The fishers debate

A fisherman I have always been; and a fisherman I will always be, until I join my late fishing friend Wiggie Robinson, who no doubt is up there paddling the Silver Canoe.

What about you? If you have been known to wet a line, what do you call yourself, a fisherman or a fisher?

A number of years ago, in this same space, I waxed critical about the growing language trend away from fisherman to simply a fisher. To my way of thinking, fisher was a needless, politically correct grammatical abomination not unlike some others that grated on my traditionalist sensitivities: spokesperson or chairperson and so forth.

The political reality behind the evolution from fisherman to fisher did not escape me. It was to render a gender neutrality to a word that stood the test of time. Funny thing, though. Most of the female anglers whose viewpoints on the issue I surveyed said that they have no trouble calling themselves fishermen, language trends notwithstanding.

However, as the editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, who edits monthly dozens of outdoor writers, I began to realize the validity of my own words written more than 15 years ago, when fisher began to replace fisherman in the vocabulary of our writers. My words back then: “There is a new one creeping into the sportsman’s vocabulary. And, my goodness, it is ugly! Fisher. As in, “Did you see him work that fly rod across that pool, a long smooth line. Double hauls and all. What a skilled fisher! Gag me with a No. 10 Woolie Bugger.”

“But, alas, like City Hall, you can’t fight the language evolution. It is a steamroller that will have its way with you sooner or later.”

There is a new development that makes this issue worth revisiting. This year Atlantic magazine conducted an international attitude study of people of all ages, sexes and political beliefs. It found, somewhat surprisingly, that political correctness (PC) is deeply unpopular, especially in the States. A full 80 percent of Americans say they are fed up with PC and that it is a problem in this country. Even young people believe that the language is moving away from us too quickly. The survey identifies these PC-weary Americans as the “exhausted majority.”

Insofar as I could tell anglers were not singled out in this in-depth study. Call me tone deaf, but fisherman still works for me. However, if you are a proponent of fisher over fisherman, you have a powerful, persuasive ally whose track record in these things eclipses any study by any prestigious magazine. You can remind tradition-bound mossbacks like me that a Great Man at the Sea of Galilee likened his disciples to “fishers of men,” not fishermen of men.

Come spring, it probably won’t matter whether we identify ourselves as fishers or fishermen as long as we can find some promising water and find time to wet a line.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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