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Enlightened singular they

Today's Questionable Content:

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Xtreme singular they

In the Metro, a free newspaper that I often pick up in Edinburgh, there is an entertainment gossip page called Guilty Pleasures, which of course I never look at. Perhaps the most poisonous of the regular features is a couple of square inches, buried amongst the candid paparazzi shots of heiresses' breasts and film stars' […]

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Canadian Department of Justice: use "singular they"

A page at recommends that people drafting legislation should "consider using the third-person pronouns 'they', 'their', 'them', 'themselves' or 'theirs' to refer to a singular indefinite noun, to avoid the unnatural language that results from repeating the noun". The page closes with an excellent set of references and quotations — the sources include the […]

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The future of singular they

I've recently encountered several people in their teens or early twenties who ask, as individuals, to be referred to as  they/them/their/themself. Looking around to see how common this might be, I found an undated (?) survey reporting the following results: All in all, over eight hundred people responded, the majority from the US and other […]

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Regardless whether Prudes will sneer

On both sides of the War of the Iptivists, many people seem to believe that opinions about linguistic usage reflect attitudes towards innovation.  The story goes like this: A new word, a new form, or a new construction is invented; at first, most people reject the innovation and deprecate the innovators; but the innovation spreads all the […]

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We all need someone who relies on

Chris Moody, "New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: Comments like Romney’s set ‘us back as a party’", Yahoo News 11/15/2012: Martinez criticized Romney's comments when they were reported in September, and on Wednesday reiterated that she found them "ridiculous." "It's a ridiculous statement to make. You want to earn the vote of every single person you […]

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"The nurse who has a low opinion of oneself"

The path of those who fail to follow the example of scripture is often dark indeed. In particular, in referring to singular quantified entities of indefinite gender,  the King James bible and William Shakespeare agree in recommending the pronouns they, them, themselves ("Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents so there", 1/5/2006; "Is 'singular they' verbally and […]

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Plural it in E. Nesbit

Reader KB sends in two interesting passages from E. Nesbit, The Story of the Amulet, 1906, where it is used when one might have expected singular they (emphasis added): Chapter 1 (in an Edwardian present) "I hope you notice that they were not cowardly enough to cry till their Father had gone; they knew he […]

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"Dan has not filled out their profile yet"

Another example of extreme singular their, this one from Google+:

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Their mouth … its mouths

I don't think we've had one of these before. In many earlier posts (e.g. "Candidates must be a student", 4/16/2009; "Xtreme singular they", 4/18/2008; "'Singular they', God said it, I believe it, that settles it", 9/13/2006; "They are a prophet", 10/21/2004), we've noted that they/them/their is often used with non-specific singular human antecedents, not only […]

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What he used to be and who they are now

Edward Wyatt ("Creators of ‘Lost’ Say the GPS Unit Is Plugged In", NYT 1/28/2010) quotes Damon Lindelof, an executive producer of Lost, exploring the use of they as an indefinite singular pronoun in free variation with he: “There’s an inherent process when you’re ending something to sort of be thinking about the beginning,” Mr. Lindelof […]

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Does God want you to use more initial conjunctions?

In the comments on yesterday's post, Ran Ari-Gur raised the possibility that sentence-initial conjunctions are verbally and plenarily inspired of God, just as singular they is. Ran's evidence came from a sample consisting of the first 80 verses of Genesis in the original Hebrew and in the King James translation. I decided to check more […]

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Candidates must be a student

I recently learned about a praiseworthy initiative, the Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, whose eligibility requirements are expressed (in part) as follows: Candidates must be: A student entering their junior or senior year of undergraduate study [...] [...] A person with a disability (defined as someone who has, or considers themselves to have, […]

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We've met the enemy, and that would be in the modal auxiliary, Bob

From yesterday's editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the conviction of a local political boss, Vince Fumo, on 137 corruption-related charges: There was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Fumo. That would be the city that spawned him, took what he delivered and then pretended to be shocked, shocked at the unsavory details of […]

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A test kitchen for stylistic recipes

This morning, from the airport in Brussels, I want to following up on our discussion of discourse anaphora ("Why are some summatives labeled 'vague'?", 5/21/2008; "More theory trumping practice", 5/22/2008; "Poor pitiful which", 5/23/2008; "Clarity, choice, and evidence", 5/23/2008), in the spirit of Friday's post about "Prescriptivist science".

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