From "Books to Have and to Hold," by the delightfully named Verlyn Klinkenborg, published in the NYT in 2013. I'm reading that today as a consequence of becoming fascinated by the word "quiddity" which I encountered while researching the word "entity," which is illustrated in the OED by a phrase written by the philosopher George Berkeley in 1710: "The positive abstract idea of quiddity, entity, or existence."
We were talking about the word "entity" in the midst of a discussion of Hillary Clinton's use of the word "person":
Hillary Clinton faced criticism from both sides of the abortion debate on Monday after she waded into the fraught argument about when life begins by describing the unborn as a “person.”Why did she say "person"? Was it purely a gaffe or did she mean to wink a subtle "I care" at those who are unsettled or anguished at killing the unborn? It's hard, in conversation, to restrict yourself to "the unborn," which is neutral, but formal. Talking about that with Meade, I said that when I teach the abortion cases in law school, I say "the unborn entity." I apologize for the strangeness of the term, which I don't mean to sound humorous or alienating. I genuinely think it's the right word for me — the law-professor person — to use to conduct a professional, balanced examination of the judicial opinions. But I did want to check my perception by looking up the word just now.
Mrs. Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, made the comment during an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” after she was asked about abortion restrictions and the rights of the unborn.
“The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights,” Mrs. Clinton said.
I wrote "the law-professor person" in what was, really, a private joke aimed at Meade. He had observed — talking about Hillary's gaffe/non-gaffe — that it's become a tic of modern language to add "person" to moderate a perceived harshness in using a noun to designate someone as a member of a group. Thus, we might think we shouldn't refer to someone as "a white," so we say "a white person." The noun seems to distance and "otherize," but if you plunk "person" after it, it's a milder descriptive — a kinder, gentler adjective. The Chinese becomes a Chinese person. (I guessed that it all started with "Jewish person.") Meade theorized that Hillary had become so used to this linguistic etiquette that it naturally and inconveniently happened to "unborn."