Word of the Millennium

Barbara Need nee1 at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Sun Jan 16 02:47:40 UTC 2000

>Word of the past Millennium was she.
>Yes, she, the feminine pronoun. Before the year 1000, there was no "she" in
>English; just "heo," which also meant "they." But thanks either to the Viking
>invasions or some other obscure reason, women got a pronoun of their own in
>the second millennium. By a runoff vote of 35 to 27, "she" edged out
>"science" as Word of the Millennium.

Sigh. When I read this in the Chicago Tribune, I had hoped that there was a
misunderstanding on the part of the reporter.

There WAS a feminine 3rd person pronoun before 1000! It is true that, in
the nominative and accusative case, it was sometimes hard to distinguish
from the 3rd plural (the handbooks and dictionaries which give _heo_ 'she'
and _hie_ 'they' notwithstanding)--but this is really a problem only in the
accusative, since the verb form would tell you the number of a subject: 3rd
person singular and 3rd person plural forms of the verb being distinct
enough to tell you which pronoun you were using.

There were also two other cases for the pronoun: genitive _hire_ (which,
admittedly, in later Old English might be spelled identically with the 3rd
plural genitive _hira_), and dative _hire_ (distinct from dative plural

I have no particular objection to _she_ as the WOTM, but I hate to think it
was on the basis of insufficient information.

Barbara Need
University of Chicago

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