Language Log post (with links) on sex-known indefinite "they"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 25 15:56:11 UTC 2010

A post by Arnold on this phenomenon prompted by the instruction
conveyed here from this weekend's Times piece on "guido/guidette"
that "A Guidette takes really good care of themselves", along with
other similar examples some from earlier LL posts involving
"they"/"them" with definite antecedent. (Actually one of those cited
in an earlier post by Geoff Pullum involves a technically definite
but non-vivid sex-known antecedent, "this person...they..." referring
to an unknown writer of graffiti in a men's room.)  YMMV.

I omitted one of my favorite examples because it really needs
subscripts to keep track of the flying (indefinite but, in context,
sex-known) referents:

I can't help it if somebody[i] doesn't want their[i] husband and then
somebody[j] besides them[i] decides they[j] do.
--"Serial mistress" Pamela Harriman, quoted in Victoria Griffin's The Mistress


The American Dialect Society -

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