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Readers write: Word evolution, religion and business

Letters to the editor for the Oct. 3, 2016 weekly magazine.

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Barronelle Stutzman leaves Benton County Superior Court in Kennewick, Wash. in 2013.

Kai-Huei Yau/Tri-City Herald/AP

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Word evolution

I love Ruth Walker’s column and share her enthusiasm for words. I have watched the evolution of the word “gender” with interest. 

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Before I was in high school, in the 1948-56 era, the word “gender” was only used in basic English grammar to distinguish certain pronouns that had precise meanings based on the sex of the subject at hand, such as him and her. When I got to high school, I discovered that in some languages the idea of gender is purely linguistic and sometimes has nothing to do with the biological sex of what is being referenced. 

When I finally got to college, some people were apparently embarrassed to use the word “sex,” so they used the word “gender” as a euphemism instead. But it has only been in the past few years that the word “gender” implies that we have some choice in the matter, while “sex” is pretty much fixed (with some very rare exceptions that are discovered at or near the time of birth). I leave it to you, Ms. Walker, as a challenge to expound on this linguistic evolution. Thank you for giving me a first page to turn to in my weekly Monitor.

Elizabeth E. “Betty” Stevens

Manhattan, Kan.

Religion and business

Regarding the Aug. 15 & 22 cover story, “A florist caught between faith and discrimination”: What a tragic story that reveals how inept our society is at handling different beliefs among ourselves. Barronelle Stutzman insists she must be allowed to keep her belief in Jesus. No one argues with that. But she needs to rethink what those beliefs do and do not compel her to do in her business. Does she refuse floral services to everyone who has at least one major moral belief that differs from her own? 

On the other side, there ought to be a way for the American Civil Liberties Union to take a stand for businesses to be truly public in their services (a good thing) without threatening a conscientious grandmother who simply has not fully thought through how to coordinate her business with religious differences between her and her customers, with the possible result being financial ruin (not a good thing).

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L. Dee Fink

Norman, Okla.