The popular cricket website ESPNcricinfo have announced they are taking an embedded bias out of sports reportage: they will stop using the term “batsman”, replacing it with “batter”. They will also use “Player of the Match” rather than “Man of the Match”.  

As the portal’s editor-in-chief, Sambit Bal, wrote: “Words are not just about what they literally mean but about what they imply as well… Gender equality as an ideal is an objective that we will struggle for generations to achieve, but gender neutrality in language is easily achievable.” This sounds balanced, and more honest than the eyewash campaigns that numerous companies perform in the name of inclusivity, diversity or equality. Here, they’ve tagged the effort correctly as being only about neutrality. As flagged by some sceptical of the change, the portal is still holding manels (panels comprised exclusively of male speakers), so it’s just as well that they know that there’s room for improvement.

Writing in response to ESPNcricinfo’s decision, the former cricketer Snehal Pradhan noted that various platforms had already been using “batter”, but only when referring to women on the field. Now a sports journalist, Pradhan referenced a prior article of her own from 2015, in which she had observed that “By attempting to be gender-neutral by using ‘batter’, it is ironically having the opposite effect, of being gender-specific, as it is being used almost exclusively for the women’s game.” She celebrates the neutralisation of the language through consistent usage and retiring “batsman” altogether, but draws attention to where more meaningful change can be instated in larger aspects of sporting access and infrastructure. 

Pradhan writes that the terminology was not really a priority when she played. I can see how “batsman” could have remained in the jargon for as long as it has, and how it may not make a difference where it matters. 

Still, language is flowing, not fixed. The point is not to correct it once and for all, but to continuously update it so that it reflects the present. 

I’d love to see the word “manpower” become obsolete. Wouldn’t “workforce”, “labour force” or “staff power” suffice? Another word that always annoys me is “craftsmanship”. When I need to use it, I try to phrase the sentence so that I can replace it with “artistry” or something similar, or even the lengthier “well-crafted piece”. “Crafting” works fine, but it could be argued that “craftsmanship” centres the artisan, not the object, and this can be meaningful in the context of ethical trade practices. “Craftspersonship” is just ridiculously clunky. I’ve found “crafting” in a thesaurus, but have never come across it in writing. It doesn’t have the gravitas of “craftsmanship”, this is true. What does one do?             I write and make art about mermaids. I’ve not used “merman” even when the illustration suggests the same, because that would mean I don’t think “mermaid” is neutral, and I do. I’ve used “triton” occasionally, but deliberately. Will my preferred word become outdated with time? Maybe. That’s okay. Language is riverine: it wears down the old, observes its own current, resists enforced redirection. Its beautiful, vexing mutability is something to accept, and indeed to appreciate.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 24th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.