WE WOULDN'T WANT you to think we have nothing better to do than sit around and study presidential proclamations and other ceremonial business. But as luck would have it we were reading one such presidential proclamation yesterday when we tripped on the following utterance: "The United States is a young Nation, but our debt to that courageous Norseperson, Leif Ericson, predates 1776 . . ." and so forth. That's right: NMorseperson. The word turns up in Jimmy Carter's Sept. 23 announcement that Oct. 9 is to be known hereafter as Leif Ericson Day.
Our problem with this bizarre locution is not just that Leif Ericson. God rest his bones, would certainly have hated it. Nor is it merely the fact that Leif Ericson was a Norseman, as distinct, let us say, from a Norsewoman or a Norsechild. No, our concern is with the Big Picture, the pattern and precedent that this usage could easily establish.
We beg to remind the scribes and parchment people who are responsible for these things that the Norsemen - never mind that they sometimes traveled with their womenfolk - were in fact known and described historically by others as just that: the men from the North who not only ventured westward on great maritime enterprises, but who also turned up in Europe, where they did not hesitate to bloody up a few locals and where they came to be called - yes - the Normans. From which, of course, we get Normandy. Or should we say Norperson and Norpersondy? As in "the invasion of Norpersondy." And, once you start down that road, why stop there? What about Leif Ericson's mother, anyway, who is said to have left Leif's father (Eric the Red) because he refused to be baptized? How come she didn't get a call in Leif's surname? He wasn't just Eric's son, after all.
You will begin to see the dimensions of the problem. For our part we will stick to simple tradition. We do not think we do anyone's heritage - male or female - a disservice when we say we will be pleased to celebrate Oct. 9 and to honor Leif Ericson, a heroic Norseman.