You might remember a few weeks ago the Word Nerd asked for your help with a reader’s request:
“‘Challenged Pronoun’ sent me a note: ‘I have a teenage parent who has decided that she is now fluent and (in addition to a name change) wants to be called them / them at instead of her / her. I am enduring everything this young person is going through, but I find it hard to use these pronouns because for me these words have always been plural. I’m sure there is a story behind the choice of these words, but can you please tell me that there are alternatives? I think new words should be coined or appropriate (if any). ‘”
I posted the column and the question on my Facebook page, and Anne Titus replied, “How funny my husband and I just had a discussion about which word might replace it. The plural” they ” bothers me too. We decided on “zee” as the perfect neutral pronoun. Rhymes and all! I couldn’t find a good substitute for its objective case. My solution is: we continue to simplify English and let’s also use zee for the objective pronoun. It’s usually preceded by “à, à, pour, avec, beside, sans”, etc., so that won’t be really confusing. “
Frequent guest columnist Coralie Koonce also shared my column on her Facebook page. Kevin Carson replied, “We have had ‘they’ as the third person singular from the start. I totally agree with using people’s preferred pronouns, as well as ‘they’ for nonbinary people. or someone of unspecified sex. … I mean “from the beginning” of English, because it was a completely correct third person singular until seventeenth-century grammarians tried to impose a Latin logic on the language, and then persist in current use. “
Very good point. Grammar grunts can be overwhelming, especially when applying Latin rules to English.
But, Coralie wrote: “In the printed word, the singular ‘they’ creaks in my ear. It is illogical. He does not recognize the distinction between one and many. … I just wish people would agree on a non-gender. -specific, first person, singular pronoun. “
Another frequent guest, artist and activist Shelley Buonaiuto, wrote: “Someone wrote to Dan Savage that it should be ‘sha’, pronounced like ‘the’. He said okay, but … was too close to her. So I was like, uh … and ‘uh’? Maybe too much like ‘him’? So maybe ‘uh’ … give the book to ‘uh’ … that might make some noise … except in Brooklyn, Boston or England where you would hear her as ‘her’.
“Whatever it is, must be respectful … and ‘san’? Like the term respect in Japan? Suffixed ‘san’ (meaning ‘dear’ or actually ‘honorable Mr. the Japan Consulting Office.
Friend Earl Babbie noted on my blog: “On gender … I prefer to use the third person plural when the gender is unknown:” When a student comes in during office hours, I have them sit here. (Once again, I said it and the world has not ended.) “
Blogger Susan Richards said: “[E]Except for constructions similar to Babbie’s example, I probably won’t use “they” as a singular pronoun. (I’m old and set in my ways.) I’ve read too many examples of this usage that were either ridiculous or impossible to understand. If we could make it up ‘Ms.’ when it becomes necessary, we can invent a new singular pronoun. “
There are pronouns, but I haven’t used a lot of them. Devin-Norelle wrote on them.com: “Throughout the history of the English language, pronouns have evolved to suit the circumstances of the time. search for a more gender neutral pronoun; several gender-neutral pronouns have since emerged and been adopted by members of trans and non-binary communities. Third-person pronouns like “xe / xem” or “ze / zim” are increasingly popular. Likewise, it is increasingly common for people to avoid using pronouns altogether and instead using their names in all circumstances. “
Unless we accept new pronouns, I think those of us who have made it clear that “they” is never singular may just have to suck it up and use that pronoun or any pronoun other than someone else. a request. It’s only polite.
The fluid gender pronoun problem wasn’t the only thing readers responded to.
Ethel Simpson wrote in an email: “Very recently I see ‘a pregnant person’. It is one thing to prefer ‘mailman’ or ‘firefighter’, as it can be assumed that people of both sexes can fill these roles. But only women can be pregnant. If someone wants to assert the importance of women in the world, why would they neutralize the one area in which the female sex is particularly qualified? “
My understanding of the “pregnant person” debate is that it is a recognition that transgender men (ie, who have transitioned from female to male) can and do become pregnant. While there is no exact number available, it has happened, and probably more often than you might think.
The language changes over time. While it doesn’t always make us comfortable, it is a fact of life.
Associate Editor Brenda Looper is the editor of the Voices page. Read his blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email him at [email protected]