Charles Wells charles at FREUDE.COM
Tue Jul 17 19:16:54 UTC 2001

This phenomenon is parallel to the one that eliminated "thou" for "you".  It
seems to me a good prophylactic device to heal an obvious malfunction in the
English language, and it should be encouraged.

The Economist recently had a weasel-worded article about this phenomenon.  I
don't agree with their conclusion, but they pointed out some real problems with
changing to "their" in these circumstances.

> What about this one?  I have noticed during the past 20-25 years that the use
> of "Everybody (everyone, each, somebody, etc...) has THEIR own way of doing
> things" has steadily been replacing  "Everybody (etc)....HIS  own etc" even
> in "learned discourse"  I attribute this to the influence of the women's
> movement in making America more aware and sensitive to sexism in society in
> general and in the English language in particular.  I have tried to use
> "his/her" (clumsy as it is) as a way to preserve subject-verb agreement, and
> I notice some others use "her" as a sort of overcompensation; but with each
> passing year I see "their" picking up more momentum in all corners, even in
> Academia.  Has this been picked up on any "official radar?"  Is it in any
> usage dictionaries yet?  Are there any other grammar formalists out there who
> cringe like I do when they hear this?
> At 08:40 PM 4/16/01, you wrote:
>> At 10:10 AM -0400 4/17/01, P2052 at AOL.COM wrote:
>>> A number of the older grammar books/style manuals claim that either
>>> acceptable.
>>> In The Complete Stylist and Handbook, 3rd ed. (1984), Sheridan acknowledges
>>> both a singular and a plural usage; however, he embraces the singular sense
>>> of none:  "None of them are, of course is very common.  From Shakespeare's
>>> time to ours, it has persisted alongside the more precise none of them is,
>>> which seems to have the edge in careful prose, since it follows the
>>> structure
>>> of English, matching singular with singular" (354).
>> I find this argument entirely circular and question-begging, besides flying
>> in the face of centuries of distinguished usage.
>>> He cites the following
>>> examples:
>>>                   FAULTY:  None of these men are failures.
>>>                   REVISED:  None of these men is a failure.
>>>                   FAULTY:  None of the class, even those best prepared,
>>> the test.
>>>                   REVISED:  None of the class, even those best prepared,
>>> wants the
>>>                                     test.
>>> Note that these uses of none are the equivalent of not one.
>> Actually, I'm not sure that "none" = 'not one' in the second example:  "Not
>> one of the class wants the test"?  In any case, this equivalence (often used
>> by earlier prescriptivists as a rationale for the singular agreement) is a
>> bit of a red herring, since the one case where everyone has always used
>> singular agreement, "none of the X" for mass noun X, doesn't permit a "not
>> one" paraphrase.
>> larry

Charles Wells,
Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Case Western Reserve University
Affiliate Scholar, Oberlin College
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