My problem with pronouns | THE CABLE | MarketingwithAnoy

A Conservative friend suggests banning all adjectives – eliminate identifiers altogether. “Conservative”, for example. Adjectives signal our opinion of a person, and sometimes that’s all. Relying on them exaggerates differences, shrinks complexity, slams labels instead.

Maybe that’s why, during the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings, I was annoyed at how the media almost exclusively identified her as First Black Woman – true, but also in a way generic. First Black Woman: These are all important milestones, identities that really matter, of course. It’s just that sometimes they seemed to drown in so much else about her. Some people never got past First Black Woman (no doubt the same people who turned the page when they saw HER).

As a “senior”, my identity is established with a glance. Clerks in co-op can not distinguish me from other white-haired women waiting to receive their orders. For twenty-somethings, 70-somethings all look alike. (Twentysomethings can also look pretty much the same to us, unfortunately.)

Education required me to struggle with identity. Students ask: How should we approach you? A friend gave his students two options: first name or Your Majesty. I liked that. But these days, I find that most of my students prefer to use “professor” because that is my identity for them. I do not really identify as a “professor”, but that’s okay.

That’s what identity is all about. It changes over time and space. “Hers” does not mean what it did 30 years ago. At the same time, I have a hard time identifying with the ruthless forty, me who drove roller skates around Manhattan. (The Trump Tower lobby was the best place in town.) A friend posted a picture of me from a few years back and gave a talk at an event. “That was when I used to be someone,” I wrote back. “That was when you used to be someone else,” he replied.

At times, min primary identity has been “mother”. My cat, not wrong, probably identifies me as a “can opener.”

Still, my identity does not mean that I am identical to other “can openers”, such as the cat sitter – or that I myself identify with “can opener”. Even identical twins may not identify as identical. One could identify as an “Olympic athlete”; the other, “criminal.”

In mathematics, an identity is something very specific. Euler’s identity is without a doubt the best known: I once saw it engraved on the license plate of a pickup truck in Anchorage. It has appeared on The Simpsons more than once. A friend of a scientist suggested it to me as an appropriate tattoo.

Part of the appeal is that Euler’s identity has a star-studded cast – all the cool numbers!

0: the destroyer; it makes everything nothing or infinite.

1: unity, an identity in itself!

pi: circumference-diameter ratio, irrational and infinite. (The first three digits are Einstein’s birthday.)

e: transcendental, emerging everywhere, a boundary, unattainable, its own derivative.

I: imaginary, the square root of minus one: √ (-1).

Put them together and you get: e I pi + 1 = 0. Walk in English I times pi then raise e to that power. Magically, it equals zero. It is fantastic!

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