Ducks, like us, are either male or female. They also, like us, bear a label that, in some contexts, refers to one sex, but in others, to both. At least this is so in English. Just as man can refer to males alone, duck can refer to females alone. But, like man, duck can also refer to males and females.
Consequently, it is linguistically correct to say, “Her skeletal remains increased our knowledge of prehistoric man.” It is also linguistically correct to call a cartoon character Donald Duck.
Linguistics is one thing. Politics is something else. Prompted by feminists, many deem it politically incorrect to use man when you mean both males and females. Such usage, they say, violates the canons of inclusive language.
Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. What, pray tell, could be more inclusive than using a word that includes both sexes?
And if man, when used inclusively, violates inclusive language, why doesn’t duck? Why is it politically incorrect to refer to females with a word that can mean males alone but not to refer to males with a word that can mean females alone? I hope it’s not because most feminists are females. That would suggest discrimination against males.
Of course, the issue may not be sexism. It may be animal rights. Maybe feminists don’t like ducks, male or female. Whatever the issue, I’m grateful that Donald Duck is safe, at least for now.
When I was in elementary school, my father bought me a duck. That is, I assumed it was a duck. It didn’t occur to me that it might have been a drake, and at no time was I tempted to check to find out. Avian sex didn’t interest me. What interested me was having a duck for a pet.
A duck had caught my attention at the Saskatoon Exhibition’s annual summer fair, where it was helping a barker promote one of the sideshows. For reasons long forgotten, I decided that I had to have a duck of my own. So I pestered my father about it until he took me to a farm just outside town and purchased one for 50 cents.
I called her Lou Lou. She called me Quack Quack. At the sound of my voice, she would stop what she was doing and waddle after me wherever I went. We got on well.
But not for long. Someone, or something, betrayed Lou Lou’s universal trust, and I awoke one morning to find her dead. Even at a glance, it was obvious that she had not died of natural causes.
I phoned the police immediately. Justice delayed, I believed firmly, is justice denied, and I did my best to set it in motion. Lou Lou, I felt, deserved no less. Within an hour of my earnest call, a uniformed officer appeared at our door.
But, to my dismay, he was less interested in solving the crime I had reported than in recruiting me for a flute band the police sponsored. This, no doubt, is why Lou Lou’s death remains a mystery and after a decent period of mourning I took up the trumpet.
What started me thinking about ducks was an incident near Saskatoon that attracted widespread attention. Three men had such a good time shooting wild ducks on a prairie pond that they made a video of the adventure and posted it on the Internet. Retribution was swift. Within days, a judge fined them a total of $16,000 on several charges, including targeting migratory birds out of season. They also forfeited their guns and camera to the Crown, whose officers, I trust, will not be tempted to do as the defendants did.
If only the justice system had served Lou Lou that well. Of course, being tame, Lou Lou didn’t enjoy the protection of wildlife law. Being human, neither do we. Crimes against us can result in lighter sentences than crimes against ducks, foxes and polar bears.
“True,” a lawyer friend replied, when I complained about the disparity in legal consequences, “but don’t forget that crimes against us can result in corporal punishment.”
“Corporal punishment?” I repeated, astonished.
“Yeah,” he said. “A slap on the wrist.”