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People, can't we just leave it at that?

Quick, a quiz. Did Snoopy say, "I love mankind -- it's men and women I can't stand."?

Did Barbra Streisand sing, "Men and women, men and women who need men and women . . . ."?

Did Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise call their thriller "A Few Good Men and Women"?

No, no and no.

So what has gotten into men and women -- us, I mean?

You can't go anywhere without "men and women" this, "men and women" that. It's enough to drive men and women -- folks, I mean -- crazy.

The other night, Channel 4 did a story on Buffalo firehouses up for sale. An official praised "the men and women" who had worked in them over the years.

The same night, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also slung the phrase around.

"Instead of launching yet another public relations campaign, President Bush should use his speeches this week to provide a strategy to bring our brave men and women home safely and soon," she said.

You almost can't blame these men and -- er, people. Could be they're all taking a cue from the commander-in-chief himself.

"Working with Congress, we have given our men and women on the front lines in the war on terror the funding they need to defeat the enemy and detect, disrupt and dismantle terrorist plots and operations," Bush said a few weeks ago.

No political statement is complete without a little "men and women"-izing.

"I proudly accept this endorsement because I have great respect for the difficult work performed by the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department," said Byron Brown, now Buffalo's mayor, while on the campaign trail.

Even folks for whom English is a second language can't help but copy our rhetoric.

"To the courageous men and women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, who have changed the city of Tall Afar from a ghost town, in which terrorists spread death and destruction, to a secure city flourishing with life," is how a grateful Iraqi mayor addressed a letter of thanks to our troops.

That's thrilling oratory, and it could be argued that in that context, the "men and women" added appropriate pomp and flourish. Too often, though, people go to ridiculous lengths trying to say the right thing.

"War is a young men's and women's business," one citizen wrote in Everybody's Column.

At the Oscars, Rachel Weisz was accepting her best supporting actress award when she thanked writer John le Carre. She said: "He really paid tribute to the people who are willing to risk their own lives to fight injustice. They're greater men and women than I."

The "men and women" fad must have grown out of a gender obsession I first noticed as a kid in church. Hymns changed to, well, hers. In the folk Mass chestnut "Let There Be Peace on Earth," for instance, "brothers all are we" became "we are family." Like Sister Sledge.

The thought must be that if women aren't specifically referred to, we feel marginalized, ignored. But I'm not that dumb. I know "brotherhood" can mean me, too. And that troops are women as well as men.

Say "men and women" in every breath, and I start to feel patronized. These words have a place, and it's on restroom doors. Not in every other sentence.

Isn't it time we ended this overstated equality?

Can't we let people be people?


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