Tag Archives: political correctness

Personal Attention

Are you a “people person”? That’s slang for an extrovert, someone who delights in the company of others. (Which brings up this question: If you like one-on-one interactions, does that make you a “person person”?)  The noun “person,” used this way, refers to someone who is extremely interested in whatever descriptive word is attached to it. In this sign, though, “phone person” probably doesn’t refer to someone whose views on the latest iPhone resemble the way the rest of us feel about air. Instead, it’s the easiest way to avoid gender-specific terms. Take a look:









Write “phone man” or “phone woman” and you’re implying the gender of the preferred job- applicant. Top marks to this signmaker for non-sexist language! Not so top marks for communication. What does a “phone person” do? Call or answer or both? People doing those tasks used to be called “operators” or “secretaries.” But back to “person”:









Note: On some devices the image appears small, so I’ll reproduce its message here:

Help wanted


  • Deli Man
  • Delivery Person

According to this sign, anyone can deliver, but only men can work in the deli. Really? I doubt that’s the meaning, if only because the ratio of men to women zooming around with bags of dinner is approximately a zillion to one, judging from my experience dodging delivery bicyclists on the sidewalks of New York. I checked “deli man” in various dictionaries, to find out whether this was a traditional term, like “businessman.” Nope. I’m still scratching my head over the mixed usage — gender nonspecific “person” v. masculine “deli man.” I can imagine a few scenarios: (1) two people worked on the sign or (2) someone cut-and-pasted part of an old sign into a new one or (3) the signwriter was on automatic pilot for the first half of the sign and then remembered that these days, discriminatory hiring is illegal. Other theories welcome.

To be fair, it’s not always easy to come up with an inclusive term. Here’s one effort:









Yes, “fishermen” would be sexist, and “fishermen/women” is way too long. But “fishers” sounds strange, at least to my ears.  And so does, I’m sad to admit, “fisherperson.”  I can’t think of another term that works, though. “Marine-life procurement specialist”? “Seafood harvester”? Nope and nope.

I’ll let you, the “blog person,” figure it out. I’m off to see the deli man for some tuna, caught by fishers.

Grade D+

I’ve written elsewhere (“Missing and Presumed” at http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=311) about dropping the letter D from expressions such as “grill cheese,” “old fashion,” and “never close, open 24/7.” This sign has the opposite problem:

Grilled and Deli Man

Grilled and Deli Man









Reflected light mars the photo, so to clarify, the store is hiring a “Delivery, Cashier, Grilled & Deli Man.” If I take the noun “man” as the center of this statement from a non-equal-opportunity- employer, the other words serve as modifiers. So the store seeks a “delivery man,” a “cashier man” (turning the noun “cashier” into an adjective), and a “grilled and deli man.”

The last phrase leads me to a couple of questions. Does an applicant have to submit proof that detectives placed him in a windowless room under a bright lamp where they grilled him for hours about, presumably, his qualifications for working in a deli? I can hear the boss now: “Pre-grilled applicants save interview time.” Or is the shop hiring a man who has spent some time over charcoal? I shudder at that last possibility. I shudder at the spelling/grammar error too, but less. Much less.

Pregnant Persons

On the subway this morning I heard a recorded announcement begging riders to give up their seats to “elderly, disabled, and pregnant persons.” In my experience – and contrary to New Yorkers’ reputation for callous disregard of others – all sorts of people leap up to offer seats to those with gray hair (me, for example) and to others with obvious physical needs. Still, I was pleased to hear the reminder.

M for MTA

A kinder, gentler MTA









I must confess, though, that I spent the whole ride thinking about the phrase “pregnant persons.” The writer wanted three adjectives (elderly, disabled, and pregnant) to modify the noun persons. But because only females can give birth, the gender-neutral term, pregnant persons, sounded odd.

I considered alternatives. Substituting pregnant women doesn’t work, because then you’re being polite only to females, as the other two adjectives attach to women. With that wording, a fragile 90-year-old guy is out of luck, as are men of any age who have broken legs or other conditions that make standing on a moving train a bad idea.

Nor can you simply turn those adjectives into nouns, ceding the seat to the elderly, disabled, or pregnant. This wording reduces complex human identity to one characteristic. I’m old, but age is just one part of me. I imagine that wheelchair users and others with physical issues feel the same way.  (For a longer discussion of age-related terms, check out “Euph and Old Age” in this blog. Here’s the URL:  http://www.grammarianinthecity.com/?p=479.)

One solution is to rearrange the sequence, so that you’re talking about pregnant women, and elderly and disabled persons. That works, but it’s awkward and may too easily be misread as excluding women from the more general category, persons.

So what’s a train-riding grammarian to do? I’m voting for something like this: “Please give up your seat to anyone who has difficulty standing.” But I’m open to suggestions from every person, including pregnant ones.