‘Fisher’ should be caught, released

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During the establishment years of my working life, when I was managing editor of a large Maine daily newspaper, a new and gnarly word began pussyfooting its way into the American lexicon: spokesperson. Oh, how I loathed this trendy bastardization of the language. In the beginning, some linguists and a few moss-backed newspapermen like myself resisted this grammatical aberration.

“Spokesman is perfectly acceptable,” I instructed our desk editors. “Webster’s definition plainly states that a spokesman is a person who speaks for another. We will avoid the use of spokesperson as long as we possible can.”

Like city hall, you can’t fight the language evolution. It is a steamroller that will have its way with you sooner or later. But you can run. I left daily newspapers, took up outdoor writing and got to spend more time in the woods and on the waters, as far away as I could from spokesperson.

Maybe you can’t run away from these politically correct, gender-neutral abominations, though. 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.

I saw a fisher, once. Last fall, while Matt Libby and I were scouting for some good upland cover near a dead water not far from Chandler Lake, a fisher bounded across the alder-choked road right in front of the truck. It was furry, mean-looking and built close to the ground. It wasn’t wearing chest waders. As far as we could tell, this fisher was not toting a Sage 5 weight, either.

If you hadn’t noticed, fisher has become the cutting-edge standard now and has replaced that once-comfortable and timeless old word fisherman. I looked high and low in Fly Tyer magazine and Gray’s Sporting Journal, but could find no sign of the word fisherman. James Babb, editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal, said that he was “ambivalent” about the issue, and that Gray’s uses fisher most of the time to avoid offending any readers who might be sensitive to a word that, like fisherman, might not be considered gender neutral.

Hold the phone! Stop the tape! Webster’s offers the following definitions: 1) Man – a human being 2) Fisherman – a person who fishes. Interestingly enough, Webster also now includes two definitions of that dreadful word fisher. It says: Fisher – a person who fishes. The other definition – let the record show – is: Fisher – a flesh-eating mammal of the marten family.

As you are beginning to see, this whole linguistic lashup is becoming complicated. In the dictionary there is outdoorswoman and sportswoman. There is no fisherwoman. So where does this leave us?

One of America most famous females who fly fishes is Joan Wulff, wife of the late Lee Wulff. She eschews fisher and likes to be called a fly fisherman, thank you very much. My wife Diane, no slouch with a fly rod, calls herself a fly fisherman as well.

There is no proof, but I suspect that fisher is more than just a product of the political correctness movement. I suspect that is also a quasi-elitist affectation embraced by the hoity-toity element of the fly fishing fraternity (oops). Competitive bass anglers wouldn’t be caught dead calling themselves bass fishers, would they? What about youngsters who dunk worms off bridges? Are they fishers?

In the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an outdoor monthly hunting and fishing paper that I edit, fisherman remains the standard. Whenever possible, fisher winds up in the delete file. But, as with that other ugly word spokesperson, I can feel the steamroller rumbling off in the distance. Inevitably, fisher will prevail. Fisherman, one of my favorite words, will go the way of so many other perfectly useful words that are now just a memory.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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