government they

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Oct 16 22:30:37 UTC 2011

On Oct 16, 2011, at 5:33 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

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


> 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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