Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pining For A Non-Gender Specific Pronoun

I know that’s probably not on everyone’s wish list, but I sure find myself longing for one lately. I cannot believe the English langue doesn’t have one. Somebody was not thinking clearly when they sat down to make up that pronoun list.

In light of this, I think grammar puritans everywhere should just agree that we can use they as a non gender specific pronoun. It would make everything so much simpler! And it’s not the only instance of a word taking its actual meaning from the context it’s used in.

And yes, I also spend time fretting over the plight of the serial comma, the passing of the subjunctive were, and the extinction of bibliographies.


Deva Fagan said...

I use "they" myself, and have no guilt over it. He or she is just too clunky. My first person narrators have always used "they" too, and I've been able to argue successfully to keep it so far. I do wish there were an alternative, but "zhe" and "thir" and all those other options just sound too odd to me to use.

"They" may be grammatically incorrect, but language is a living thing and I am fine with this being the next evolutionary step.

Mae said...

"They" works for me.

By the way, which side of the Oxford comma debate are you, speaking of grammar?

Heather Jeanne said...

Oh, yes, please. I personally find myself getting twitchy whenever I use "they" in the singular, but I'm working on it. Saying "he or she" in casual conversation is just silly business, and overuse of the word "someone" makes it seem like you're trying to drop hints or something.

Also on my list? A plural "you" that isn't specific to a region.

Becky Levine said...

I'm with you on "they." I'm also big on being careful with pronouns; just about nothing drives me as crazy as not being able to tell who HE, SHE, or THEY refers to! :)

andalucy said...

I can't use 'they.' My English profs in college insisted 'he' in not gender specific in those instances, but I'm not on board there, either. I sometimes use 'she' and sometimes 'he.'

Robin L said...

Yeay! I didn't realize there were so many grammar rebels out there! Although I agree, Deva, that language is an evolving thing so it needs to adapt.

Mae, I am a firm believer in the Oxford, or serial, comma.

Sorry about the twitching, Heather! And YES on the plural, non gender specific you.

I hate pronoun confusion, Becky! It has caused me to put more than one book down.

And that's why we need a whole new word, Lucy, because so many people have such an aversion. Although I use he and she intermittently as well.

andalucy said...

I know. I agree that it's a problem. I guess it just makes me twitchy like Heather. :-) What do other languages do, I wonder? I know that in Spanish they just use the masculine as a non-gender specific pronoun like we used to in English. But then I think feminists would have a hard time with the entire Spanish language, what with all those masculine and feminine nouns.

Anonymous said...

andalucy, most languages have gendered nouns. English is odd in that it doesn't.

R. L., English does have such a thing: "one." The problem is, it sounds way too formal to us, so we don't use it.

As Deva said, there is "they," but ew.

R.L. LaFevers said...

You're completely right about "one" anonymous! I do tend to forget that though, since it is so formal and awkward to use.

It's funny, because while I can be a stickler for some things, using they as a singular isn't one of them.

Naomi Ruth said...

This is totally on my wish list too.

Actually, in my College Writing class the Prof asked me my opinion on the 'they' debate, as she was arguing with one of the students and the student was not agreeing with her. I have found that it is becoming more and more acceptable to use they even in a singular context, despite my mother's disapproval.

I honestly don't know why this wasn't thought of before. I'm pretty sure other languages have the neuter as a non-gender specific case. How that didn't transfer over, I don't know.

@Heather Jeanne: YES! I'm with you on the plural you!