As the author of several books about the social inequities woven into the English language, Rosalie Maggio always knew what to say.
She often gave lectures to high school classes about choosing inclusive words over sexist options — for example, "staff hours" instead of "manpower." During a lecture for her daughter's class, a student scoffed, saying, "Men have been around a lot longer than women," family members recalled. Maggio didn't skip a beat.
"She laughed," said her daughter, Katie Koskenmaki of Oakland, Calif. "And she pointed out the obvious problem with that statement in her usual sardonic way."
A longtime Minnesotan, Maggio, of La Crescenta, Calif., died Sept. 18 at the age of 77 from pancreatic cancer.
"She was a Renaissance phenom," said her sister, Mary Maggio of Bloomington. "She knew everything. She spoke French in her sleep."
Born Nov. 8, 1943, the oldest of eight siblings, Maggio grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and studied French at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. One of her books, a biography of French athlete and combat pilot Marie Marvingt, was published in French and English.
She began her professional career editing a journal that published research on ophthalmology, while also writing children's books and for magazines.
Maggio was always interested in quotations, and when she consulted the reference book "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations," she was appalled to find only a handful of quotes by women. "It was very, very biased, and I think that teed her off," Mary Maggio said.
Maggio made it her mission to rectify the situation, and began collecting quotes by reading thousands of books. In 1996, she released "The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women," containing 16,000 observations, inspirations and witticisms from prominent women. She also launched a website, quotationsbywomen.com, with more than 44,000 entries.
Maggio worked prolifically. Her daughter remembers hearing the hum of Maggio's electric typewriter every morning in their St. Paul home.
She devoted much of the last three decades of her career to exposing racist, ageist and sexist language — and offering alternatives, in works such as "The Nonsexist Word Finder" and "Unspinning the Spin: The Women's Media Center Guide to Fair and Accurate Language," which is slated for digital republication this month.
In the preface to "Spin," Ms. Magazine co-founders Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem wrote not just of the book's indispensability for writers, editors, students, teachers and activists, but also of the playfulness Maggio wove into her findings. The tone of the book, they wrote, "reflects not only Maggio's dedication to fair and accurate language, but also to her pleasure in words and their power — and her sense of humor."
But Maggio knew her work wasn't appreciated by all, in an era when political correctness became a buzzword for divisiveness. "She was called the word police," Mary Maggio said.
As always, she knew just what to say. In the introduction to "Spin," Maggio preempted her critics with a wink:
"A common complaint today is, 'A person can't say anything anymore!' Actually, a person can. And people do. Although we have anti-disparagement laws for fruits and vegetables, we don't have them for people, which means you can say dreadful things about people, yell insults to their face, and nobody will stop you. You may get dirty looks and criticisms, but, hey, you can take it."
Along with her sister and daughter Katie, survivors include her husband, David Koskenmaki; children Liz Koskenmaki and Matt Koskenmaki; and brothers Frank, Patrick, Kevin, Paul, Mark and Matt. A private service will be held later.
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853