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Gender Inclusive or Just Bad Hebrew?

Geopolitics, Language, Language in the News, Terminology, Uncategorized

It’s traditional for the United States House of Representatives to open each new session with a prayer, but that prayer typically doesn’t end with “a-women.”

On Sunday, January 3rd — right before the members of the 117th session were sworn in — Missouri representative Emanuel Cleaver used the interesting turn of phrase together with “amen,” saying “May the lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace — peace in our families, peace in this land and there I ask, oh lord, peace even in this chamber. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths, amen and a-women.”

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Since the swearing in, Cleaver’s usage has fallen under criticism from the international press with UK outlets The Independent and Daily Mail reporting.

In addition to serving in Congress, Cleaver is ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church, a denomination of the Christian faith. Brahma, however, is a Hindu god.

The word amen itself derives from the Hebrew, meaning “certainty,” “truth,” or “verily.” In English, it is a declaration of affirmation typically used at the end of a prayer or used on its own as a form of agreement or sign of support. While Hebrew is a highly gendered language — in addition to number agreement, verbs also agree with subject noun gender — “amen” is non-gendered.

In other words, Cleaver’s usage is more politically than grammatically driven. January 1st, House speaker and fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi proposed new rules for the body that require members use “gender-inclusive language,” citing examples such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father” and “sibling” instead of “brother” or “sister.” These rules also require members to substitute verbs for gendered English nouns — “strike ‘’submit his or her resignation’ and insert ‘’resign’’’ — as well as use common nouns in place of pronouns: “Strike ‘’he or she serves’’ and insert ‘such Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves.’’’

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