Singular they trudges on

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Over on ADS-L, Larry Horn read his NYT carefully:

One additional highlight of the Virginia Heffernan guido/guidette piece in today's N. Y. Times Magazine section is a nice example of a plural pronoun with singular sex-known but indefinite antecedent, a phenomenon we've discussed in the past. Here's Sammi Sweetheart, describing the role she plays in the MTV Reality show, "Jersey Shore", as quoted by Heffernan

"A Guidette takes really good care of themselves, has pretty hair, cakes on makeup, has tan skin, wears the hottest heels."

Larry went on to cite some further examples of non-epicene singular they (with indefinite antecedent) from his files:

(1) No mother should be forced by federal prosecutors to testify against their child. (Monica Lewinsky's mother's attorney)

(2) Someone left their sweater. (note left in Yale classroom next to what was obviously a women's sweater)

(3) Who knows what crazy idea she's going to come up with.  She may have met someone in the checkout line at the grocery store and she' s planning to marry them. (Garrison Keillor monologue, Prairie Home Companion, 3/9/02)

(4) I told the guys this is the team.  But I do have a nucleus of guys who will be on the ice more. I plan to sit down with each individual and line out their role. (John Cunniff, new coach of New Jersey Devils' (all-men's) hockey team, on being asked about personnel changes; NYT 11/ 8/89)

(5) I challenge you to find a lesbian who doesn't want to see themselves portrayed on television. (actress on Showtime's The L-Word)

(6)  WHO WEARS WHITE DURING THEIR PERIOD? (from a panty-liner commercial on television)

It's been a while since we looked at such cases on Language Log. Here's an indefinite-antecedent case:

GP, 1/3/06: Singular they with known sex (link): any girlthey

plus two with definite antecedents of known sex:

GP, 10/21/04: They are a prophet (link): this person [unknown writer of graffiti in a males-only toilet stall] … they

GP, 4/26/07: Virginia, who said they would come (link): Virginiathey etc.

I generally find definite-antecedent examples comprehensible but grammatically bizarre.  But practice might be changing.

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