government they

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 16 21:33:39 UTC 2011

This is actually the third plausible interpretation under which "they"
is perfectly normal (I am assuming, you mean "gender-avoiding they").

So, for me, any one of these three is fine:

1) gender-avoiding singular "they", referring to a nameless President
2) ordinary "they", referring to "government" as an organization
3) ordinary "they", referring to both the President an the government

So any way one reads that statement, there is nothing "odd" about
"they". Drezner ought to be spanked.


On 10/16/2011 3:29 PM, Michael Newman wrote:
> It seems like a pretty standard singular they. It's a "whoever is the president."  Let's not get all prescriptivist here.
> Michael Newman
> Associate Professor of Linguistics
> Queens College/CUNY
> michael.newman at
> On Oct 16, 2011, at 8:32 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> At 10/16/2011 12:18 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>>> There is a barely noticeable quibble Dan Drezner posted this morning. He
>>> is responding to Herman Cain's "foreign policy" (which he says is
>>> nonexistent, but that's another matter entirely).
>>>>>     The primary duty of the President of the United States is to
>>>>>     protect our people. In fact, it is the principal duty of a
>>>>>     limited federal government. They must ensure that our military
>>>>>     and all of our security agencies are strong and capable.
>>>> I'm with you so far, Mr. Cain -- my only objection is your odd pronoun
>>>> choice of "they."
>>> The first paragraph is Cain's, the second Drezner's. Personally, I don't
>>> see anything particularly odd about the choice of "they", irrespectively
>>> of whether it refers to "the President and a limited federal government"
>>> or just the "government". The latter might sound more British than SAE,
>>> but I'd be perfectly happy to use it. But, I suspect, Drezner totally
>>> missed the possibility of the former--which would make /his/ comment
>>> "odd". YMMV
>> But the ultimate limited federal government is
>> singular -- just one person.  Cain, who is
>> otherwise alleged to be direct, should have said "he" (or ït").
>> Joel

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