or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ladies, Please!

Here's a sentence from an article in Slate about Christine O'Donnell:

In college she also says she "dabbled into witchcraft," which may have so disgusted her that it led to her anti-onanistic beliefs, since witches masturbate more than any group except sirens, wood nymphs, succubae, and every member of every male species.

You spotted it, right? "Succubae".

Here's the problem. Latin plurals are used less and less these days as people aren't learning Latin in school: the indisputably correct plural of "radius" is "radii", but "radiuses" is becoming more and more widely accepted, and there will come a time when the Latin form simply isn't used any more, as will be the case with "alumnuses", "memorandums", "criterions", and "matrixes". Some of these are already standard, as is the dual status of "data"--singular "datum" is hardly ever seen these days.

If you are going to use the correct Latin endings, then by god you'd better make sure you have them right. Without going into details about the various declensions, the usual plural ending for a masculine noun ending in "-us" is "-i", and likewise a feminine noun ending in "-a" will pluralize as "-ae". Alumnus: alumni. Alumna: alumnae.

"Succubus", though it refers to a female, has a masculine ending. ("Masculine" and "feminine" in grammar have little if anything to do with actual sexual gender: "uterus" in German is a masculine noun.) Therefore, the correct plural of "succubus" must be "succubi", as it nearly always is rendered.

So I can think of two explanations for "succubae". One is that the writer thought that since a succubus was always a female (the male version is "incubus"), it ought to have a proper feminine Latin ending, which is not the way language works. The other is that the writer is correctly pluralizing the extremely rare "succuba", which is "succubus" in a grammatically feminine form, and not unheard of in English. I don't know enough of the history of Latin to say for sure that "succuba" even existed in Roman times, but whether it did or didn't, "succubus" is the almost invariant form in modern English, and therefore "succubi" is how the plural ought to have appeared.

As an editor, I'd have red-pencilled "succubae" in a heartbeat, unless the writer had previously established the use of "succuba". Barring that, it simply looks wrong, and I can't think of a good excuse for it.


Here's a trailer for a movie on right-wing women. I made it to about 1:25 and then I just stopped it in disgust, because here is what plucked, bleached, primped, mini-skirted Ann Coulter has to say:

...and the culture has tried to take everything that makes women so strong away from them: their femininity, their morality....

Nope. Just couldn't take it after that. Not only because I don't think Coulter believes a single word that falls out of her mouth--I think she found a shtick and is playing it for all it's worth--but because she's so completely wrong.

"Femininity" is not something that women innately have, as is so thoroughly engendered in the body of Coulter herself; it is something that women buy, and what is more, they must buy it, over and over again, until the day they die.

Think of two people in a state of nature, unclothed except for an unstylish strip of cloth to cover their sex organs. Can a man in such a state be masculine? Without a doubt. He is hairy--bearded, if nothing else. He is rough. He is primeval. There are things he can do and say and buy to make him more or less masculine, of course: but the man himself as he exists can be masculine.

Now; can a woman in such a state be feminine? Of course not. Nothing she does, no action she performs, will be accepted in our culture as properly feminine. For starters, she, like the men, is hairy, and this is absolutely unacceptable. Look at the quantity of bile--hatred, really--that was dumped on Julia Roberts when she dared to be seen in public with unshaven armpits, or Mo'Nique with hairy legs. A woman must purchase some sort of depilatory agent, or she is disgusting and unfeminine.

And makeup? Put two women side by side, one with the full face of makeup and one unadorned: which one is more feminine? Personal attributes have little to do with it: she can be as dainty as a geisha (sans makeup--an unimaginable thing), as fragile as a crystal swan, as fainting as a mimosa pudica, but with her short pale lashes, wan lips, unimproved complexion, how can she compete against a rouged and powdered lady? To be properly feminine, a woman must have makeup.

And clothing. And accessories. And jewellery. The woman with wrinkles is less feminine than the woman without: that can be fixed, for a while, with expensive creams and surgeries. The woman in low heels is less feminine than the woman in stilettos: she must endanger her ankles, her health, and her safety to be correctly feminine. She must buy, and buy, and buy, and she must never fall behind, never let herself go in any way. She is perpetually at war with herself and with other women.

How can "the culture" take away women's femininity when that very culture, with its unremitting and ever-shallower emphasis on surfaces and money, is what forces it upon her in the first place?


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