Short Take: The Silliest Hole

When Stephanie West Allen sent over a news item about the Berkeley City Council, I had no idea what to expect. Something about giving sanctuary to immigrants? Maybe caring for the homeless, whether by housing or feeding them, or even providing someplace to defecate that didn’t require the unhoused to step over used needles? Nope. Steph took me by surprise.

The heartwarming rationale for this significant change in hole terminology makes it clear that this change wasn’t just about “manholes,” but about recognizing how hurtful and destructive they must be to gender-nonconforming manhole users.

A twit in response made a good point, even if wrapped in some assumptions that are ridiculously unlikely.

Serious question. Who cares? In what way does it have any effect on your life at all? Is it dumb? Sure. But it took a couple minutes, and made the city marginally more inclusive in its language, so how does this harm you in any way that you took time out of your day to mock it?

Nothing a city council does takes “a couple of minutes,” and it took maybe 12 seconds out of my day to twit about it, which I can afford, thank you very much. But the “serious question” isn’t a bad question at all:

Who cares? In what way does it have any effect on your life at all?

These are the questions asked whenever a change is made, whether it’s a change that “made the city marginally more inclusive in its language,” accomplished absolutely nothing beyond empty virtue signaling or created a significant problem for the vast majority of residents to accommodate the demands of a very small minority for some “dumb” reason.

Somebody had to care, other than me (for wasting those 12 seconds of my life) the city council, for whatever time and money (yes, there is always money involved in any government enterprise, as the nice folks who make your life better need to get paid too). What about my interlocutor (who may well have spent more than 12 second objecting, and then coming up with individualized ad hominems for each replier)?

A lot of people cared. Not so much about the silly renaming of manholes, which might have given Ed Norton pause, but doesn’t tend to rank high on most people’s causes célèbre. Rather, it’s because it was just so trivial, so utterly meaningless in anyone’s life, and yet meaningful enough for the Berkeley City Council to take it up.

The decision itself, whether they vote to call them manholes, frontholes, maintenance holes or bananas, is unlikely to make a difference in anyone’s life. Unless, that is, their new name will be enforced at the end of a gun, with police officers sworn to act upon hearing someone utter the epithet “manhole” and taking the miscreant down.

But then, if it makes no difference in anyone’s life, then why do it? Because there are people who believe their time well spent going through 40-year-old college yearbooks, dictionaries, blog posts and twits in search of impure words and phrases. And they take such vicious joy in finding something they can point at and scream “Witch! WITCH! BURN THE WITCH!!!”

Perhaps the more significant point isn’t that anyone gives a damn what manholes are called, particularly since they’re going to be called manholes regardless of what the Berkeley City Council says, even if it means that a transgender person will cry xerself to sleep at night due to the trauma of knowing that somewhere, someone is saying “manhole.”

The more significant point is that as much as no reasonable person wants to live in a plutocracy run by a vulgar, amoral ignormus, they similarly don’t want to live in an idiocracy run by the sort of people who feel something as manifestly silly as the word “manhole” needs changing. Thank you for asking.

H/T Keith Kaplan (go to @ 3:25 if you’re in a rush)

45 thoughts on “Short Take: The Silliest Hole

  1. wilbur

    For the love of all that is woke, when are we going to start calling it personslaughter?

    1. B. McLeod

      That has “son” in it, Wilbur. We would need to change to “perchildslaughter.”

  2. Rojas

    The linked article states the estimated cost of compliance is 600 USD.

    Somebody, actually a whole slew of somebodies, will have to go through every policy and procedure in a “workmanlike” manner striking out and replacing these terms. And after they are edited or updated there will be a review and approval process. Every contractor, architect, civil engineering firm and law firm doing business with the city will have to go through a similar process. For a city the size of Berkeley the cost is going to be a hell of a lot closer to 6 million USD and that’s only if they exempt archival documents.

      1. Rojas

        That’s true. They can always outsource this activity to some low cost country. I lack imagination.

    1. Schmendrick

      In the brave world of tomorrow, we can just have the town AI do a fancier version of “ctrl-f,” but today is not that day…well, maybe Berkeley is a bit closer than the rest of us, being so close to Stanford and Silicon Valley and all. Maybe they’re going to volunteer to be the test-bed for municipal AI, once it’s been suitably scrubbed of algorithmic bias.

  3. Erik H

    You are missing the #1 benefit: This decision took up time which might otherwise be used to do something even more idiotic.

    1. SHG Post author

      I might ask what could be more idiotic, but I know someone will have an answer and it will make me sad.

  4. Hunting Guy


    Why are manhole covers round?

    Because if they were square, you couldn’t play twiddlywinks with them.

  5. Rena Parmenter

    Excellent post, plus the Carlin clip alone would be worth the price of admission. I used to think he was exaggerating for greater comic effect. I was wrong about that.

  6. Keith

    Has no one focused on the real tragedy here?

    In changing “manhole” to “maintenanceholes”, they have unpersoned the hole.

    This wiping of entire people from our lexicon is a tool of the patriarchy and it must be stopped.

    1. losingtrader

      Keith ,
      As long as you keep wiping your maintenance hole, everything will be the same.

  7. Hunting Guy

    So if they get a federal grant for infrastructure work will they refuse it if it says manhole covers?

  8. L. Phillips

    Taking time out of your day to mock idiocy is what this blog looks to me to be all about. Odd that your respondent couldn’t see that.

  9. Guitardave

    So what in Gods shit-covered-county are we gonna do about Manheim, PA ?
    Personheim?…Maintenenceheim? There’s a huge auto auction…Autoheim?…
    (that sounds like something one does to oneself that I don’t want to know anything about)…oy!

  10. Black Bellamy

    Maintenance “people”? WTF? This makes my Roomba sad.

    Making robots sad has consequences. Squashed under a giant metal foot consequences. I hope those repressive unwoke shitlords at the Berkley City Council get what is coming to them.

    I’m not a robot. I am however, a robot advocate. I know where the wind is blowing.

  11. Patrick Maupin

    Woke person #1: “We need to change the names of these to personholes!”

    Ron Swanson: “OK, but we should pick a name that reflects their functionality. How about maintenanceholes?”

    WP1: “OK” (leaves satisfied)

    Leslie Knope: “Won’t that be expensive?”

    RS: “I have $600 in a discretionary fund we can use for a departmental kegger, err, communications meeting, where we explain to everybody that ‘man’ is now short for ‘maintenance’.”

    1. Guitardave

      Agreed. Meeting adjourned…Mainholes it is. We’ll get a flunkie to pencil in some i’s in the files…

  12. phv3773

    NY Times, June 24, 1990:

    “Sacramento city officials, having found the word ”manhole” sexist, have now come up with a new name for those utility holes in streets. Without fanfare, the City Council adopted the term ”maintenance hole” this week to replace ”manhole” on official maps and documents. Public works officials had proposed finding a non-sexist term in jest, but Mayor Anne Rudin liked the idea and the debate quickly spread.”

  13. Anthony Kehoe

    Exercise for the readership in evaluating over/under between Berkeley City Council and these cretins.

  14. LTMG

    If I was still living in that area, I’d be sorely tempted to make a MANHOLE template and spray each cover with brilliant white epoxy paint. Do a few hundred manhole covers.

  15. Eddie S.

    Oh it’s not that bad. Look at the bright side. Now Berkeley can’t ding you for “mansplaining.”

  16. Igor Kaplunov

    For all the silliness associated with this topic I can think of one benefit. It lets you indirectly guilt your interviewer for asking the most overused stupid interview question.
    >”Why are manhole covers round?”
    >”Excuse me don’t you maintenancehole covers?”

  17. F. Lee Billy

    Real Men wear coveralls when entering manholes. Real Women do not wear pants suits when baking cookies or sewing on buttons. Ahem.
    Why would any woman want to go down there? It’s a mystery only Berkeleyites and people high on the autism spectrum …Ahem? Berkeley was always kinda out there anyhow! This latest development comes as no surprise, Chez Panisse-breath.

    Lovely campus however.

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