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Penkava: Taking the man out of the manhole

Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

We are certainly living in changing times. Whenever we think about rapid change, often technology comes to mind. It’s a scary thing to consider buying a new cellphone or computer nowadays for fear that the week after we buy it, they will announce some devastatingly awesome technical feature that will put our new purchase into the Techno Dark Ages.

Personally, I’m forgoing the buying of a new television until they come out with one that has an automatic popcorn popping function … just press a button on the remote for extra butter.

But technology is not the only thing that is changing. One aspect of our lives that is continually in flux is our language. Every year new words are being added to our vocabulary. Last year we officially christened such words as:

floordrobe: noun; a pile of clothes left on the floor of a room. “Hey, check out News Editor Kevin Lyon’s new floordrobe!”

bang tidy: adjective; of exceptionally good quality. “Sportswriter Tom Musick’s columns are OK, but Penkava’s are bang tidy.”

hangry: adjective; irritable as a result of feeling hungry, “Geesh, Assistant News Editor Joan Oliver gets awfully hangry when she doesn’t have her XXL grilled stuffed bacon burrito for breakfast.”

blamestorming: verb; a method of finding someone or something to blame for a mistake. “We need to do some blamestorming to pin that misspelling on Editor Jason Schaumburg.”

It’s one thing to add new words to our language, but it seems that there is another catalyst for linguistic change. Recently, several states, including Illinois, are implementing reforms to eliminate gender bias from our vocabulary. Funny, but I thought that perhaps eliminating male gender governor incarceration bias would be a greater priority.

Be that as it may, to gender–neutralize our language, certain words must be changed. For example, you can’t have the word “freshman” anymore because it is gender-biased toward boys. Thus, “freshman” is changed to “first-year student.”

A “journeyman electrician” becomes a “journey-level electrician” and a “signalman” becomes a “signal operator.” Likewise, “fisherman” has been changed to “fisher,” and hence, I’m figuring that a “horseman” then becomes a “horser” and a “spaceman” becomes a “spacer.” See how this works?

But those are easy words. There isn’t a quick gender-bias fix for the word “manhole.” It appears that the word experts do not like “Humanhole” or “Personhole.” Why not broaden the description and go with “Personal Sewage Access Port” or perhaps “Hominoid Lower Street Entry Device”?

Another word that poses a problem is “penmanship.” My first reaction is that we change “penman” to “penner,” like we did with “fisher” and “horser” and “spacer.” Then you just combine “penner” with “”ship” and, voila, we have “pennership.” Of course, we could just call it “handwriting,” but even that word poses its own bias problems.

That’s because the process of handwriting involves more than just the hand … there is also the component of the coordination of the eyes. If we simply call it “handwriting,” then we are venturing into the realm of “body part bias” and risk alienating whole systemic biological functions.

Perhaps instead of “handwriting” we could use “multiple mode inscribed communication,” or, “mul-mod-in-co” for short, as in, “Michael, why can’t you have nice mulmodinco like the girls in the class?” Nope, no gender bias there.

So maybe change is a good thing, and maybe it’s not. All I know is that when I’m feeling a bit hangry, I just grab something from my floordrobe and go out and find something bang tidy to eat. Unless, of course, I fall through a Personal Sewage Access Port.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. His mulmodinco is still pretty bad, but he can blamestorm like crazy. He can be reached at

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