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Sat Oct 12, 2019, 12:58 PM

Calling all grammar geeks and word nerds

http://www.thecrier.net/our_columnists/article_88290032-ea41-11e9-9832-9b621c002356.html

Am I the only grammar geek /word nerd up in arms over the neverending changes to pronouns and words we’ve used all our lives? As long ago as 2016, I climbed up on my soapbox in one of my “Ink Penn” blogs to protest the notion that “they” could be used as a singular pronoun:

•… “they” can be used to refer to only one person. That’s right; you may think “they” means two or more people or animals, but not any longer. Now, because it can be awkward or possibly offensive to say something like, “We want any student to feel as though he or she can speak up,” it’s been decided that “they” in place of “he or she” is acceptable.

• The Washington Post added this usage to its style guide, and the Canadian Government endorsed it. After all these years of rewriting sentences to avoid having to say he/she, it seems I have one less thing to worry about.

In the same blog, I bemoaned the fact that Mx had joined Mr, Mrs and Ms as a gender-neutral title. Three years hence, a shift to Mx and they seems pretty darned simple. Why? Because I read an article in the Wall Street Journal citing a blog post titled, “Gender Neutral Pronouns — What They Are & How to Use Them.” Though it mentioned using “they,” “them,” “their” as easy non-offensive ways to refer to individuals, it also provided this list of replacement pronouns for the ones we’re all accustomed to:

• He/She — Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E

• Him/Her — Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em

• His/Her — Zir, Hir, Eir, Vis, Tem, Eir

• His/Hers — Zis, Hirs, Eirs, Vers, Ters, Eirs

• Himself/Herself — Zieself, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Reply #1)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:28 PM

5. What's new is adopting it as the original referring pronoun.

It's typically only used when there's a person who's unknown, so it's less intentionally "generic" and "generic because s/he have become sex-specific."

Over my lifetime "he" and "she" have become increasingly equipollent in all contexts, with the external mandate by neo-prescriptivists that the *new* rules of grammar are the ones that must be followed. When I was young, "he" was unmarked wrt sex in certain contexts. People stopped paying attention to the contexts--or, as is often the case, when it's advantageous to be context-blind for purposes of power expression through language manipulation, forbade others to pay attention to the contexts. Find something to be offended at when none is intended (or even recognizable 20 years ago), project the intent to offend on those with no such intent, and then require that people not offend in order to not be immoral. Either way, "they" had been around for ambiguous contexts for a long time.

That's different from indefinite "they" as in "You know what they say," where there really isn't a referent beyond "people" or "somebody somewhere." Compare "They say that the ends always justify the means, but I don't buy it" versus "Some student wrote a racist comment on the whiteboard--too bad they didn't sign it so we'd know who to punish."

The same kind of power expression is seen in linguistic imperialism by WEIRDs and their acolytes, where "because this is how it works in English it must therefore work in the exact same way in all other languages" is the reasoning. It was a silly idea back in the 1600s with the ur-prescriptivists' dicta for how English must be like Latin (it's bad to even accidentally split infinitives, for example). It's not just a silly idea when old white men do it. Of course, it seemed wise and prudent in the 1600s, I guess.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:06 PM

2. The generic pronoun has been a point of debate since the 80's

and it's made teaching s/v agreement a nightmare!
Odd how all the WSJ's alternatives sound like German!

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:16 PM

3. I do not like "they" being used as a singular pronoun! Informally, fine, but for the sake of

clarity, just no. We start breaking grammatical convention in formal writing, which exist to facilitate clarity and comprehension, and...well, what’s next? “It’s” and “its” errors will become perfectly acceptable.

However, if “they” is understood by a community of readers to be the preferred pronoun to signify
a person who does not choose to be identified as the binary, limiting “he” or “she,” fine, or if a social group wants to set its own conventions so as to make a political statement, re-educate readers, that is fine too as long as the pronoun agreement is consistent. Inconsistencies are the mark of laziness and lead to confusion, not agreed upon new rules.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:16 PM

4. Who uses zie, sie, ey, ve, etc? I haven't seen them before.

Doesn't seem likely they or any of the others in the bottom half of the post will come into common usage anytime soon.

Many of them look like foreign words even.

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Response to brush (Reply #4)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 02:00 PM

9. "Zie plane, zie plane!" Tatoo exclaimed.

Sorry, couldn't help it.

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Response to yonder (Reply #9)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 02:04 PM

10. That's ok. I got a chuckle out of it. And it's appropriate since Tatoo's language...

seemed to be half English and half something else.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:30 PM

6. Years ago I got two applications for an American Express card in the mail on the same day.

The regular green card was addressed to Miss CQ & the gold card app was addressed to Mr. CQ.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:31 PM

7. Total silliness. Fortunately, the English language has perfectly acceptable

alternative ways of expressing the same thing: “We want each student to feel free to speak up."
“We want all students to feel as though they can speak up." Problem solved and no one offended.
Alas, I'm afraid there's no future for the apostrophe. If people can't tell the difference between its and it's, all hope is lost.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 01:43 PM

8. I frequently use "they"

as a gender neutral pronoun such as in your first example.

I'm not crazy about it for a specific individual, because it's still a collective/plural pronoun.

As for that weird list you've given, I haven't run into any of those. They look like an alternative version of German or perhaps one of the Scandinavian languages. Our pronouns don't need to be that completely re-invented. Plus, I am certain that there would be someone who would insist in the series starting with Z, and someone else who otherwise seems to be of the same gender, insisting on one of the others. I also keep on hearing of people who claim not to identify full time with one gender, but go back and forth, and who then get angry when others cannot read their mind about what they feel like on a particular day.

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Response to mfcorey1 (Original post)

Sat Oct 12, 2019, 05:49 PM

11. In our rush to surrender to tyranny of the extreme minority of the dermal depth deficiency afflicted

let us remove all the clutter and use only "it". A perfect example, "It puts the lotion on its skin; or else it get the hose again." See? completely gender, race, even species mysterious!

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