## The craven feminine pronoun

The Times Literary Supplement diarist who hides behind the initials "J.C." makes this catty remark (issue of January 6, 2017, page 36) about Sidney E. Berger's The Dictionary of the Book: A Glossary of Book Collectors:

"Predictions were that the Internet would do away with dealers' catalogs and it is true that many a dealer has gone from issuing catalogs to listing her whole stock online." Bookselling and book collecting are among the world's stubbornly male pastimes — deplorable, no doubt, but less so than the use of the craven pronoun throughout The Dictionary of the Book (Rowman & Littlefield, $125). J.C. (who, Jonathan Ginzburg informs me, is widely known to be an author, book dealer, and bibliophile named James Campbell) is objecting to the use of she as a gender-neutral pronoun. And you can just guess that a snooty writer in TLS who quibbles about other people's grammar choices would hate singular they. J.C. would probably regard it as "abominable", the way Simon Heffer does. Which can only mean that he advocates use of the traditional practice of he as the gender-neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun, the one that The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) calls "purportedly sex-neutral he (see pp. 491–493). Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Choosing their pronouns for oneself The following sentence can be found (as of 15 September 2016) in this Wikipedia article about the effects of rape on the victim: Sometimes in an effort to shield oneself from believing such a thing could happen to their loved one, a supporter will make excuses for why the event occurred. The clash in pronoun choice (the switch from one to their) makes this clearly anomalous. What exactly could have led to its being written? I think at least two unease-promoting factors are involved. Read the rest of this entry » ## Annals of singular 'they': another case with known sex Karen Thomson, a Sanskritist and antiquarian bookseller living in Oxford, wrote to me to point out the following very significant example of singular they in a Financial Times interview with TV writer and director Jill Soloway:  People will recognise that just because somebody is masculine, it doesn't mean they have a penis. Just because somebody's feminine, it doesn't mean they have a vagina. That's going to be the evolution over the next five years. You see what makes this not just a dramatic claim in terms of sexual politics but a linguistically very revealing example? Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Typical options like â€œheâ€� and â€œsheâ€� Collin Binkley, "He? She? Ze? Colleges add gender-free pronouns, alter policy", AP 9/18/2015 Welcome to Harvard. Feel free to pick a pronoun on this form: __ He. __ She. __ Ze. __ E. __ They. During the registration process at Harvard University, students are now allowed to indicate which pronouns they use, with suggested gender-neutral options like "ze" or "they." Harvard isn't the first college to embrace gender-neutral pronouns, but it's among a wave of major institutions that are widening their policies and pronouns to acknowledge transgender students, as well as "genderqueer" students, who don't identify as male or female. Read the rest of this entry » ## The manuscript they would have written Here's a very nice case of modern sex-neutral pronoun-choice style, with the unusual feature that the antecedent for the two occurrences of singular they (which prescriptivsts hate so much) is not only a definite noun phrase, but a definite noun phrase denoting a unique individual. The sentence comes from a Buzzfeed listicle drawn from "Shit Academics Say" (@AcademicsSay) on Twitter. I underline the antecedent and the two pronouns: We wish to thank Reviewer 2 for their critical feedback & sincerely apologize for not having written the manuscript they would have written. Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Enlightened singular they ## I met someone and they make me happy When the delightfully cute UK Olympic diving star Tom Daley decided to come out as bisexual, he made a statement (see this news report) with a charmingly clever use of singular they: "In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great," Daley said. "That someone is a guy." His use of "they" for the first reference to his new romantic interest has "someone" as its antecedent, and rather than being a bound variable semantically (as in Everyone should look after their own gear), it's just a free pronoun meaning "he or she, as the context may dictate". He could have used he, as typical conservative usage advice books would have insisted. Except that it would have utterly ruined his rhetorical design. Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Popes and prophets Professor Heinz Giegerich has pointed out to me that in the wake of Pope Benedict's resignation of his position at least two BBC reporters have been referring to the next pope, whoever that might be, using singular they. I don't have specific word-for-word quotations, but (apparently) reporters have been using phrases like The next pope will find that they, or Anyone who expects the cardinals to elect them, and so on. Further evidence (to be added to evidence like the case of "They are a prophet") that singular they is not motivated solely or necessarily by ignorance or indecision about which gender is appropriate. The next pope, whoever they may be, will surely be a man, so the pronoun he would be appropriate and unobjectionable. But we have no idea which man, so singular they also feels entirely appropriate, contrary to what all the dumb usage pontificators say. Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Sweden's gender-neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun Slate has an article lambasting Sweden's growing enthusiasm for total gender neutrality, and it raises the profile of a move, actually originating in the mid 1960s, to get hen established as a new pronoun meaning "he/she/it", eliminating the forced choice between han "he" and hon "she". Read the rest of this entry » ## Annals of singular their From the first comment on Paul Krugman's blog post "Rat Race America", 9/19/2010, a rare first-person singular their: I'm a tech entrepreneur who works their brains out and has had some success for myself and my investors. I live among hedge fund guys and VC's who take home$1m/year +.

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## Singular they with personal name antecedent

Bob Ladd just got a message requesting an academic reference letter for someone who I will refer to as Gerald Black. I am concealing his name, but not his gender: he is male, and his real name couldn't leave you in any doubt about that. Further concealing the identity of the innocent, let me say that he is applying for a job at a university that I will refer to as the University of Penzance (there isn't one), in the Department of Criminology (that isn't the real field; all of this secrecy is beside the point, but you will see the point in a minute). The message begins:

Dr Gerald Black has applied for a position of Lecturer in the Department of Criminology at the University of Penzance. I would be grateful if you could provide a reference on their suitability for this post.

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## David Pogue assails singular they

I'm a fan of David Pogue's tech reviews in the NYT, but his recent review of David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World has me wondering whether I care much for his book reviews. For example, Pogue writes:

Kirkpatrick's writing is low-key but also workmanlike, and punctuated by jarring grammatical constructions ("Everybody carried their stuff themselves"; "every Thefacebook user had their own public bulletin board"). Ouch.

Two examples, and both involve singular they? Not much variety there, which indicates to me that there's probably not much variety in the constructions Pogue finds jarring in the book. So why even mention this? It's clear that Pogue has plenty of other justifiable reasons to dislike the book; this comment about grammar seems entirely unnecessary — and, as has been discussed here on Language Log so many times that it's not worth trying to compile a list of links (but see the Wikipedia page on the subject), singular they is just not that big of a deal.

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## Sometimes Strunk and White are right

Here is Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, quoted (in the Metro newspaper, 29 June 2010), talking about an advertisement her organization has published:

The advert has been designed to shake out ingrained prejudices many Scots have towards women who have been raped. Even though people believe they wouldn't judge a rape victim by what they wear, how drunk they were, or if they had been flirting, they often do.

Now, you're a Language Log reader; you've probably read about singular they and the prescriptivist prejudice against it. What do we want to say about the use of pronouns in the second sentence in this quotation?

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