[Ads-l] Word of the Year 2015: singular "they"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 10 04:55:29 UTC 2016


> On Jan 9, 2016, at 4:46 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> 
> On Sat, Jan 9, 2016 at 6:29 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
>> "they" used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
>> 
> 
> Have other people noticed the quasi-corresponding use of _themself_ as the
> reflexive?
> 
> "Nobody else wanted to try to do it because _they_ were scared that _they_
> might hurt _themself_."
> -- 
> -Wilson

Yup, we've discussed that:
> From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> Subject: Re: Word of the Year 2015: singular "they"
> Date: January 9, 2016 at 7:30:38 AM EST
> To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>

> 
> On Jan 9, 2016, at 6:50 AM, Salikoko S. Mufwene <s-mufwene at uchicago.edu> wrote:
> 
> Are we likely to see/hear "singular /they/" agree with the verb in the same way as /he/ and /she/? Is the following construction likely to be considered acceptable:
> 
> /I wonder whether there is a person here that claimed _they knowS_ the answer.
> 
> /Or will "singular /they/" continue to be referentially singular but syntactically plural?
> 
> Sali.

I expect it'll work like singular "you":  "You are..." but "You shaved yourself/yourselves" depending on the number of the referent.  (Similarly for Fr. "vous" taking 2d plural verb agreement.)  We just need autocorrect to respect "themself" as the appropriate reflexive instead of replacing it with "themselves" as it just tried to do.

LH



> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
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