Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Quitting the VDE / Follow-up: My experiences with professional associations and similar groups / Follow-up: A few thoughts on English and German language choices around men and women

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I have previously written both about my disappointing experiences with professional associations and similar groups ([1]) and absurd PC language in Germany (e.g. [2]; and, obviously, a number of texts on English PC language).

As I wrote in [1]:

VDE: So far, knock-on-wood, the least disappointing organization and the only one where I am still a member. There are some VDI-like tendencies, but they are nowhere near as strong and there is much more of the engineer mentality I found wanting at VDI.

I have now decided to terminate my membership in VDE, too. This partially for the simple reason that I have switched careers,* but also due to a growing disappointment with the quarterly membership magazine (“VDE Dialog”). About a year ago, in particular, an edition (04/2019) had a great focus on the environment or the climate, which forewent a scientific and “engineery” approach in favor of Greta-Thunberg-style populism and superficiality. One interview spoke derogatorily of nuclear power; and no-one from the VDE spoke in its defense. To my recollection, nuclear power found no serious mention or discussion—remarkable for a magazine/organization ostensibly targeted at electrical engineers.

*This is a German organization for electrical engineers and members of related professions. Even as an IT consultant, I was stretching it; as a writer of novels, I am wasting my of money.

I wrote a letter pointing this out, and also noting that articles were mostly written by non-engineers, including various freelance journalists. I suggested improvements, including that the set of authors be switched to people with a deeper scientific and technical understanding, and that VDE should remember the typical qualification level and field of the readers—a master degree in a STEM field being a typical education.

This letter has so far remained unanswered* and the situation has not improved.

*Not counting a generic remark in the next edition that there had been a large amount of feedback, both positive and negative, on the topic. Reading between the lines, I suspect that there was a considerable amount of criticism.

The latest edition (04/2020) again addresses environmental topics. The result was similar, including a great emphasis on hydrogen as fuel, but nothing or next to nothing on nuclear power.

It also has a 16-page special on “Corona”, with a similar superficiality and lack of probing and understanding—starting with the abuse of “Corona” for the COVID pandemic: the Corona-family is not a one-virus thing and many (most?) infections are indisputably trivial, e.g. as one of the leading causes behind the common cold. Hitler came from Austria, but not all Austrians are Hitler; SARS-CoV-2 is a Corona virus, but not all Corona viruses are SARS-CoV-2.

However, what really pissed me off, and where we have the connection between the two topics*: One article used “Nutzerinnen und Nutzer” (“[female] users and [male] users”), with a footnote claiming “In der Folge verwenden wir aus Gründen der besseren Lesbarkeit nur die weibliche Form.” (“In the following, for better readability, we only use the female [sic!] form.”) …

*I recommend reading [2] before continuing. Search for “Then Germany:”, if you want to get to the point faster.

So: First the article unnecessarily uses “Nutzerinnen” together with the epicene* “Nutzer”, despite the extreme awkwardness of the phrase—and then it tries to remedy the situation by exclusively using the non(!)-epicene female-only form. Idiotic beyond belief and proving a complete ignorance of language and contempt for the readers. (Who, again, are typically highly educated STEM professionals—not brainwashed snowflakes trying to complete a degree in gender-studies without being expelled for wrongspeak or wrongthink.)

*Roughly, a word which can include both biological sexes irrespective of its own grammatical gender, something very common in German. Here, “Nutzer” (without “Nutzerinnen”) would almost always have been taken to imply both male and female users, just like the English “users”.

The typical motivation for this PC nonsense is to not make readers feel “excluded”. The solution to this largely imaginary problem, here, was to remove a form that any native and rational German* would see as inclusive of both sexes, and to use a form that any native and rational German would see as excluding men, barring an explicit statement to a contrary intent. Consider e.g. a U.S. talent agency saying “we represent actresses and actors, but in the rest of this advert, we will speak of actresses to keep things simple”—where no-one (sane) would have raised even half an eye-brow had the text originally just said “we represent actors” and would almost certainly have expected “we represent male actors”, if the contrary was intended.

*Sorry, “Germanin or German”.

To boot, “Nutzerinnen” is about twice as long as “Nutzer”, which reduces readability, and the original order (“Nutzerinnen und Nutzer”) is flawed, as discussed in [2].

VDE is exactly the type of organization which should take a clear stand against this type of anti-intellectual and contemptuous PC nonsense. It is also exactly the type of organization that should speak out for a scientific approach to climate issues, not populist FUD—which includes an objective and neutral take on nuclear power.


Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2020 at 9:56 pm

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