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Friday, January 18, 2013

191

He She Not They

Who is they kidding?

No, I have just never really thought about it. What do you think?

191 Comments / Post A Comment

mangosara

AH I have such an opinion about this. Gender neutral pronouns should be a thing--using "he or she" or "one" is clunky. (Using the example at the link, "Tell someone you appreciate him or her today" is just blech. This is not a matter of opinion but FACT.) Using "they" for that purpose has come about naturally so why not?

travelmugs

@mangosara I'm as anal about grammar as they come, and I mostly agree. "One" is unnatural. "He or she" is clunky. "They" just typically works and avoids the gender binary. I can see this slipping into use a lot more easily than the introduction of a new gender neutral pronoun.

mabellegueule

@travelmugs
Totally agree! "They" is already so commonly in use because it works. A new word would be weird and forced.

OhMarie

@mangosara Yeah, totally. The only other option is making up something new and that will just never take off. They forever!

baked bean

@mangosara I agree. Language evolves, and it's usually for practicality and efficiency. If we didn't let anything change, we'd still be talking like Beowulf. Give the people what they want! English already has wonky rules that don't always make sense!

Ophelia

@baked bean Exactly. And unless we want to have a language committee like French does, it will keep changing and getting weirder. I say, let it!

fondue with cheddar

@mangosara I agree, though sometimes it sounds weird so I tend to rewrite the sentence in a way that lets me avoid using it altogether, as in the examples given in this piece. But it annoys me that I even have to do that.

Better to Eat You With

@fondue with cheddar This is what I do. I generally just make the subject plural.

purefog

@travelmugs
I embrace similar anality, and I agree. ("One" works better some times than others, though.(

fondue with cheddar

@purefog "One" works but I feel so pretentious when I say it. I sometimes use it in writing but rarely, if ever, use it in speech.

mangosara

@fondue with cheddar Truth. "One," in my mind, is generally reserved for old-timey quotes and platitudes.

stuffisthings

@mangosara What's wrong with just mixing up "he" and "she" throughout the text, as the linked post suggests? Personally I like to use the opposite of the "expected" gender, if any. ("The neurosurgeon's math skills helped to her be an exceptionally good driver.")

mangosara

@stuffisthings I don't really have a problem with assigning a gender in a case like this where you're actually talking about a specific person... Because using "him or her" or "one" in this case wouldn't really make sense. I just like the use of "they"/"them" because it doesn't force you to assign a gender to a hypothetical person at all!

stuffisthings

@mangosara Well yeah grammatically it's a bad example, just trying to be funny. How about this: "A lumberjack should not change the blades on her chainsaw when it is running."

mangosara

@stuffisthings "An auto mechanic should never use a welder without wearing her safety goggles."

P.J. Morse

@mangosara Let's also talk about slashes in pronouns, which I have seen on rare occasions. Can we get rid of the "he/she" or the horrifying "s/he"?

KeLynn

@mangosara @stuffisthings I write/edit for a male-dominated industry, so I suppose I *could* use "he" for most things without much fuss, but I don't want any woman reading my material and feeling further alienated by anything I write. At the same time, if I use "she" then I think all of the (mostly conservative) men in my industry would either be genuinely confused, or would be kind of offended at some crazy liberal feminist writing this stuff for them.

I pluralize or restructure the sentence whenever I can. But sometimes you just can't. I always feel like I'm going against my very morals when I allow it, but sometimes there's not a very good other option.

Plexia

I used to notice caveats at the start of textbooks (gender law textbooks) that would be all 'oh I know it's grammatically wrong but I'm doing it and some day you'll agree with me oh grammar pedants of the patriarchy'. Now I think it's a given.

As an aside, I miss 'one'. Second person is super useful in many situations.

C_Webb

@Plexia I had to ban the pronoun "one" from my expository writing classes, primarily because using "one" seemed to absolve them from logic, while "he," "she" and "I" kept them grounded in reality. It is amazing what "one" might do or think that "he, she, or I" would never consider!

baked bean

@C_Webb Dude, I got so pissed in my writing classes when I had to say "one" all the time because I wasn't allowed to say "they." There were just "ones" all over my paper and it sounded dumb.

C_Webb

@baked bean Yeah, it sounds idiotic -- pretentious and moronic at the same time. I always tell my students never to write anything they wouldn't say, and they sure don't go around saying "one" all the time (to their credit), and neither do I.

Plexia

@C_Webb It's annoying that 'one' is percieved that way when its... so useful. 'You know when you moronically leave the house without putting a browse on under your jumper then you take it off at work because you're a fucking idiot with no focus, then... No, I don't mean YOU, YOU'RE not a fucking...I mean.. eh...'

Better to Eat You With

@C_Webb I always write "One what?" in the margins.

C_Webb

@Better to Eat You With Exactly! Or, "Yes, ONE might think that, but what do YOU think?"

highfivesforall

@Plexia My boyfriend calls this the "royal you", which I like a lot.

Ojo
Ojo

@Plexia I always feel really sad when people say that"one" sounds pretentious, because although I'm a native English speaker, it's not my working language and that language uses "one" much more naturally and normally. As a result, I end up using "one" a lot in English and then I worry everyone thinks I'm a posh twat. :(

Emby

I have a great many opinions about these grammar debates. In 92% of cases, I'm a rather strict, traditional prescriptivist. Here, though, I support the singular "they" a lot. English doesn't have a way to deal with indeterminate numbers and indeterminate genders, and this is an easy solution already in common use.

travelmugs

@Emby Agreed. I rephrase to avoid pronoun-antecedent mismatching in formal writing, but sometimes "they" is just the best option.

mabellegueule

@Emby
It's rare for me to agree with a prescriptivist :) Singular "they" all the way!

iceberg

@Emby "English doesn't have a way to deal with indeterminate numbers and indeterminate genders, and this is an easy solution already in common use." EXACTLY. This is a case where language has NEEDED to evolve because of the changes in culture.

H.E. Ladypants

@iceberg And it's not as though other languages don't have singular and plural pronouns that are exactly the same. For example in German "she", the plural "you", "they" and the formal "you" are all expressed with "sie" (although in the last case it is capitalized.) And there is absolutely no confusion as they're considered separate words and understood easily with context. Why can't just agree that's what's happening here? We'll say there are two "they"- that one is a word meaning third person plural and the other means indefinite third person singular. And viola. No grammar contradictions and everyone gets to go on understanding what everyone else is saying without sounding like asshats.

Story #2

@H.E. Ladypants
"When we say to them, 'On Judgment Day, you will be given to us,'
With what haughtiness they reply, 'We are not a houri!'"
Literal translation of some lines in Urdu by Ghalib. (Though I'm doing it from memory so I might be messing up some part of it, and actually Urdu/Hindi has no gendered pronouns in the singular, either -- you say "yeh" which means "this one" or "voh" which means "that one.")

It is completely common for languages to use the plural pronoun in a singular case, often as a mark of courtesy or formality. As somebody noted in a comment further down, we've already gone and done this with the elimination of the thee/thou form. Forward singular "they."

Briony Fields

@H.E. Ladypants Welllll, in defense of German, the verb form is a bit different. Sie geht is different from sie gehen, so you know who is being referred to. As for the formal Sie, it's easily figured out in context. Has your conversation partner already referred to a group of people and seems to be talking about them? Or is he/she exclusively talking to you? If it's the latter, it's Sie.

adorable-eggplant

@Briony Fields That's true in English too, though, since our verbs still inflect a wee bit. So "they go" is different from "they went" so "That group of folks, oh, they went to the store an hour ago" and "That person, oh, they went to the store an hour ago" are distinguishable from one another.

Briony Fields

@adorable-eggplant I just realized that I totally misunderstood the Ladypants comment, ha ha! I thought she was saying German was confusing but she was not. Well, no matter how well I think I know German OR English my reading comprehension can always use a little work.

TARDIStime

@Emby Couldn't have said it better myself.
I love that you managed to get that message out in 2 sentences and that other dude took up a whole article on the Internet to express his view.

suiterkin

It's just pedantry, and I'm an English professor, so I'm allowed to say that. Jane Austen did it, so it's fine by me.

blue_canary

@suiterkin Yes! This issue comes up every time anyone talks about grammar and it drive me crazy. Singular "they" has been in English usage for over two hundred years, people, it is time to Let It Go.

highfivesforall

@suiterkin Oh man, I can't believe the one morning I'm not on the hairpin this comes up! I'M SORRY JANE AUSTEN AND SHAKESPEARE JUST AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU GRAMMAR PEDANTS augh just had to get that out. Just, here, I can't even with this anymore.

Bittersweet

@highfivesforall Oh man, don't even get me started with Shakespeare, that punk didn't spell words the same from one day to the next.

highfivesforall

@Bittersweet the NERVE of that guy, what was his DEAL

Dan Hewins@twitter

the problem is that we are missing a word in the English language. The singular indeterminate of "they" or "theirs." Now that we aren't sexist anymore (a hope or a wish, yes), "he" or "his" doesn't cut it.

Someone needs to invent a new word. I nominate Cormac McCarthy.

Plexia

@Dan Hewins@twitter I know, right? English is weirdly slow at coming up with brand new words (unlike the welsh who do is ALL THE TIME - cyfrifiadur anyone?). We also need a new word for live-in-life-partner-lover. I hate partner. It reminds me of games in school. Now, find a partner! if only it was that easy...

travelmugs

@Plexia Yes! New word! I feel like I'm in middle school when I introduce people to my "boyfriend."

leonstj

@Plexia - We created "Amazeballs" and "Crazypants" pretty recently, so we should twice before requesting speakers of our language make up new words.

@Travelmugs "loverman".

Inkling

@Dan Hewins@twitter
Wait, we didn't ask for this.
Two steps past babytalk and we're already pinned to the mortal timeline
our irreverant dialogue a blip in the historic
Better to be learners than teachers who are forced
to the crumbling edge of knowledge only to find
we put down the steps
as we walk

hallelujah

@travelmugs I'm big into "paramour," myself. Now that I'm married I definitely use partner as opposed to husband, because most people assume then that I'm a lesbian & that tickles me.

BirdyAnn

@Plexia The spouse and I started calling each other "my comrade" when boyfriend/girlfriend felt too young. Clunky and pretentious, but entertaining!

Cawendaw

@Dan Hewins@twitter "Tell someone you appreciate Cormac McCarthy today" is still so much clunkier than "Tell someone you appreciate them today," though.

baked bean

@Plexia "MATE!" Like the animals.

Plexia

@baked bean Doesn't work in the UK.

Plexia

@Plexia as an aside to that, when I was a child watching nature programmes I used to think animals were just good friends living together in beautiful platonic harmony. Ha, I just remembered that now. Look at the comments section bringing back mems.

fondue with cheddar

@travelmugs I know! I feel so weird calling my 52-year-old beau "boyfriend". Being able to cast aside "boyfriend/girlfriend" terminology might have been my favorite thing about being married.

H.E. Ladypants

@fondue with cheddar I find myself introducing my boyfriend to people as "my gentleman friend." I admit it's a bit whimsical but it's also a lovely line at a party.

leonstj

@H.E. Ladypants - I have advocated it multiples times before, but it is never enough, really.

"Honeydip".

fondue with cheddar

@H.E. Ladypants I have a friend from college who says that, and I always liked it. Never used it myself, though. Maybe I should!

fondue with cheddar

@leon s I've heard you mention it before, and it always conjures up one of two images:
1. This is the woman into whose honey I dip my stick.
2. This is my sweetheart who happens to not be very smart.

C_Webb

@fondue with cheddar You can follow in the footsteps of Brenda from Six Feet Under and introduce him as your "fuck puppet." Probably not to a kindergarten class, though.

leonstj

@C_Webb - I don't know a lot about kids, but I'm pretty sure they love puppets.

Sunny Schomaker

@Dan Hewins@twitter Except singular "they" has been around for centuries (trust me, I'm a linguist). Just because striving for gender neutrality is a relatively recent phenomenon doesn't mean the general practice is. What's really annoying is that the APA style guide pushes for gender neutrality, but is anti-singular they.

You'll have to pry the singular they from my cold, dead hands.

Es
Es

@H.E. Ladypants I use 'gentleman caller'.

Blushingflwr

@H.E. Ladypants I'm also a big fan of "Gentleman Friend". I started using it with my current beau because we hadn't really defined the relationship, though it was clear we liked each other a lot, and we're poly, so I didn't want to call him my boyfriend if it might make his other girlfriend uncomfortable.

Jinxie

@H.E. Ladypants I started calling the Manfriend "manfriend" as a joke but then...it just sort of stuck. So I go with "manfriend".

fondue with cheddar

@Jinxie I think I like that one. I've also heard "ladyfriend" and that sounds fine to my ears.

KeLynn

@Jinxie I use "manfriend" too with peers - but with people my parents' age, I think they'd think I was dumb, so I say "boyfriend" if I MUST identify him somehow to someone who doesn't know him, but then I feel even dumber because we've been together over 5 years now, he's not some summer fling.

H.E. Ladypants

@fondue with cheddar Yeah, that's what gentleman friend calls me sometimes and I like it. Although, I admit, I do sometimes refer to him as my boyfriend sometimes when I want to make clear we're not actually married. But I've also never bothered to correct neighbors or my doorman who call him my husband. And I don't mind when he playfully refers to me as "the missus."

I figure long-term co-habitation without legally binding contracts is a fun in-between place, so I just use the words that work best in the situation.

Es
Es

Professional sub-editor here - I am fine with it. As said above, we haven't got a gender-neutral singular, and I would rather use their, which is idiomatic, understood by everyone and generally not ambiguous, than be sexist or look like I'm harking back to the 1920s by using 'one'. The thing that does irritate me though, is using plurals for companies - 'General Motors *are* doing something or other'. That makes my eyes bleed.

queenofbithynia

@Es and using "one" doesn't even address the problem solved by singular they/their. It is grammatically correct to write "Everyone has his own opinion," also "Everyone has their own opinion," whereas "everyone has one's own opinion," what?

Lily Rowan

@Es That's British-y, no? Arsenal are playing for the championship or whatever?

Ophelia

@queenofbithniya Agreed. "One" works OK, if awkwardly, as a subject, but there's also no object form - so in addition to what you mentioned, you also can't say, "If your co-worker asks, give the paperwork to one."

par_parenthese

@Es I've noticed a LOT more plurals for corporate entities -- "My family are really into board games," "General Motors are releasing the latest model today," etc. -- than in past years. I'm an A-level Anglophile so I kind of like it... Oh, and also, if you replaced "family" or "GM" with a pronoun, you'd use "they," right? "They are really into board games," "They are releasing..."

fondue with cheddar

@queenofbithynia Everyone has an opinion? Everyone has a unique opinion?

Plurals for companies and other groups of people (e.g. families, bands) annoy the hell out of me, too! Unless it's a band with a plural name. You wouldn't say "The Beatles is..."

Scandyhoovian

@Lily Rowan It's definitely British. It's one of the biggest things I had trouble with when studying abroad and writing for courses. Here in the US we would say "Arsenal is," because we think of the team as the unit. But in England, it's "Arsenal are," because a team is made up of multiple people.

It took me ages to get used to it and then I came right back over here, only to be using it wrong HERE for a while. AAARGH!

teaandcakeordeath

@Es
Genuine grammar question - does the singular 'they' allow for the ambiguity of he or she because the two potential pronouns makes a plural? Or am I just thinking about this way too much...

... I'm thinking about it too much. And I think it might be rooted in Latin grammar.

Yeah I should have just deleted the first half of this post. Oh well!

fondue with cheddar

@Scandyhoovian I can see using "are" if you're talking about the individual members of a team, as in, "Arsenal are great kickers". I don't like it, but I can understand it. But if you're talking about the team as a whole, "Arsenal are the #1 team in the league," it just doesn't make sense.

fondue with cheddar

Like...if you add "the members of" before the name and the sentence still works, then it's okay.

Scandyhoovian

@fondue with cheddar Oh, I agree. I was just saying that's how it was over thataway when I went for my studies.

They also don't say "the" in front of hospital, which really bothered me. "I had to go to hospital."

fondue with cheddar

@Scandyhoovian Haha, me too. Likewise with, "She went to university."

Scandyhoovian

@fondue with cheddar I also had a few friends (I don't know if this one is dialect or not, I haven't heard it enough to determine if it's universal or just peculiar to Northumbria) who, if going out to eat in an ethnic restaurant, would say, "I'm nipping out for an Indian," or "I'm just off to the Chinese," instead of "I'm going out for Indian/Chinese food," like I would be more inclined to say.

fondue with cheddar

@Scandyhoovian That's weird, confusing, and comes off as racist if you don't realize the person is talking about food.
"I'm just off to the Chinese."
"Doesn't your new boyfriend have a name, you racist asshole?"

miss buenos aires

@Es I wonder if the American thing of using "is" for entities made up of several people is related to us using "United States" as a singular noun (as opposed to before the Civil War, when we used it as a plural). This is pure conjecture on my part.

[sic]

@Scandyhoovian Obligatory "Go for an English" mention.

missupright

@fondue with cheddar @Scandyhoovian I have literally never thought (until now) of any of those things of being odd in any way, and I say all of them. "The Italian down the road" or "the Indian on Greek Street" seems completely natural to me.

Then again, it's natural to a lot of people I know to skip the "to", as well as the "the", as in "I'm going [to the] chip shop", which seems pretty dreadful.

(I just discussed this with my boyfriend, and he says it's because "hospital" and "university" in those sentences are abstract concepts, rather than individual places, which makes sense to me, although the more I think about it the more I can't decide if any of them are right so I'm going to go and make soup instead.)

fondue with cheddar

@missupright I always thought it was weird that we in the US say we're going to school and to college (I don't think anyone says "university" in the abstract), even when it's a specific place, but "the hospital". Language is weird, man.

meetapossum

@Scandyhoovian I still remember the Yorkshire office manager at my job in England telling me that the rest of my co-workers "went down pub."

queenofbithynia

This is the end of the argument YES REALLY:

http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/sgtheirl.html

The only thing that irritates me is that the page that link is attached to is subtitled "Anti-pedantry page" and it isn't, it is pro-pedant. Every honest educated pedantic prescriptivist favors the singular "they."

Emby

@queenofbithynia Yep. I'm as pedantic a prescriptivist as they come, and I heavily favor annexing the singular "they" as an acceptable usage.

queenofbithynia

@Emby also aren't we traveling back in time thirty years, because it already has been acceptable usage for as long as I've been alive and also several hundred years before that? I mean, it is like we are debating annexing Vermont into the Union or something. (I am in favor of that too.)

leonstj

Hmm...I guess I never really thought about it, but I always use an (I don't know any grammarology words) extra word before the they?

Por ejemplo, he article has "If someone decides they like dubstep..."

I always say "If someone decides THAT they like dubstep..." I feel like I'm still using it as a singular pronoun, but what is that extra word doing in there? What's the name for it? Why do I use it? Where do babies come from?

Melusina

@leon s I'll have a go . . .

The word "that" is functioning as a complementizer here, and the phrase that follows "decides" is a complementizer phrase, because it the complement of the verb "decides". One way of looking at it is that the head of the phrase can contain the actual complementizer, or it can be empty/null. You prefer not to use the empty version but either is grammatically valid.

leonstj

@Melusina - This is so helpful! I'm not googling all about complementizers, and I am completely fascinated. I definitely use these a lot in general when they are not required.

It turns out all of the stuff I'd need to read about it to see who tends to use them and who does not is on JSTOR. Bummer. But also fascinating! I'm going to have to make a library trip soon.

Melusina

@leon s Ah, my linguistics degree was not in vain. It is fascinating stuff!

Did you find this [free] one?
http://www.stanford.edu/~zwicky/StaumQP2.pdf

meetapossum

@leon s Did you not hear about kind of free JSTOR?

highfivesforall

@leon s AP style says to cut out complementizer 'that', which always grated on me when I was copyediting my school's newspaper.

iceberg

I'd never heard that the singular they was any kind of problem, I've used it my whole life!
The made-up non-gendered pronouns (hir, zie etc) set my teeth on edge though. I mean I have no problem with being non-gender specific, I just think they sound awful and pretentious.

Be But Little

@iceberg I've never heard of hir/zie. Or maybe I have. Or maybe I've spent too much time with my head in the sand studying Latin. At least in gendered languages (squicky, I know) gender is more easily determined by the words already in use. Plus, in languages like German or Italian there is the formal pronoun (Sie, Lei) which helps in indeterminate circumstances. But then I've been told native speakers don't use the formal so who knows!

Scandyhoovian

@iceberg I'm not a big fan of the made-up non-gendered pronouns, either. They sound weird and off-putting to me, though I'm sure that's partly because they're not universally used or uniform, so you get some people using hir and some people using zie and some people using some varying others they decided they like better. If we could collectively agree on one, I doubt it'd feel as jarring once it started getting popularly used.

Springtime for Voldemort

@iceberg Ditto. I am pro-they, but I'm also pro-gender neutral pronoun that's not hir/zie/that x one that seems to think we live in a world where x is a well-liked letter. But they all sound pretentious, and aren't phonetically intuitive. You should be able to Google "hir pronunciation" and have the first two results be an explanation in "sounds like" terms and a YouTube video saying it, but the first results explain it in linguistic nerd jargon. And words that require an upper division theory class to know how to use aren't going to catch on. But as much as I love they, there are a few occasions where it's clunky or confusing.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Scandyhoovian I saw one woman the other day start her sentence out with hir and finish it with zie. Not really sure if she was confused, or purposefully trying to do something.

adorable-eggplant

@Springtime for Voldemort I like 'hu' because it reminds me of the whos in whoville. But I doubt that will catch on either, outside of a few specific forums.

adorable-eggplant

@Springtime for Voldemort I like to switch between hir and zie because if they're really gender neutral, then they should be interchangeable. And it's like the wild wild west out there, or the early days of HD vs blueray.

Springtime for Voldemort

@adorable-eggplant In the same sentence? That seems like starting out with they and ending with one. Whatever you go with, stick with it for the duration of the sentence/article/conversation; otherwise, there's often pronoun confusion. (Imagine how hard a conversation about your two genderqueer friends, Chris and Devon, would be...)

adorable-eggplant

@Springtime for Voldemort I use Zie in the nominative case and then decline it like Zie, hir (accusative/possessive), hirself (reflexive). Because I don't like zir or zem because they make me think of invader zim... and then I have the song stuck in my head.

I've never had it cause any confusion, because most modern english speaking folks when they're listening are primed by linguistic conventions to expect SVO order, which means if I say "Zie bought hirself a cookie" there's not much room for confusion. If I say "Zie bought hir a cookie" it's clear that there are two referents (otherwise it would be reflexive), but if there really is room for ambiguity then I'll just use names.

Blushingflwr

This is why I use zie/hir. Because I had it drummed into me that you should not use "they" as a singular (nor should you use "you" in formal writing). One could say "if one decides that one likes dubstep", but that also sounds pretentious.

I also disagree with the writer's assertion that we should try to find out the particulars so we can use the correct pronoun. A) sometimes the person we're speaking about is a hypothetical one and B) I know too many genderqueer people to be comfortable making a big deal out of someone's gender.

fb100003964691892

@Blushingflwr Great point! The real issue with "he or she" is that not everyone is one of those two options! We need to start looking outside of the binary of gender and doing it with with muddy part of grammatical pedantry is as good of a place as any.

iceberg

@Blushingflwr although I like singular "they" I also disagreed with the "just find out which gender" part, because it's not always applicable.

Blushingflwr

@Blushingflwr I should clarify that while I was taught that rule, I don't necessarily always follow it. I have prescriptivist impulses (not just in grammar, but everywhere), but I maintain that language is a tool used to communicate, so what matters is not whether you follow the rules but whether or not you clearly communicate your ideas. If the singular "they" is what your audience understands, then use it.

Also, from an aesthetic point of view in writing, rather than he/she, I like (s)he, though that still doesn't solve the "gender is not necessarily the binary you assume it is" problem.

Hammitt

I'm torn. I used to get really angry about this, in an anti-they way. At first, I was all for just using "he" and fuck it, it's fine. But then, you know, misogyny. And while it took me about a million years to accept that something small but incredibly pervasive in the language like the singular third person being a default dude ACTUALLY affects our thought process, I guess I agree now. Or at least agree enough to no go around defending he retrograde "he."

Then I moved on to "alright, just use 'he' or 'she'" not, mind you, the dreaded "he or she" because fuck that. Plus there's something really rebellious and fun about using 'she' for the singular third person, because people are SO used to 'he' that it throws them to think a universal experience might be a default lady. But then, that's also confusing, because while it throws people and maybe makes them think about their assumptions, it MOSTLY makes them think you're talking about girls all the time.

But then, if I give into the singular they, is that just me admitting defeat? Admitting that essentially people will always be confused by "she" as the third person singular because since they assume all universals are male, then your use of 'she' must mean you are referring only to ladies, while 'he' refers to everyone? And if so, should we give up that easy? Isn't that sad? Isn't it amazing just how much I have over-thought this? I really need more pressing deadlines in my life so I can think about productive things instead.

You can, however

@Hammitt It's not "giving in" to the singular they, especially if those are the pronouns that people use. Some folks, do not identify as "he" or "she" and use "they" because they feel it represents them. And in such a case, isn't it unfair to put our personal qualms about they ahead of their personal comfort?
I understand your wish to use the third person she, and that's cool, but there is totally a place for they, especially if you are not sure of someone's gender and don't wish to assign them one, because that can be really hurtful.

KeLynn

@Hammitt It's like you took a transcript of my brain.

Poubelle

Every time someone doesn't want to me to use they because "it's not singular!" I want to know if they refer to individual close friends and relatives as "you" because that ain't singular, either, and nobody needs to be formal with close friends and family. (There's a reason you goes with are.)

Also, every time someone expects a language like English to have super hard and fast rules and make sense, I LOL a little.

Actually, folks wanna bring thee/thou back, I'm cool with it. Let's keep the language interesting.
(True story: as a kid, until I realized that thou was the equivalent of tu in French, I actually thought it was MORE formal, because pretty much the only place I heard was in church, and I thought, well, if you're talking to God that way, it has to be pretty fancy, because God is someone you really don't want to disrespect.)

Now the Oxford comma--there's something worth fighting about.

Ophelia

@Poubelle I will fight to the death for the Oxford comma.

adorable-eggplant

@Ophelia Yale comma 4lyfe.

Emby

@Ophelia Yeah? Come at me, sis.

(Actually, my position is that even though I am not in favor of it, it's actually a fairly silly argument as far as grammar arguments go, and would not inspire nearly as much public discussion were it referred to exclusively as the "serial comma". People just love them some Oxford.)

Scandyhoovian

@Poubelle I will never stop using the Oxford comma. Ever.

stuffisthings

@Ophelia Me too! Let's draw up a list of more than three things we will need to succeed in this fight.

stuffisthings

@Emby Also they don't even use it in Oxford style.

Emby

@Scandyhoovian No one is going to try to make you! You people won!

leonstj

@Emby - Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?

adorable-eggplant

@Emby Noooo! Do not wave a white flag, throw in the towel or raise your hands in defeat! The unnecessary comma will never win (I'm playing the long game: some day anglophilia will wane and/or 'unnecessary comma' will catch on as a name).

I'm willing to use the old oxie when it disambiguates... and ONLY then.

Emby

@adorable-eggplant Comrade, my comrade!

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@highfivesforall ONLY WHEN IT DISAMBIGUATES.

Poubelle

@all YAY OXFORD COMMA ARGUMENTS!

Weirdly, I am completely undecided on it. Sometimes I use it. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I pay no attention to whether I use it or not. My rule is "does this look confusing/weird"? That's probably why I like fights over the Oxford comma, because hey, maybe someday somebody will sway me. (The main person who swayed me was a French teacher who told the class not to use it. A whole bunch of my classmates argued with her, to the point where she got angry and said "I don't care what you do in English, but if you put comma there in French, I will mark you down." So at least for her class, I was anti-Oxford.)

adorable-eggplant

@Poubelle Yeesss! Now if only I could become tyrant of the universe, and then I would mark everyone down. Mwhahaha!

TARDIStime

@stuffisthings this sentence literally does not compute. My mind is bleeding.

adorable-eggplant

We use a singular you and we dropped dual pronouns altogether. Language, it's a virus.

churlishgreen

I guess I'm in a very small minority, but I hate this.

Better to Eat You With

@churlishgreen I hate it, too, but we're losing this battle.

spanglepants

@churlishgreen Why, though?

fondue with cheddar

I guess this is sort of related, but does it annoy anyone else in TV commercials for baby products when they refer to the child as "baby" instead of "he", "she", or "your baby"? For example, "Pampers keeps baby dry."

kinbarichan

@fondue with cheddar: Yes. Also, the use of 'Mom' without qualifiers. Not, "What does your mom think?" but "What does Mom think?"
That's my baby, not some universal infant, and I am not your mother.

fondue with cheddar

@kinbarichan YES THIS.

The only reason I can think of is that maybe they don't say "your baby" because "your" implies ownership, which implies that the baby is an object and not a person.

datalass

@fondue with cheddar Oh, how I HATE this. Why do they do it? I can't tell if it's an old-timey thing ("keeps baby dry", "mother knows best") or what but it's awful.

Dizzy

As far as I know, there's only one third-person pronoun in Chinese ("ta" is both singular and plural) which I love. Sorting out friendships and relationships in conversation is kind of like reading that Jeanette Winterson book with the genderless narrator.

MashaNigel

@Dizzy Wait, so the plural (tamen) is a lie? Or is it just not used in conversation much? I mean, they taught us about disambiguating he and she in writing (replacing the person radical with the woman radical - not telling at all!), but not that it was introduced for the purpose of translating from gendered languages/languages with gendered pronouns. Google just told me that. So what else don't I know? I'M SO TERRIFIED.

Dizzy

@Dizzy Oh no, don't be terrified! You're probably right! I'm no expert, I've never taken lessons so this is what I've sorted out from conversations with friends with their translations and my teeny Chinese vocab. I've always just understood "ta" as he/she/they. You've taught me something that I've definitely been missing! (Makes sense now considering "wo"/"wo men" for "me"/"us" (right??))

fabel

It's okay if it's spoken-- I am very forgiving of spoken-aloud grammar mistakes. But in writing? "They" is not okay!

adorable-eggplant

@fabel Says who? You can't stop the rain.

fabel

@adorable-eggplant Well obviously, this is my own subjective opinion! There are many different ones here, so thought I'd throw my weird, specific preferences into the mix.

adorable-eggplant

@fabel Aww sorry, I was just teasing. I think it's fine to have preferences. Grammar stuff just strikes me as funny because it's all about authority and never, never doing some unspeakable thing. But whatever unspeakable thing it is, I'm willing to bet a dollar that it's been done or was even a widely accepted practice at some point or for certain dialects.

fabel

@adorable-eggplant oh, thanks for clarifying-- I wasn't sure & am feeling sensitive today!

Anyway, I do agree with you, & actually have gotten into arguments with people who are all about prescriptive grammar. Language is constantly evolving, etc. etc. However, I also (hypocritical to my beliefs) possess my own preferences & certain "mistakes" make me twitchy.

olivebee

I am just enjoying the hell out of this comment thread. It warms my grammar-loving heart to be around others who are as passionate.

Scandyhoovian

This is one of those times where I lament the lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun. In Finnish, it's all "se," no matter how you identify, and it's so simple. My mom's been in the States for over 30 years and she still screws up pronouns all the time because her brain just can't seem to get it to stick. "He, she, you know what I mean."

stuffisthings

@Scandyhoovian I love how Google translate makes a complete hash of genders in French. "Claude applied to her favorite university, but it couldn't get in to him."

Springtime for Voldemort

@iceberg Ditto. I am pro-they, but I'm also pro-gender neutral pronoun that's not hir/zie/that x one that seems to think we live in a world where x is a well-liked letter. But they all sound pretentious, and aren't phonetically intuitive. You should be able to Google "hir pronunciation" and have the first two results be an explanation in "sounds like" terms and a YouTube video saying it, but the first results explain it in linguistic nerd jargon. And words that require an upper division theory class to know how to use aren't going to catch on. But as much as I love they, there are a few occasions where it's clunky or confusing.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Springtime for Voldemort Damn you Android, double-posting all over the place.

Onymous

http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html

glitterary

Fuck.
That.
Noise.

I note the cutesy little disclaimer at the bottom about how people who prefer a gender-neutral pronoun because they don't conform to a gender binary can still use it (how generous!), and call privilege. The way we frequently use singular they is a really, really helpful tool to people trying to dismantle or work around an assumed gender binary. It's a very quick and easy way of showing people how pronouns don't have to be either she or he. Caveating that it's okay for people to use if they're making a point about their gender, but not otherwise, undermines those people's ability to have their non-binaryness recognised and accepted in the long run; insisting singular they not be used casually, only in reference to people who fall outside the binary, is othering.

As pointed out earlier in the article, plural they has a long history--it's actually been used as a singular for longer than it has a plural, though I'm afraid I don't have the link to cite that--so deciding out of nowhere that a very serviceable, widely-used, gender-neutral grammatical construct doesn't work is bloody ridiculous. It's an irrational personal pet peeve that the author is arguing be removed at some inconvenience to all the people who use it (and I do and I LOVE IT) and major, if unintended, inconvenience to a disadvantaged minority.

TARDIStime

@glitterary Sista, PREACH!!!

Owais Ahmed@twitter

This is one of those times where I lament the lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun. In Finnish, it's all "se," no matter how you identify, and it's so simple. My mom's been in the States for over 30 years and she still screws up pronouns all the time because her brain just can't seem to get it to stick. "He, she, you know what I mean."
Owais from NBR Rubber Rolls Factory.

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i am with this one one "Singular "they" all the way!"
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