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"A Person Paper on Purity in Language"

Yesterday I promised cognitive dissonance. Here it is.

In 1985, the brilliant Douglas Hofstadter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, wrote a column for Scientific American titled "A Person Paper on Purity in Language." If you haven't read it, do so now. Without giving it away, what Hofstadter does is to express his feelings about sexist language through an ingenious and rich analogy. It is arguably the single best essay by one of the most talented essayists of our time (if only he was still writing a monthly column -- what a joy that was).

How is it that I can extol the virtues of a blog entry on "girl power" while at the same time holding up Hofstadter's essay as one of the best I have ever read? It must be cognitive dissonance. Reading what Halley Suitt wrote, I don't see it as derogatory or demeaning to her gender -- quite the opposite. Yet Hofstadter argues convincingly against the very word "girl" (without mentioning it directly). I'm trying to sort out the contradiction for myself. If you have any theories, e-mail me.

Hofstadter's paper and his other columns are collected in the wonderful Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. Highly recommended.

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