a blood oath, no matter where I encounter it. It's an insult to anyone who has experienced actual totalitarianism. It's careless hyperbole, or, if you actually meant it, philosophical cosplay. Please don't use it.

    And to the rest of you: I apologize for joining the ranks of the humorless in this thread. But words matter.

  52. Peter Grubtal said,

    January 7, 2021 @ 3:51 am

    Haamu _
    I used quotes for the same reason, I think, that you use italics.
    Are quotes inherently scarier than italics?

  53. Terry K. said,

    January 7, 2021 @ 9:03 am

    Haamu, Peter Grubtal is clearly mentioning a term, not using it, so it doesn't fit the context for scare quotes, which applies when using a word and putting it in quotes. He uses quotes because it's mention, not use. It even says "the term" right before the word.

  54. Michael Watts said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 3:50 pm

    Senatrix? Senatrices?

    Unsatisfying; the Senate is named after the old men, senes, who make it up. It is strange to refer to female old men; old women are anus, not senes.

  55. Philip Taylor said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 5:12 pm

    So as men grow old and become senile, women grow old and become anile ? Something else I have learned from Language Log.

  56. John Shutt said,

    January 10, 2021 @ 7:55 am

    Wiktionary says senex can be either masculine or feminine — old man or old woman. Doing a bit of light hunting, other Latin dictionaries are a mixed bag, most agreeing it's m or f (or "old person" as one put it), one or two listing it as simply "old man"; sample size being quite small, i.e., I don't actually know of all that many Latin dictionaries these days, even throwing in the two on my bookshelf ("dead-tree", as the retronym runs; they feel kind of lonely on the shelf these days, still treasured but rarely consulted anymore in the age of the internet).

  57. Michael Watts said,

    January 10, 2021 @ 6:58 pm

    Wiktionary says senex can be either masculine or feminine — old man or old woman. Doing a bit of light hunting, other Latin dictionaries are a mixed bag, most agreeing it's m or f (or "old person" as one put it), one or two listing it as simply "old man"; sample size being quite small

    Fair enough, Lewis and Short gives a citation for hanc tot mala ferre senem, explictly female. I called it unsatisfying, not wrong. Though that's mainly for another reason:

    So as men grow old and become senile, women grow old and become anile ?

    This would make more sense if senile meant "old" or "like an old man", as opposed to its actual meaning of "displaying advanced mental deterioration". "Anile" is apparently beloved of crossword puzzle authors, though, in the meaning "like an old woman".

    This shift-of-sense argument is sufficient to justify Senatrix, of course.

  58. Philip Taylor said,

    January 11, 2021 @ 12:15 pm

    In re "senex", my old Latin master of some 60 years ago is still alive and enjoys e-mail conversation, so I will seek his views.

  59. Victor Mair said,

    January 12, 2021 @ 8:47 am

    I just had occasion to use this expression in a communication to a female colleague whom I respect very much:

    "You are a womensch!"

  60. A. Barmazel said,

    January 14, 2021 @ 2:03 pm

    @Thomas Hutcheson

    According to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D9%83%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86 "Kaman" is contraction of the two words "Kama 'an", so no relation with "Amen".

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment