let's fix the pronoun problem

Levi Pearson levi at cold.org
Mon May 26 22:11:21 MDT 2008


On Mon, May 26, 2008 at 7:22 PM, Von Fugal <von at fugal.net> wrote:

> As you said yourself, it's about common usage more than whatever some
> "stuffy person" says is sexist. Last I checked the common usage is still
> to use "he" as the gender nuetral third person pronoun. I hear it all
> the time, my wife and I jokingly call each other on using it all the
> time. I must admit at times I am conscious of the issue when I use he,
> but it's not a big deal enough to sound silly to CYA. So big ol'
> official documents like to bend all over the place to not use he, but
> that's not what I call common usage. For example, ever talk about babies
> that are yet to be? It's always 'he' and that's not because anyone
> thinks males are superior or that they want a baby boy, it's only
> because it's convenient. I always say he, even though I really want a
> little girl. That's where we call eachother on it, but we know perfectly
> well what the other means.

Well, using the male pronoun universally when the sex of the
antecedent is unknown *is* clearly sexist, but if you don't care if
you're perceived that way, then go ahead and do it.  As I said, it's a
style guide rule, not a hard and fast grammar rule.  If using 'he'
universally wasn't perceived as a problem by a lot of people, we
wouldn't have had this discussion to begin with.

> Also, being a style issue, I see no reason to use bad grammer to satisfy
> a few nazis. Using "they" as a singular third person pronoun us just out.
> All that said, I don't mind using whatever natural evolving or sane
> substitute, thon sounds ok. Problem is you have to replace all the
> different varients, and that's just messy. We already have words that
> work.

It doesn't sound like you read the link I posted, and if you did, you
certainly didn't spend much time perusing the site.  The Language Log
guys fall firmly in the descriptivist (as opposed to prescriptivist)
language camp, and are certainly not grammar nazis.  There is plenty
of historical precedent in the body of recorded literature for use of
"they" and its associated forms as singular, gender-unknown pronouns.
Thus, it is acceptable grammar and *you* are the one being a grammar
nazi by claiming it's bad grammar.  It's perpetuating grammar myths
like that keep us saddled with inanities like the notion that split
infinitives are always bad.

        --Levi



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