## 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 » ## ADS Word of the Year is singular "they" At the American Dialect Society annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America), the 2015 Word of the Year selection has been made. The winner is they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. They was recognized by the society particularly for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by someone rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she. Check out the press release here and my full writeup for Vocabulary.com here. The WOTY vote also has received coverage from Time, the Washington Post, and Business Insider, among others. ## 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 ## Avoiding singular they but using singular their When an individual Quaker feels led to speak, he or she will rise to their feet and share a spoken message ("vocal ministry") in front of others. Read the rest of this entry » ## 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 English-dominant countries. A few were binary- or cisgendered individuals who left hostile comments (i.e., stating that there was no such thing as gender outside the binary) or answers that indicated confusion as to the purpose of the survey (i.e., identifying themselves as binary-/cisgendered and remarking that they would always accommodate the pronouns requested by another person). Others, despite describing their gender only as one of the binary genders without further comment, also indicated nontraditional pronoun preferences. […] “They” was the most preferred pronoun-set for 62.39% of respondents; the second and third were “he” and “she” at 31.39% and 29.73% respectively. (These numbers are not contradictory; about 48% of respondents indicated preference for multiple pronoun-sets). Read the rest of this entry » ## 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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