gender-neutral pronouns as epic fails

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 2 12:13:07 UTC 2010

"Students who once were taught that the masculine pronoun must always be
used in cases of mixed or doubtful gender are now taught instead to use
coordinate forms, not for gender balance or grammatical precision, but
simply because that’s the new rule. Those writers who question the rule, who
realize that multiple *he-or-she’s* just don’t make for readable prose,
won’t seek out a new gender-neutral pronoun. Instead they’ll recast some
sentences as plural, and for the rest they’ll just take their chances with
singular *they."*
Some published writers (male and female) now choose "she" as a singular
gender-neutral alternative to "he."  See, "she" looks feminine but can be
generic too!; "he" looks masculine, is masculine, will always be masculine
and oppresses millions.  Based on actual usage, the "new rule" ought to
be, e.g.: "In spite of what you may have heard, 'he' can be gender-neutral
and has been used that way for centuries. So can 'she,' though its
gender-neutral use is recent.  Choose the one that sounds better or makes
the most sense whenever 'he or she' sounds clumsy."

Some of us will continue to use "he" with "he or she" for special clarity or
when anything else might seem ridiculous (the old rule).  I have no logical
objection to "they" but must admit it used to make my grade-school teachers
so crazy that I get the creeps when I try to use it or even see it in formal

When I'm dead, a consistent "they" or "he-or-she"  user will probably take
my place.  Mortality is the ultimate arbiter of systemic language change..


On Mon, Aug 2, 2010 at 2:57 AM, Dan Goodman <dsgood at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dan Goodman <dsgood at IPHOUSE.COM>
> Subject:      Re: gender-neutral pronouns as epic fails
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Dennis Baron wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Dennis Baron <debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU>
> > Subject:      gender-neutral pronouns as epic fails
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > Some useful historical info updated on the gender-neutral pronoun as a
> > word that fails:
> >
> >
> One singular pronoun I've encountered is a two-word phrase:   "That
> person."    I've heard it mostly from people in 12-step programs;  I've
> also heard it over the phone from a cop in London, Ontario.
> Singular "they" -- I've never understood why it's worse in principle
> than singular "you."   Then again, I've never understood why the people
> who want to preserve a pure French vocabulary haven't called for
> banishing "biftek" and "redingote" from French.
> --
> Dan Goodman
> "I have always depended on the kindness of stranglers."
> Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Expire
> Journal (,
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