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March 30, 2010


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Jeff Lipshaw

I really wonder whether there's bias (conscious or unconscious) in words that have so evolved from their etymological roots. My highly educated wife uses "terrific!" all the time as a response to a good news, yet it is the adjectival form of "terror." (Just looking at the word "terror" by the way, I assume it has its roots in "terre-" or earth, making me wonder if it has something to do with quakes, chasms, or netherworlds!)

That's not to minimize gender bias in language, or our increased sensitivity to it. One of my course is Agency, Partnership, and LLC, in which the Uniform Partnership Act of 1914 is a mainstay, and it's always a little weird to listen to the repeated male genderisms, even as I'm saying them in class.

Matthew Reid Krell

I'm not convinced these two words are interchangeable. Perhaps their very lack of interchangeability is a sign of gender bias, but "germinal" means "being in the earliest stage of development," (, definition 1); the nearest definition for "seminal" is "having possibilities of future development" (which is the same source's definition 3!). I suspect, however, that most scholars use "seminal" in the sense of definition 4, "highly original and influencing the development of future events," a definition without equivalent for "germinal."

I guess I'm sort of more forcefully making Jeff's point, which is that words evolve and their etymological roots don't necessarily have bearing on their modern usage. That said, I would not be surprised to find some gender bias in the fact that "seminal" can be used to replace "early and vital," whereas "germinal" can only be used to replace "original." The one implies importance, whereas we see from Derek Sivers' "Dancing Guy" that being the "original" (or if you prefer, germinal) only matters if someone follows you. In short, being seminal implies being germinal, but not vice versa - which may or may not be evidence of gender bias.

Matthew Reid Krell

Almost forgot the link to the dancing guy:

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