Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Dire Warning

By: Isonomist--

I don't know how to say this gently, and I hope you're all sitting down (I was, and eating a taco, at the time). Apparently editors across the nation are being told, by no less a personage than the head of Copy Editor, Wendalyn Nichols, that the personal pronouns singular (well two of them) are on their way out. Guess what's taking their place. The grammatically incorrect "they." She claims it's already happened There’s More... Expand Postin England (Is this true? Can anyone confirm?).

I know you've all seen that construction before, and it was wrong, wrong, wrong. But now it's going to become part of our lives. Instead of saying he/she is going" we'll all be saying "they are going."

It hurts me.

It was bad enough they dropped the second person singular. Now they're removing sex from the language. But that's not the end of it, no. The next step, according to Nichols, is to completely destroy everything we know about English syntax by accepting the Frankensteinian "They is." As in, "when a copy editor encounters bad grammar, they is likely to throw a fit."

If you think this won't come to pass, remember what happened with randomly-hyphenated-compound adjectives.

By: Freditor_G

Removing sex from language? I think you've got that wrong.

If it's a definite group of mixed genders, it's already a "they." Despite the fact that there are two sexes. "They" is a sexless word.

But if it's an indefinite person of indeterminate gender, it's a... pretty awkward choice. Why pick a specific gender for a generic person? If nothing else, it feels dishonest to the careful speaker - hence the colloquial dissatisfaction with the rule.

"They" has the advantage of indicating an indeterminate subject. This development will hardly make English the first language with a third gender.

By: Isonomist--

I'm not sure but it sounds like you're confusing sex with gender.

Gender is the grammatical form of a word, sex is the feature of the person.

So if I read you correctly, it's "mixed sexes," and "indeterminate sex" -- and why pick a specific sex for a generic person-- and I don't disagree that it's a pain to most of us to have to make a call on whether anonymous persons are of one sex or the other. The way I handle it in writing for presentations is to keep switching the gender of my pronouns. So that every other anonymous child, parent or caregiver is a "he" or a "she." Not a great solution either.

We already have a third gender: "It." No one wants to be "it." We'd all rather be they. Maybe we need to convene a constitutional convention (or whatever it's called, all you poly sci grads) the way they did when they decided to call tomatoes vegetables or that screws should be lefty loosy and righty tighty. But then, I can't imagine Congress collectively understanding enough about sex to be able to rule on gender.