According to the story, only 3% of Hispanic Americans surveyed use the term Latinx to describe themselves. As we reported yesterday, most Chicanos (how’s that for a flashback?) prefer Hispanic. But the true preference is to be called by their actual national origin (or their family’s national origin): Mexican-American, Salvadoran-American, and so on. That is, when they refer to it at all.
Why even have a catch-all term like Hispanic or, in my case, Asian? (Incidentally, both groups have historically been classified as White. More on that another time.) When uppity Euro-Americans call me out for being a “hyphenated American,” I remind them I didn’t ask to be distinguished by the national origins of my ancestors. If not for government forms or worrying if the Asian designation would deny my son admission to college, I might never have occasion to use the term. Wouldn’t that be nice?
The NPR story also seems surprised Latinx hasn’t caught on after 20 years. Considering the term was the province of academics, we are not the least bit shocked. The man and woman on the street doesn’t care what advanced degree holders think, at least when it comes to language. The clunky, overthought attempt at inclusivity that is Latinx not only has no history, you can’t spell it (some have tried LatinX) and you sure as heck can’t say it.
We don’t like linguistic flights of fancy. (If you’re surprised by that, you haven’t been following us. Hey, you can rectify that right now!) Words made-up on the fly, erroneous words made canon, incorrect usages legitimized—these rankle us and we make no apologies for that. No, we’re not really prescriptivists. We think English is better off without an Académie anglais (irony, folks!). But we also think it would be better off if people used words in ways most people understand. Penultimate has only one definition, and yet people are afraid to use it for fear of being misconstrued. The only fear we should have is the fear of being shunned from polite society, of being denied meat and drink, for, say, using solvency to mean “solving cases.”
We also don’t like wading into political waters. We are proud of our political stances and make no apologies for them, either. But we’ve found Americans get overly invested in politics-as-identity, to the point that the weight of an opinion, analysis, or scientific finding is determined solely by the author’s politics (at least in the reader’s mind). We think this is a sign of feeble thinking. If William Safire declares surety means “guarantee” instead of “certainty,” it carries the same weight as if Noam Chomsky says it. (Except that Safire is dead. Details.)
Two months ago, we covered the (somewhat) political minefield of Black vs black (and also white vs White). We ended up agreeing with Kwame Anthony Appiah‘s thesis. How about Latinx?
How about it. Behold, an October, 2019, statement from then-presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
While I had read Latinx in print, Elizabeth Warren was the first person I’d heard pronounce the word. Or try to. I know many of us were jarred hearing “Latinecks.” Maybe we were expecting “Latinks” Like minx or Manx.
Yes, kitty, it doesn’t sound right to us either. Maybe that’s because it’s a clunky, unnatural construction made up simply to avoid an age-old “problem”—gendered language.
This is not the first time English speakers have tried to navigate this. In ancient Greek, Αδελφοι (adelphoi) means “brothers”, but can also encompass “brothers and sisters.” If there are 999 women in a room and one man, you would address them as Αδελφοι. Some progressive Bible translations try to get around this by substituting “believers” or “people,” but this negates the familial model St. Paul and others are encouraging the early church to adopt. The English Standard Version goes, in my estimation, too far back in the other direction, sticking to “brothers” even when context makes it clear women are present.
So that’s the needle Latinx tries to thread. And clearly whoever came up with the term was wearing asbestos work gloves while doing it. Spanish speakers have never had a problem understanding Latinos includes women, and Mr. Sopo even goes so far as to accuse Warren of Anglicizing his language. I would agree with him, except English doesn’t mangle words with a misplaced X, either. Oh wait.
Rory Gory, Teen Vogue contributor extraordinaire aside, does any modern English speaker use Mx. or womxn? Apart from the gender politics of those words, how do you pronounce them? Are they even useful? I agree with (and have addressed) the usefulness of Ms., and clearly the majority of Anglophones take the same view. Time will be the judge of Mx. and its ilk. As for Latinx, even Senator Warren has abandoned it: