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[P]
The Singular "They"

By urdine in Op-Ed
Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:40:33 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

"He" has died and gone to the flames of patriarchal hell. The pronoun "he," I mean. But if we accept that "he" is no longer valid as a singular, genderless pronoun, what alternatives exist?

I propose the oft-chastised singular usage of "they" as the easiest and most effective replacement for the genderless "he."


An Ignoble Pronoun - "He"

Example: A person driving through Boston will never get to his destination.

O poor, gender-specific "he." You know not what you've done. Within the last 20 years, "he" has become a gender-aware pronoun of shame, its penis hanging like an albatross, an underlined and circled word that the PC craze of the 90s set up as the banner flag of all things patriarchal. For a time, especially if you went to a liberal arts college during this period, the use of that old standby, the genderless "he," would result in a long, one-sided discussion of the patriarchy's iron grip on even the words we speak. So wear your penis with pride, "he!" No longer shall you carry us through a strange and mysterious world of genderless pronouns!

A Tangled Mass of Inclusion

The problem in general with the PC movement was not that it questioned many of things we'd come to take for granted--the genderless "he," or our reference to people as either "blacks" or "whites"--but that it made ridiculous demands on our everyday speech. It was true that calling someone "black" was creating a division between people, highlighting the color of a person's skin and defining them by it. But the solution implemented was equally ludicrous--simply changing "black" to "African-American." There were many problems with this, starting first with the fact not every "black" person was American, or even regarded themselves as originating from Africa. Example: A man 3/4 Japanese and 1/4 African, born and raised in Japan, might be called an "African-American," based specifically on the darkness of his skin.

Worse still from a linguistic sense, we had gone from one syllable--"black"--to seven syllables--"African-American"--it took forever to say the phrase, and any conversation about issues of race was bogged down by the muzzle of this heavy-handed wording. In fact almost all of the PC movement's replacement words were longer than the original, but none were more damning than the horrible mess known as the "s/he" pronoun.

Solution 1: "S/he" Was a Transexual Nightmare

Example: When a user comes to our site, she or he will see our product and she or he will want to buy it.

"S/he." Sure, it looks ugly, but at least it's short and gender-inclusive! Short, that is, until you try to speak it. The consensus is simply to spread out the term to the phrase, "she or he."

This article is not a course in the evolution of language, but it is important that you realize exactly why this is the most appalling linguistic nightmare I have ever seen.

The purpose of a pronoun is to take the place of a noun. Now why would we want to do that? Primarily to shorten the sentence, be it written or spoken. Think of pronouns in terms of algebra, or as a variable in programming:

x = "a user";

When a user comes to our site, x will see our product and x will want to buy it.

If a pronoun is more than one syllable in length, the very purpose of that pronoun has become invalid. This should be obvious if you think about it. A pronoun is linguistic shorthand--who ever heard of long-winded shorthand?

Ok, enough. Let's give up on "s/he" because of its logical moronitude, even though it is still quite common (and acceptable!) to use.

Solution 2: When "She" Stood Up to Pee

Example: When a person crosses the street, she has to watch out for cars.

Then there was the grand idea of subverting the patriarchy, using "she" instead of "he" as a genderless pronoun. Although the idea has some merit, I can't get past the idea that this is simply overcompensating without addressing the real issue--our language has no singular, genderless pronoun.

Everytime I hear "she" used in this fashion I feel an elbow in the ribs going, "Eh, eh? Pretty PC, eh?" The solution seems very shortsighted, requiring plenty of effort to change the language without making any actual improvements, like spending a month patching and coding work-arounds for Windows 3.1 when you could simply upgrade to Windows XP with the same level of effort (just an example, Linux users!).

Solution 3: "It" Loves You

Example: When a person dances, it has fun.

This is simply not going to work. No one even bothers mentioning "it" as a genderless pronoun alternative, because it's too damn confusing and dehumanizing.

Solution 4: Neo, You Are the "One"

Example: One would have liked to join the group, but one wasn't sure if one really belonged with them.

"One" has potential, in a way, but it carries so much baggage that it is incredibly difficult to implement. Firstly, "one" has the bias of being incredibly stuffy. People just have a difficult time writing it, and almost never use it in common speech. Secondly, it doesn't actually operate as a pronoun in current usage. For example:

The loner would have liked to join the group, but one wasn't sure if one really belonged with them.

When we start assigning "one" to a specific individual, it sounds even more awkward than normal. We might as well just make up some damned word.

Solution 5: Make Up Some Damned Word

There have been a number of attempts and creating a new, genderless pronoun. Spivak offers "E, Em, Eir, Eirs, Emself." But there are plenty of others such as "zie" or "hir". As creative and interesting as many of these new words are, I find it difficult to imagine them entering our common language. It is not easy to create new words on a whim, especially words that require such an invasive change in our everyday speech. Buzz words and lingo come and go, but something like a pronoun is very difficult to create, which is why I believe our only true options can be found within the set of existing pronouns.

Good Solution: The Singular "They"

Example: If a magician showed you how their tricks worked, they wouldn't have a job.

By calling this section "Good Solution" and since the title of this article is "The Singular 'They'" you may begin to suspect I like this solution best of all.

The singular "they" is not a new solution--it has been around since the 1300s. It is clearly the most natural spoken alternative to the genderless "he," although its presence in the written form is often dismissed as "incorrect." If the singular "they" is natural sounding and has been in use for hundreds of years already, why haven't we already accepted it over such horrible alternatives as "s/he?"

The reasoning is simple--"they" in singular form has long been regarded as a common mistake. "S/he" is wholly foreign, and therefore teachers and editors can recognize the author's intent when they see it in use. Singular "they" is earmarked as a "common error," which makes it much more difficult to slip into papers or articles without looking like a moron. For a similar example, look no further than the lonely existence of "ain't." Words like "bling bling" get tossed in the dictionary after 5 or so years in rap videos, but "ain't" will never make its way out of the doghouse of misuse, no matter how common the term becomes.

Why, then, should the singular "they" be allowed to chart a course to Acceptabilityland? Frankly, there's no valid alternative. And there is a need for a single, genderless pronoun--whereas the example "ain't" is a flavoring contraction that we can (and do) live without.

So how can the singular "they" become a respectable alternative? By using it, and announcing its use. People currently use the singular "they" all the time, but either with a sense of shame or unknowingly. However, the singular "they" can become an acceptable term if people begin to use it proudly and with authority.

Language is formed by those who use it. We can no longer afford to live without a genderless pronoun! The mighty "he" has fallen, long live the singular "they!"

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Poll
What's Your Single, Genderless Pronoun?
o "they" - To hell with grammar! 26%
o "he" - Long live the patriarchy! 29%
o "she" - Subvert the patriarchy! 5%
o "s/he" - I am a moron! 3%
o "it" - I hate people! 10%
o "one" - I am one with nature! 14%
o "em, hir, zie, etc." - I know Klingon, too! 10%

Votes: 187
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o PC craze of the 90s
o "E, Em, Eir, Eirs, Emself."
o "zie" or "hir"
o is not a new solution
o Also by urdine


Display: Sort:
The Singular "They" | 562 comments (521 topical, 41 editorial, 0 hidden)
Spivak Pronouns (4.50 / 4) (#1)
by antizeus on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 02:58:14 PM EST

Solution 4 (Make Up Some Damned Word) has a link to a site in which most of the Spivak pronouns are mentioned, though not by that name. They are E, Em, Eir, Eirs, Emself.

Here's a link: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spivak_pronoun

Spivak's a mathematician, so they've got to be good!
-- $SIGNATURE

-1, until this is added. (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by jjayson on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:02:33 PM EST

The piece is fairly contentless as it stands. If there is any chance of me voting this up, these other weird made-up pronouns need to be addressed.
--
"Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
"Creative" Alternatives (4.66 / 3) (#31)
by urdine on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:20:51 PM EST

I address creative alternatives briefly, but are you requesting more detailed reasoning? I kept that possible solution brief and broadly-termed since my response is generally the same for all of those alternatives--I just don't think it's feasible to create a new word on a whim, especially a word that requires such an invasive change in our everyday speech. Buzz words and lingo come and go, but something like a pronoun is very difficult to create, which is why I think the only really successful options can be found within our existing pronouns.

[ Parent ]
I thought I'd like everything Spivak did... (1.00 / 1) (#98)
by gzt on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 09:40:17 PM EST

I mean, his work's been great so far, but this abortion taints his entire career. His Calculus is still the best introductory book on the market, though, so I won't complain that much.

[ Parent ]
check out his intro do diff geom (none / 0) (#116)
by martingale on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:59:12 PM EST

A Comprehensive Introduction to Differential Geometry

If you can survive the typography, it's really a great quintology.

on topic: I think E's pretty cool. It's 133t, it's SMS friendly, and it's its own derivative. What more could 'Em want?

[ Parent ]

But what do you do when... (4.85 / 7) (#2)
by fn0rd on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:01:01 PM EST

...direct and indirect objects are ambiguous?

For example:

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged with them?
Naturally, there are ways to get around this by avoiding the use of prounouns altogether, but I personally feel that the widespread adoption of "they" as a singular gender neutral pronoun creates more prolems than it solves. I try to use a balance of she and he when I think of it. And, what, exactly, is wrong with one?

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Does that sound Funny? (4.50 / 2) (#6)
by randinah on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:06:28 PM EST

Maybe I'm just crazy, but

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged with them?

doesn't seem too awkward to me. About that same as;

A person wanted to join the group, but she wasn't she if she belonged with them.


"Why waste time learning when ignorance is instantaneous?"
[ Parent ]
Seems fine to me too (4.50 / 2) (#9)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:21:11 PM EST

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged with them.

You just read the first two theys as referring back to the person, and then the variation from they to them causes you to move onto the next object, the group. Besides, you can write all sorts of badly phrased sentences in English already -- it doesn't mean the words are wrong.

I'd fix the sentence like this:

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged in it.

So, I'd take the group as one thing that you are in, not with, and differentiate that way (this actually makes more sense to me, given that the person wants to join the group, not just follow it around in the way that using with seems to imply).
-
[ Parent ]

s/group/Kiwanis (none / 0) (#13)
by fn0rd on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:40:32 PM EST

and your fix no longer works. While it's acceptable to refer to a "group" or "team" or "organization" with it, you can't do that with pluralized group names, like "The Yankees" or "The Rockettes" (going to the Big Apple this weekend, so pardon the NY-centered-ness).

I think it might behoove the language to have stricter rules which prevent bad phrasing rather than the alternative.

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[ Parent ]

Stricter rules (none / 0) (#48)
by tetsuwan on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:02:38 PM EST

is not going to do it. We need an infinite language, and there will always be ways of failing to be understood by bad phrasing.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

In that case, (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:41:50 PM EST

you'd have to be a little more specific with your sentence, like this:

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged in it.

becomes

A person wanted to join the Yankees, but they weren't sure if they really belonged in that team.

See? It works just fine. You can always fix phrasing well enough.
-
[ Parent ]

Yeah, I know that, (4.00 / 1) (#162)
by fn0rd on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:29:44 AM EST

but it's hardly the point. The purpose of the example was not to write an unfixably poor phrase, it was to demonstrate a problem with ambiguity when you have a dual-role pronoun.

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[ Parent ]
But it is the point... (none / 0) (#251)
by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:03:26 PM EST

... because you're talking about a problem that would only ever exist if you were utterly incapable of writing an understandable sentence. There's no real problem with ambiguity attached to use of "they", because if there is then you can simply rephrase your sentence.
-
[ Parent ]
Howsabout this: (none / 0) (#280)
by Noodle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:48:59 PM EST

"A person wanted to join the group, but wasn't sure if they belonged in it."

That's how I'd say it.  I'm not willing to research this at the moment, but I don't think that "them" is really a proper way to refer to "the group".  "The group" is actually a singular, genderless entity, and therefore an "it".

{The Nefarious Noodle}
[ Parent ]

But want if it meant, (5.00 / 3) (#10)
by fn0rd on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:27:47 PM EST

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they belonged with her.
or,
A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if she belonged with them.
or even,
A person wanted to join the group, but she wasn't sure if they belonged with her.
?

Hence the ambiguity I referred to. Of course, 2 pairs of those statements have the same functional meaning, but a more cleverly designed example could probably render distinct meanings for each permutation of the phrase.

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[ Parent ]

context (none / 0) (#325)
by p1nko on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:00:42 PM EST

You're right, there is some ambiguity while using they but at the same time that happens a lot.  Thats why a lot of language is about context.  A single sentence can't accurately reflect how functional "they" would be in a conversation or written piece.

[ Parent ]
That is a specific person (none / 0) (#125)
by samiam on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:47:29 AM EST

That is a specific person; the speaker will usually know their gender.

In cases where the pronouns get confusing like this, it is best just to say the antecedents multiple times. E.G. "If someone wants to join the group, but they aren't sure they belong to the group, it is the group's duty to make the person feel welcome"

- Sam

[ Parent ]

Easy: (none / 0) (#24)
by Jman1 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:06:36 PM EST

A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged.

Or, ...if they really belonged in such a group.

Anyway, there are plenty of cases in which antecedents are ambiguous. Usually, they're only technically ambiguous, in that both speaker/writer and listener/reader understand the intent. For the odd case in which it really is ambiguous, and there's really no better way to do it, you can pull a David Foster Wallace, for example: The dog ran after the ball but it (the ball) fell off the cliff.

[ Parent ]

Good point about "one" (none / 0) (#26)
by urdine on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:09:39 PM EST

I don't address the use of "one," and it is sort of a valid alternative, but it comes with even more baggage than the singular "they," as it has the bias of being incredibly stuffy. It also can't handle referring to a specific individual, but only to a "generic genderless being." Example of failure:

A person wanted to join the group, but one wasn't sure if one really belonged with them.

Since we're reinventing the rules anyway I suppose we could label such usage 'correct" and be done with it, but I still see the use of a singular "they" as the path of least resistance.



[ Parent ]
But specific individuals (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by fn0rd on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:19:23 PM EST

are all (with the exception of the androgynistic "Pats" among us) endowed with a gender, so the gendered pronouns we have work fine in those cases.

You're right, though, "one" is pretty stuffy and academic sounding.

One would have liked to join the group, but one wasn't sure if one really belonged with them.
sounds so pretentious I'd probably punch myself in the nose if I ever said such a thing.

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[ Parent ]
One (5.00 / 2) (#152)
by Verminator on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:18:00 AM EST

I knew a German dude for a few weeks on an Outward Bound trip several years back. I found it odd at the time that he would always use 'one' when we Americans would be using 'you'. We would say:

"You should wear a lifejacket when you're rafting."

Whereas he would say:

"One should wear a lifejacket when one is rafting.".

It was strange, him never using that hypothetical "you" that we spout so regularly over here.


If the whole country is gonna play 'Behind The Iron Curtain,' there better be some fine fucking state s
[ Parent ]

Ah.. (none / 0) (#246)
by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:50:52 AM EST

...that's because in German, the word for "one" is always used in sentences like that, or so I've been taught -- the word is "man", as in "man kann hier Bier kaufen". How's that for your non-PC unknown gender singular? "He" is "er" and "she" is "sie", so they're pretty much gone out of their way to have "man" and yet still it refers to men rather than being neutral like "one" is.

Anyway, apparently they're quite strict about it (it'd seem as silly as saying "he is tall" when talking about a woman). Maybe that's a fib, though, considering that your German friend felt he had to use "one" strictly in English... I'm just wondering whether it'd be caused by him thinking in German and translating or by someone having told him that "one" must always be used in that situation.

Hmm... I think I hear language teachers laughing at me.
-
[ Parent ]

Um... (none / 0) (#252)
by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:07:46 PM EST

not sure why you quoted my whole post there, but never mind.

Anyway, der, die and das all mean "the" -- they're "the"'s masculine, feminine and neuter forms (yes, I know they can be used for other things too sometimes, notably possession, but let's just not get into that). I don't see how they're relevant to er, sie and man, really, any more than we'd use "the" before "he" or "she".
-
[ Parent ]

Noun gender (none / 0) (#456)
by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:39:59 PM EST

I think what the person was talking about is that each noun has a gender and that's how this situation is resolved (not necessarily involving the actual words "der, die, das").

If one says "I want to meet a person. And I want him/her to be friendly" in German, "man" doesn't come into play. It would be "Ich will eine Person kennenlernen. Und ich will, dass sie freundlich ist". "Person" in German happens to be "die Person", so you use feminine pronoun ("sie") to refer to that person. If, instead of "die Person", you used, say, "der Mensch", then the pronoun in the second sentence would be "er".


Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
[ Parent ]

man or Mann? (5.00 / 2) (#455)
by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:20:48 PM EST

The word "man" doesn't refer to men.  The word "der Mann" refers to men, and "man" is gender neutral.  Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are saying.


Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
[ Parent ]
Yeah, (none / 0) (#480)
by reklaw on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:35:41 PM EST

I know "man" is gender neutral and has nothing to do with men at least in its meaning -- all I was saying that it's very close to "Mann" in spelling and sound, so it seems quite likely that they have a similar origin or are closely related in some other way. I could, of course, be wrong.
-
[ Parent ]
but "the group" is singular (nt) (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by tps12 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:57:52 PM EST



[ Parent ]
oy (none / 0) (#193)
by Wah on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:10:06 AM EST

a person wanted to join many groups, but they weren't sure....
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
one possibility (none / 0) (#156)
by PigleT on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:57:17 AM EST

"A person wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged with them?"

Omit the first pronoun and get the plurality correct:

"Someone wanted to join the group, but wasn't sure if they really belonged with them."

Looks unambiguous to me.
~Tim -- We stood in the moonlight and the river flowed
[ Parent ]

Look again... (none / 0) (#163)
by fn0rd on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:33:47 AM EST

Who does "they" refer to? Who does "them" refer to? I can't tell. Again, the point isn't to construct an unfixable phrase, it's to construct a well-formed phrase where the objects are ambiguous. You just tightened it up a bit.

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[ Parent ]
Surely the same problem happens with all pronouns (4.00 / 1) (#173)
by squigly on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:35:57 AM EST

"Bob wanted to visit Fred, but he wasn't sure whether he really liked him."

Or alternativley - "Two people wanted to join the group, but they weren't sure if they really belonged with them?"

Typically we's just assume the object applies to the object, and the subject applies to the subject.  In the they/them case, we would typically assume that "they" referred to "A person", and "them" referred to "the group".  

[ Parent ]

OK, it's a crappy example :P (none / 0) (#182)
by fn0rd on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:46:53 AM EST

I was thinking about the problem with the other pronouns, too. THe thing is, I've encountered difficulty with this usage of "they", usually when I'm speaking with someone rather than reading, and quite often it's hard to tell just who "they" is.

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[ Parent ]
The problem with 'One' (4.50 / 2) (#164)
by gidds on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:36:04 AM EST

...is that it's long been used to refer to a person in general, a hypothetical person representing a whole class, and not a single person as themselves.

"One should eat less processed sugar." isn't referring only to just one person; it's referring to everyone individually.  We should all eat less processed sugar.  (In a way, it's the exact opposite of the singular 'they': 'one' is grammatically singular but with an effective plural meaning!)  It means I and you and he and she and him over there...  That's why it doesn't really fit when you try to use it to refer to just one person.

Which leads me on to a further issue.  At present, the singular 'they' is still usually used as a grammatical plural: "They want to do this" &c, instead of "They wants to do this." as we would if the pronoun was genuinely singular.  Is this what we want?  Treating it as a grammatical singular would look odd at first, but solves many of the ambiguity issues, and makes a neat distinction between singular and plural 'they's.  Or would it be too much of a wrench to be popular?

Andy/
[ Parent ]

One wants? (none / 0) (#184)
by fn0rd on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:49:28 AM EST

Is this what we want?

No, but it may be what one wants.

;)

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[ Parent ]

can't be avoided (5.00 / 2) (#406)
by Sap on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:49:44 AM EST

Nancy wanted to talk to Jane, but she wasn't sure if she really should communicate with her.

[ Parent ]
That already happens (5.00 / 1) (#410)
by roiem on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:34:38 AM EST

What about the sentance "A (male) person wanted to join another (male) person, but he wasn't sure he belonged with him"? People seem to get by just fine with that one.
90% of all projects out there are basically glorified interfaces to relational databases.
[
Parent ]
I've used... (3.75 / 8) (#4)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:05:33 PM EST

... the singular "they" for ages.

It makes perfect sense when you're not referring to a specific person. How about this: someone says that their friend told them 1 + 1 = 3. How do you respond, not knowing the gender of said friend?

"he's wrong".
"she's wrong".
"he or she is wrong".
"s/he's wrong".
"they're wrong".

I mean, it's just obvious. The others are all limiting -- gender really isn't a consideration when writing that sentence. "Well, they're wrong!" just feels natural.

This is probably a little off-topic, but the German approach to this is a little odd: the word for "she" ("sie") also means "they" (as well as a formal "you" if you write "Sie"). That means that they pretty much already use the feminine form when referring to something of unknown gender, as far as I've seen. French, however, uses an expansion of the male "il" for "they" -- "ils". I don't know if they go through the same sort of problems with that.

Oh yeah, and all that foreign language stuff comes with a "I might be totally wrong here, I'm a native English speaker" warning. I'd be happy to hear any corrections from someone who knows the ins and outs of the actual usage instead of my more theoretical knowledge.
-

French... (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by jmzero on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:57:12 PM EST

As far as I know, French refers to a group of females (or feminine nouned object) as "elles".  If one male enters the group (or if the group was male to begin with), it becomes "ils".

As usual, I think the French came up with the worst possible solution (of course, my high school French could be betraying me here - I could be wrong too).
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

Hey, thanks. (none / 0) (#75)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:35:51 PM EST

I didn't know that... well, I have some vague memory of something like it, but... truth be told, I was never all that good at French. :)
-
[ Parent ]
Same in Slovak (none / 0) (#196)
by Viliam Bur on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:18:45 AM EST

The pronoun for group of people is "oni", unless the group consists of only females, then it is "ony".

More fun: In Slovak there are verb endings matching the person. Sometimes it solves the gender problem, because we skip the pronoun if the information is obvious from the werb. Instead of "he does something" or "she does something" we only say "does(3rd-person) something". (You can still use "he does(3rd-person) something" to emphasize the HE.)

The endings are same for both genders... well, almost... they are same in present and future tense, but different in past tense. This applies to all persons. So sentences "I do something" (or, more precisely: "do(1st-person) something") and "I will do something" are gender neutral, but "I did something" is said differently by male and female.

It has some funny effects, like when you read the story from 1st person view, you do not know their gender, until the person starts speaking in past tense. You can use it to created this effect in story... but then I'd hate to translate it. It also causes people some confusion in sentences like: "If I were you, I would say: "<some text in past tense>"." (speaking to a person of opposite sex) - a lot of people get very confused when they use it! ;-)

[ Parent ]

That's more complex (none / 0) (#356)
by rafael on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:38:50 PM EST

There's no neutral gender in French, so a feminine noun can refer to a man, and vice versa.

Example : ces personnes veulent avoir ce qu'elles ont payé (those people want to have what they've paid for) : in this sentence, elles may refer to a group of men. That's actually determined by context.

[ Parent ]

Indeed (none / 0) (#388)
by jmzero on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:57:08 PM EST

But gender still refers to actual gender when no noun is "available", right?

So could you have:

Ces personnes veulent avoir ce qu'elles ont payé.  Ils ont faim.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

"Your friend is wrong." (4.00 / 1) (#68)
by killmepleez on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:09:33 PM EST

...and anyone who cannot be bothered to speak those words is also wrong.

Cultural Relativism is a knife that cuts both ways. If the fact that "'Well, they're wrong!' just feels natural" [to you] should be a justification for its use, the opposite holds true for those who find it unnatural. To a certain extent, this is the problem with all proposals of premeditated grammar revision: the outmoded and awkward mechanics of Official Usage only seem outmoded and awkward to those who were not successfully indoctrinated by their academic institutions.

Most parents make heavy use of television as a babysitter, so children have firmly imprinted the vernacular before they receive any schooling whatsoever. Over their life span, the time spent immersed in cultural media will dwarf the time spent in grammar instruction, which ensures that much of the precision they display on school grounds will disintegrate as soon as they leave the premises.

If, on the other hand, one passes through a more robust instructional system [which usually requires pre-school and pre-acculturation instruction by parents], then one emerges from that system feeling in full command of traditional sentence structures and word usages. One then is mystified and irritated by the sloppiness and lack of clarity exhibited by those who wish to alter the rules so that we would be forced to say such things as, "He told them that his friend said 1+1=3, but they were wrong".

__
We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
[ Parent ]
Well, I guess... (3.00 / 1) (#74)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:33:32 PM EST

... you're right on one point: I can't exactly say that something is right because it feels natural to me. Nevertheless, I don't see why I shouldn't be able to use it if I want to.

Regarding the rest of your post: I am so sorry we haven't all had your obviously superior education. If only our parents weren't such stupid working-class layabouts! Damn them, damn them to hell for not sufficiently indoctrinating me in a robust instructional system!

OK, I'll quit that now.

Anyway, the language you're using is hardly robust -- what you're writing might be the Queen's English, but the Queen's the only person who actually talks like that, you know. Sorry, but I find people to use "one is" when they mean "I am" particularly annoying.
-
[ Parent ]

Nothing about language is neutral... (5.00 / 2) (#84)
by killmepleez on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 07:59:09 PM EST

...and so most disagreements are, at heart, disagreements over definition and connotation. In English, at least, words are loaded with multiple meanings and shades of meaning, and it can be difficult to determine the intent of a speaker. Online disagreements have the potential to be more heated and vitriolic due to the simple fact that, as strangers, we have little chance to establish the trust necessary for calm, mutual examination. Because there is no prior relationship, you have no way of knowing if I choose my words based upon their subtextual, "loaded meaning" or if I merely intend them in a neutral, strictly definitional sense. The tendency, often justified, is not to assume the charitable interpretation is intended, but rather that you are being subtly mocked.

For example, I considered several words [good, strong, extraordinary] before finally settling on "robust", attempting to avoid words that came loaded with connotations of arrogant superiority. I hope that you will believe me when I say that I only intended "robust" to mean "strongly executed in such a way as to ensure the desired outcome". That is, to those whose grammar instruction was, for whatever reason, stronger than the misinstructions they received from their environment, "correct" grammatical constructions do not sound at all odd or unnatural.

Now, as to your first paragraph, I support your right to use whatever words you wish. I'm as much of a relativist as anyone I know. Find, follow, or invent whatever grammatical system makes you happy. However, there exists another established system of grammar than your own and, regardless of how you feel about it, your usage would be considered incorrect according to that system.

Your second paragraph completely misses the mark. I neither stated nor intended to imply that anyone's parents were wrong or reprehensible or deserving of censure because they didn't beat the rules of grammar into their children's heads or place their children in a school which would have done so. You have responded entirely to the perceived connotations of my words and not at all to the points I raise. Do you disagree that television has become the universal babysitter? Enter an American home between 5pm-10pm on a weekday or at any time on a weekend, and also note the ubiquity of Barney, Wee Sing, Disney, and Veggie Tales merchandise. Do you disagree that children learn how to speak from watching these and other programs? Consider how often immigrants cite television as their key to learning English. Do you disagree that the average person will watch many thousands of hours more television than will be spent in grammar instruction? Compare the 180 hours spent in grammar instruction per year [based on a one-hour class in a standard 180-day school year] with the 1,040 hours of television per year [according to Nielsen] -- and that is only for ages 2-17; adult viewership is half again as much, and they receive no grammar instruction whatsoever. These are the data points I raised, and these alone were the issues I intended to discuss. Your introduction of class or intellectual warfare into the conversation is purely your own concern.

The only assertion you do make is contained in your third paragraph. Namely, that proper grammar, which you have gone out of your way to call by the 'just plain folks' pejorative of "The Queen's English", is used only by the Queen. This is plainly false, judging by thousands of books, journals, and newspapers published every week, not to mention thousands of conversations that occur outside of your experience each day. One cannot assume that one's own experience is immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.

__
We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
[ Parent ]
Well, look... (none / 0) (#91)
by reklaw on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 08:59:57 PM EST

... you can't make statements about how superior your grammar is, however indirectly and however neutral you might feel words are, without a few people thinking you're -- how to put this -- a tad up yourself. You claim to avoid words that came loaded with connotations of arrogant superiority -- but how can you do this? Your whole argument is based on the fact that your grammar is absolutely correct, and better than mine and everyone else's. The fact is that very few people actually care whether their usage would be considered incorrect according to that system. Give me a sharp, pithy writing style any day over some slave to the rules and regulations of 'proper' grammar.

Do you disagree that television has become the universal babysitter?

OK, so you can back this up with statistics, great. Obviously the parents who allow their children to watch TV don't ever give them any instruction in reading or writing, and obviously you'd never leave your kids to be brought up by TV. You're just so much better than that, right? The way you speak of television speaks volumes of your perception of the "common man", idiot that he is, letting his kids be raised by the telly, while you sit on your high horse saying "tut, tut, tut".

For all your impeccable grammar, you really do seem to miss the point that communication is almost as much in what you assume and imply as much as it is in what you actually say.

Do you disagree that the average person will watch many thousands of hours more television than will be spent in grammar instruction?

Of course I don't disagree. It would be ludicrous for grammar instruction to be considered that important. Maybe it is to you, but not to anyone else. TV might not be the best of teachers in general, but used well it can teach kids all sorts of things -- arguably more useful things than being able to pick and arrange their words in the absolutely proper and approved order.

Your introduction of class or intellectual warfare into the conversation is purely your own concern.
...that proper grammar, which you have gone out of your way to call by the 'just plain folks' pejorative of "The Queen's English", is used only by the Queen...
That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.

Read your three statements again. They go like this:

  1. This isn't about class.
  2. I've gone out of my way to say that only the Queen speaks like you.
  3. This is because I don't read or listen to the same high quality (high-brow?) communications as you.
Oops! Spot the contradiction. Sigh.

Also, you didn't defend your use of the word one. I'd like to hear why you should ever use it instead of either saying that you did something ("I could...") or addressing your reader directly ("You should..."). There really isn't any sensible use for one any more, if you ask me.
-
[ Parent ]

you miss the point (5.00 / 2) (#118)
by Polverone on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:23:26 AM EST

He's saying that phillistines and pretentious twits will always find each other's speech grating and unnatural, so any one person's hearty "sounds fine to me!" cannot serve as a litmus test for whether or not a particular construction will effectively communicate with an author's audience. You must have a thin skin to perceive his comments as classist snobbery, given how careful he was to disclaim any personal superiority or absolute rightness.

All of this emphasizes one of his earlier points: "In English, at least, words are loaded with multiple meanings and shades of meaning, and it can be difficult to determine the intent of a speaker." In this case, the author's comments about television, coupled with his 1911 Encyclopedia style of writing, have branded him an elitist snob in the estimation of at least one member of his audience.

I personally enjoy such "Queen's English," at least in expository writing. But I usually wouldn't use it myself for fear of distracting the members of my audience. They might spend their time pondering my snobbishness instead of the subject at hand, and that would be a shame.
--
It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
[ Parent ]

What I objected to... (none / 0) (#236)
by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:39:22 AM EST

... wasn't so much his snobbish style as his idea that the world is going all to hell because kids aren't put into some kind of intense grammar regime where they can learn to write and speak in the one true way.

Perhaps I did overreact, but it's to be expected. You can't be condescending to people and expect them not to perceive it, no matter how much you might claim that you're not really. I think I might have been put off a little by the jump from the usual tone of posters here. It's like sitting around chatting informally to a few friends, when suddenly someone starts speaking in impeccable English about how people's lack of grammar education nowadays is so terrible (and so calling everyone in the room terrible except himself), and then saying how the whole thing must be a product of bad parenting. Even if we'd been chatting about whether to use "he", "she" or "they" at this point in our informal conversation, I'd imagine quite a few people would be put out at this guy -- just who does he think he is?

Don't underestimate the importance of the tone you take with people when you talk to them -- anything can be made to sound offensive if you say it in the right way, whether on purpose or accidentally.
-
[ Parent ]

Now we see through the looking glass dimly... (4.00 / 1) (#290)
by killmepleez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:24:12 PM EST

[note to the reader: in this message i'm responding to posts #91 and #236 simultaneously. you may wish to read the complete thread from the beginning. as supplementary reading, find the nearest copy of the works of Lewis Carroll. enjoy! -k]


...his idea that the world is going all to hell because kids aren't put into some kind of intense grammar regime where they can learn to write and speak in the one true way.
I've said nothing of the kind. You open my mouth with one hand while the other inserts such words as "going all to hell", "bad parenting", "this guy", "lack of grammar education is so terrible, "superior education", "absolutely correct", "better than mine", "some slave to the rules", "'the common man', idiot that he is", and so on. You are the only person having that argument - I am not a party to it.

As for your request that I defend my usage of the general "one", I can only answer in a personal sense, since I am not claiming to be an absolute arbiter of permissable grammar. To be honest, I anticipated you, in that I purposefully closed my initial response [post #58] with the following two sentences:
One cannot assume that one's own experience is immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.
Here, I am employing a specific rhetorical method of moving from the generic to the specific. This method is useful not only in critical writing but also in mathematical writing. For example, in analytical maths such as Linear or Abstract Algebra, one begins an investigation by establishing:
  • 1) The system in which one is working.
  • 2) The characteristics of that system.
  • 3) The elements which exist in that system.
  • 4) The rules governing each element and its interaction with the other elements.
    These four steps are implicit in any mathematical proof, no matter how far along the track its first line may appear. By moving from the general to the specific, we can be very precise about the nature of our conclusions.

    Keeping the power of this method in mind, let us examine my sentences referred to above. Let us define the system as the System of People Trying To Make Accurate Assertions, and suppose that you and I elements of that System which are attempting to produce accurate assertions. In the first sentence, I am using the general "one" to indicate an axiom of the System: that one must always allow for the possibility that one's own experiences are not universal. After laying this foundation, I then followed that by applying the axiom to a specific "one"; namely, "you", Reklaw, an element of our System. In this sentence, I am countering your assertion that "you" have produced [that your experience is sufficient to determine that only the Queen speaks the Queen's English], by claiming that it voilates an axiom of the system. This all sounds needlessly complex, I know, but it is the subconscious mechanism of linguistic formations.

    To take this correlation between math and language one step further, understand that "one" and "you" are operators within our System that allow us to select elements from that System. In my two sentences, there is a distinction between "one", which selects all elements within our System, and "you", which selects a specific element -- Reklaw.

    What I hear you saying is that you do not see a valuable distinction between the two operators; you therefore see no need to preserve the distinction; and would like to discard one word in favor of the other. My response [recursively, I might add] is that you cannot generalize from your own feeling that "one" has no "sensible use" to believe that it has no sensible use for anyone else in an absolute sense. That is, I see a very valuable distinction because I value precision. These are my values. I do not need them to be your values, and I support your right to have whatever values sustain you. I am not - I repeat - I am NOT telling you that if you do not also require an equivalent precision from your everyday words, that you are bad, inferior, or of poor parentage.

    All I ask is that you would attempt to meet me halfway. Instead, your reactions do not correspond to my points. Rather, they seem to be reactions to the argument you expect me to be making, because in your mind you have already dismissed me as some ivory tower academic. Perhaps this is due to a lack of clarity on my part. If so, I apologize.

    To be perfectly frank, I actually find your assumptions of class/intellectual division to be unfairly stereotypical, and possibly even subtly expressive of the very social darwinism you appear to attack. In your desire to paint this discussion with a classist brush, you seem to suggest that precise grammar only comes from arrogant "upper-class" types -- like me, you assume. Do not be so certain of that. Both of my parents grew up working on impoverished Southern US cotton and grain farms. As one of nine children of a sharecropper, my mother hardly owned a pot to piss in, much less a window to throw it out of. Even some of their teachers considered them poor trash not worth the trouble of educating. It is precisely because of this background that my parents, and eventually their own children, grew to appreciate the power of education and literacy. It was their burning desire to escape from poverty that led them to ensure we would not be socially economically limited by our "hayseed" roots. They corrected our grammatical mis-steps early and often, so that we received constant extracurricular reinforcement of the lessons we learned in school. Would I have been a "bad person" if they had not done so? That is not my claim, but your seeming assumption that I am some blue-blooded asshat snidely declaring that the peasants are revolting, is pure bull, and not a little offensive to the hours my paernts spent working crap minimum-wage jobs only to come home, open a book and spend a few hours teaching a five-year-old to love learning.

    In closing, you also state:
    anything can be made to sound offensive... whether on purpose or accidentally.
    I could not agree more.

    __
    We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
    [ Parent ]
  • A response. (4.00 / 2) (#314)
    by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:42:47 PM EST

    Alright... I'm going to try to respond to most of that, but forgive me if I miss any. I don't generally talk about such huge numbers of points at a time.

    First, then, regarding your defence of "one", this sentence:

    One cannot assume that one's own experience is immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.

    Well, how about:

    It cannot be assumed that one's own experience is immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.

    That lets you make your general statement (by speaking passively) and then your specific one, without using an archaic piece of grammar.

    It hardly surprises me that you try to bring mathematical mechanisms into this. Realise, however, that writing is an art, not a science. I am, in fact, perfectly aware that more people than just the Queen speak her style of English, since I have you here as proof for a start. My statement was a figure of speech, a type of hyperbole. I am not part of your System of People Trying To Make Accurate Assertions -- I was simply exaggerating to attempt to get you to see my point and really just to make the post a little more colourful. It's absurd that you see some kind of need to disprove it by mathematical techniques.

    Now, on to this point:

    You open my mouth with one hand while the other inserts such words as "going all to hell", "bad parenting", "this guy", "lack of grammar education is so terrible, "superior education", "absolutely correct", "better than mine", "some slave to the rules", "'the common man', idiot that he is", and so on. You are the only person having that argument - I am not a party to it.

    Again, you've missed the point. I'm quite aware that you're not making that argument -- what I was attempting to illustrate was the type of thinking behind the arguments you were making. The words I was putting in your mouth were your implications, and they were already there whether you like it or not (note: they weren't literally already there, it's a figure of... oh, never mind).

    I support your right to have whatever values sustain you. I am not - I repeat - I am NOT telling you that if you do not also require an equivalent precision from your everyday words, that you are bad, inferior, or of poor parentage.

    Well, good -- I honestly wasn't taking them as insults against me personally. What I objected to was your idiot-who-lets-their-kids-be-dragged-up-by-TV stereotype. When I said

    I am so sorry we haven't all had your obviously superior education. If only our parents weren't such stupid working-class layabouts! Damn them, damn them to hell for not sufficiently indoctrinating me in a robust instructional system!

    it was, again, for effect. My parents are thoroughly middle class, for a start. What I was attempting to do was respond using a different 'voice' -- I'm not sure if this is clear to you, but it probably is to most people. I took the extreme opposite position and used it to speak sarcastically, in an attempt to show the absurdity of your own position (which I why I spoke back to you in your own words at the end). The point wasn't whether either of us do or don't belong to that class -- the point was that you were so quick to tar an entire group of people with such a strong brush. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been more effective if I'd argued this from the point-of-view of a mother who has to work to support her kids yet cares for them deeply and educates them, in an attempt to show the ridiculousness of your 'TV -> universal babysitter -> BAD' assertion. How about this:

    Oh, I'm so sorry -- us working mothers should never have a chance to sit down and let the kids do something they enjoy. We should be teaching them grammar every minute of the day, so that they can become as precise as you are!

    Work better for you? The only reason class comes into this argument is that it's the 'poorer' classes who are more likely to use TV as a babysitter, because the 'richer' ones could afford to have one parent not working, or to get a real-life babysitter or nanny. I would have read it as an argument about culture rather than class, but your wording makes it about class. If you'd said that kids nowadays watch too much TV, then fine (although your point that they should be learning grammar instead is still silly). However, you went out of your way to implicate the parents in this decision -- it's their fault, in your eyes, that their kids watch so much telly. They use it as a babysitter. You claim it's nothing to do with "poor parentage", but then go on to point out that I shouldn't knock your parents for standing out from the crowd and actually making an effort to teach you grammar, and I don't -- despite the fact that you're quick to knock parents who don't divide their kids' time equally between grammar and TV. Again, the 'better/worse' distinction has been made, and it's perfectly obvious that you feel parents who teach rigourous grammar (that old indoctrination into robust instruction again) are better than those who don't.

    I am fully aware that I'm being rather harsh, to put it lightly, but what I'm attempting to illustrate is the way that everything you communicate is coloured in two ways by the time it reaches me:

    1. By your attitude and biases when you write it.
    2. By my attitude and biases when I read it.
    The precise and accurate writing you strive for does not exist. You can be grammatically correct, but something of the things you didn't mean to directly argue will always make its way in there, whether it's on my end or yours. We're humans communicating using English, not computers communicating using some agreed-upon protocol. Again, it's not a science.

    Continuing to debate with you at this point is really completely wrong-headed of me, since it does seem quite obvious that you're anything but malicious -- but at least I've managed to prove that point. Art, not science.

    Thanks.
    -
    [ Parent ]

    Uh... (none / 0) (#337)
    by wierdo on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:44:49 PM EST

    Work better for you? The only reason class comes into this argument is that it's the 'poorer' classes who are more likely to use TV as a babysitter, because the 'richer' ones could afford to have one parent not working, or to get a real-life babysitter or nanny.

    You seem to imply that there is a binary choice between the concept of using television as a babysitter and having a live parent to interact with the child. This is false. Like in politics, there are more than two choices, most of which do not require parental supervision beyond the age of three.

    One might go outside, play with friends, construct things out of Legos or any number of other activities which may be performed without a parent. There is no class distinction here. My parents had very little time for me after the age of six, but I still managed to pick up enough grammar to speak eloquently when necessary, despite normally using rather poor grammar. I'd probably be more proficient had I not started watching television most of the day when I was in my early teens.

    -Nathan



    [ Parent ]
    Yes. (none / 0) (#342)
    by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:04:38 PM EST

    I agree with you completely. Children will gladly draw for hours on end, or build little houses from lego, or whatever.

    However, he said:

    Most parents make heavy use of television as a babysitter, so children have firmly imprinted the vernacular before they receive any schooling whatsoever.

    It's quite obviously a false dilemma between letting kids watch TV and teaching them grammar. My point was purely a sense of annoyance at his censure of that parent making "heavy use", marking it out as a fault of the parent rather than one of either the child or of television.
    -
    [ Parent ]

    In reklaw's defense... (none / 0) (#518)
    by killmepleez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 11:08:05 AM EST

    ...let me offer that his [I'm assuming gender based on comment history, but I welcome correction] discussion of the situation as TV v. Grammar binarism is not his invention ex nihilo but appears to be a consequence of the way I originally framed the issue.

    __
    We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
    [ Parent ]
    Thank YOU... (5.00 / 3) (#379)
    by killmepleez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:42:22 PM EST

    ...for taking the time and energy to respond. I have greatly enjoyed our exchange.

    You suggest the following edit to my one/you example:
    It cannot be assumed that one's own experience is immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.
    I'm intrigued that it is only the first, active "one" that you felt necessary to change, while leaving the second "one" alone. To me, they are part of the same construction. In fact, were I to begin the sentence as you suggest, I would feel more comfortable switching over to the "you" usage entirely, since the symmetry and rhythm of the sentence has been lost. [And I mean "rhythm" in the poetic*, not auditory sense].

    That lets you make your general statement (by speaking passively) and then your specific one, without using an archaic piece of grammar.
    To you it's archaic. To me, it's pretty. Humans; go figure.

    It hardly surprises me that you try to bring mathematical mechanisms into this. Realise, however, that writing is an art, not a science.
    Hold that thought for a few minutes.

    I am, in fact, perfectly aware that more people than just the Queen speak her style of English, since I have you here as proof for a start. My statement was a figure of speech, a type of hyperbole. I am not part of your System of People Trying To Make Accurate Assertions -- I was simply exaggerating to attempt to get you to see my point and really just to make the post a little more colourful. It's absurd that you see some kind of need to disprove it by mathematical techniques.
    Sarcastic Hyperbole, like all rhetorical and grammatical techniques, definitely has its uses. However, it seems to me that it has become the technique of choice for much modern discourse, especially that of newsgroups, chatting/IM, blogs, and other online message media. Clarity and mutual enlightenment are lost, because conversations tend to become nothing more than ten thousand strangers exchanging puns and smarmy one-liners. I'm sure you'll believe me if I say that I can be as ironic and knowing and postmodern as anyone I've met [yet], but too much hyperbolic rhetoric can take us to a point at which we're no longer discussing the issues, but rather meta-discussing our portrayal of the issues in such a way as to yield the most memorable comebacks and zingers; as if SNL's "Weekend Update" and "The McLaughlin Group" got together to field a news commentary show. Come to think of it, Bill Maher did that already with "Politically Incorrect". Or check out Plastic, which had some quality discussion in its first incarnation, but has since become a graveyard of ironic one-upsmanship. In my opinion, one can make occasional good use of hyperbole, but the default behavior should be to say what one means, directly. [btw, that is the first "everyone should..." value judgment I have made in this entire conversation].

    Again, you've missed the point. I'm quite aware that you're not making that argument -- what I was attempting to illustrate was the type of thinking behind the arguments you were making. The words I was putting in your mouth were your implications, and they were already there whether you like it or not (note: they weren't literally already there, it's a figure of... oh, never mind).
    And, verily verily, I tell you again that such things are NOT behind the arguments I am making. The words you are putting in my mouth are your implications, which seem to be already there on your side of the informational transaction whether I like it or not. It is unfortunate that I have no way to gain your trust in this type of forum. Perhaps reading my comment history might establish my character, although I'm certain I've made unwarranted assumptions and attacks with the same depressing frequency as the rest of the community.

    Well, good -- I honestly wasn't taking them as insults against me personally. What I objected to was your idiot-who-lets-their-kids-be-dragged-up-by-TV stereotype.
    I'm cautious about your usage of the word "stereotype", as it seems to be intended in its negative connotation. I presented factual data [insofar as anything is factual] to support my claim that television viewership exceeds grammar instruction. Is naming this presentation a "stereotype" supposed to negate the facts it contains? Additionally, I called no one an "idiot".
    When I said

    I am so sorry we haven't all had your obviously superior education. If only our parents weren't such stupid working-class layabouts! Damn them, damn them to hell for not sufficiently indoctrinating me in a robust instructional system!

    it was, again, for effect.

    And, again, why slip into the hyperbolic voice? Why not just say what you mean? What you mean, as I understand it, is "You're claiming that, except for yours, parents let kids watch too much TV and this is bad and makes them speak bad and be bad people". Of course, this is not what I said. I merely suggested that television has a stronger effect, over the American lifespan, than traditional grammar instruction. In support, I brought up the fact that immigrants often gain much of their bilingual capacity from watching television. Then I posited that, if immigrants learn by watching and imitating what they see on television [in addition, certainly, to all other media and persons in their cultural environs], then might we not suppose that children also watch and imitate what they see on television? Therefore, we might expect to find a higher correlation between "nonstandard" usage and those whose childhood consists of more television than grammar instruction. Conversely, we would expect to find a lower correlation between nonstandard usage and those whose childhood consisted of significantly more grammar instruction than television. This is a simple scientific observation; not a social judgment. [I understand all too clearly that other factors such as region and household income can play a part, but I chose to focus on one variable for the sake of clarity. --rofl]

    What I was attempting to do was respond using a different 'voice' -- I'm not sure if this is clear to you, but it probably is to most people. I took the extreme opposite position and used it to speak sarcastically, in an attempt to show the absurdity of your own position (which I why I spoke back to you in your own words at the end). The point wasn't whether either of us do or don't belong to that class -- the point was that you were so quick to tar an entire group of people with such a strong brush.
    The "strong brush" was placed into my hand by your repeated use of hyperbolic sarcasm. I get your use of a different stylistic voice. What I do not get is your reliance on it to make your points for you. Especially since your execution of the technique is incomplete. Taking something to its extreme in order to examine its characteristics requires that you remember what your original elements were and apply the proportions appropriately.

    If, say, we're conducting a thought experiment in friction, and we want to get an idea of what will happen if we increase the mass of a currently stationary object on a moderately inclined plane by .5 kilograms. One technique to use is to suppose we increase the mass by 5,000,000 kg. From life experience, we would expect the object to begin sliding down the incline plane rather rapidly. By your application, we would therefore conclude that increasing the object's mass by .5 kg will cause it to slide down the plane. Except that it doesn't, because .5 <> 5,000,000, and the initial force of friction to be overcome is much greater than the force of friction present after the object begins sliding. Our mistake was that we forgot to allow for distortions due to scale. The only conclusion we can draw from our thought experiment is that adding .5 grams will make it more likely that the object will begin to slide. This conclusion has value of its own, but, if we care at all about what actually happens, we will need empirical data.

    I present you with data and then elaborate on premises and conclusions that can be applied to and drawn from the data. You take my conclusions and expand them to their extreme in order to debunk them. But your extreme conclusions are not the products of my data; they have been distorted by your attribution of motives that I have expressly, repeatedly disclaimed.

    To quote from a more generally stated summary:
    A reductio ad absurdum is the reducing of a proposition to absurdity by carrying it to its extreme (but logical) conclusion. The reductio is not technically a fallacy; it is a logical tool which, like all tools, can be used wisely or inappropriately. As a defect in argument, the reductio pursues a line of thought beyond its reasonable limits. Any argument can be made to seem absurd when treated as an absolute; most are contingent upon certain circumstances, and the existence of such reasonable, if unstated, qualifications is assumed. Demonstrating that an argument can be reduced to absurdity does not refute it in its original, limited form.

    Of course, the reductio is also useful in spotting logical weaknesses when a limited argument is presented as an absolute one. The fallacy consists of applying the technique to a situation which does not warrant it. The question of appropriate application tends, of course, to be controversial.
    [end outside source, resume quoting parent post]

    How about this:

    Oh, I'm so sorry -- us working mothers should never have a chance to sit down and let the kids do something they enjoy. We should be teaching them grammar every minute of the day, so that they can become as precise as you are!
    Work better for you?

    No, because it bears no resemblance to anything I've said -- except insofar as you seem determined to give my words the most uncharitable interpretation possible.
    The only reason class comes into this argument is that it's the 'poorer' classes who are more likely to use TV as a babysitter, because the 'richer' ones could afford to have one parent not working, or to get a real-life babysitter or nanny.
    I disagree with your assertion that rich kids watch less television than poor kids**. In fact, it may be that the opposite is true, since richer youths might feel less pressure to get a job at age sixteen, which would cut into their TV time. However, I suspect that the numbers are not significantly different.

    I would have read it as an argument about culture rather than class, but your wording makes it about class. If you'd said that kids nowadays watch too much TV, then fine (although your point that they should be learning grammar instead is still silly). However, you went out of your way to implicate the parents in this decision -- it's their fault, in your eyes, that their kids watch so much telly. They use it as a babysitter. You claim it's nothing to do with "poor parentage", but then go on to point out that I shouldn't knock your parents for standing out from the crowd and actually making an effort to teach you grammar, and I don't -- despite the fact that you're quick to knock parents who don't divide their kids' time equally between grammar and TV. Again, the 'better/worse' distinction has been made, and it's perfectly obvious that you feel parents who teach rigourous grammar (that old indoctrination into robust instruction again) are better than those who don't.
    "watch too much TV", "should be learning grammar instead", "quick to knock parents who don't divide their kids' time equally", "better/worse", "parents who teach rigorous grammar are better". Please locate these assertions in any of my posts on this subject. I've looked many times and cannot find them. I do find numerous assertions to the contrary.

    I am fully aware that I'm being rather harsh, to put it lightly, but what I'm attempting to illustrate is the way that everything you communicate is coloured in two ways by the time it reaches me:

  • By your attitude and biases when you write it.
  • By my attitude and biases when I read it.
  • I have been trying very hard to expunge my assertions of the former, but I cannot seem to penetrate the latter.

    The precise and accurate writing you strive for does not exist.
    I know that the precise and accurate writing I strive for does not exist. The precise and accurate athletic performance I strive for does not exist. The precise and accurate ethical treatment of other human beings I strive for does not exist. I will shout my fallibility from the rooftops, but I will not give up the attempt to do the best I can in any of these areas. On the contrary, it is precisely because communication is inherently confusing that I feel it is so important to define what we are saying as clearly and directly as possible.

    You can be grammatically correct, but something of the things you didn't mean to directly argue will always make its way in there, whether it's on my end or yours.
    I don't think there is much value in discussing my particular grammar or lack thereof. I would simply like to discuss the content of my posts.

    We're humans communicating using English, not computers communicating using some agreed-upon protocol. Again, it's not a science.
    The worldwide population of Speech Therapists, Linguists, English teachers, Philosophers, Neurologists, Anthropologists, and others who spend their lives studying the processes of language acquisition, encoding, decoding, and evolution would probably disagree with your assertion. But even if they all don't, I do.
    Continuing to debate with you at this point is really completely wrong-headed of me, since it does seem quite obvious that you're anything but malicious -- but at least I've managed to prove that point.
    I'm glad that I have earned at least a portion of your trust and goodwill.

    Art, not science.
    Art and science. [Did you hold that thought?!] It is difficult to define what "art" means, but I suggest you consider that precision and symmetry can be just as 'artistic' as expressionism and abstraction. The best art moves us emotionally and makes us want to question how and why we are moved, and how the artist was moved during creation, and why the artist chose a particular medium, material, tone, color, rhythm, sound, word...

    The unification of scientific precision and artistic possibility is, I think, what makes life beautiful.


    *I simply cannot over-praise the Silva Rhetoricae. It no doubt reveals a great deal about my personality that I have spent many delicious hours lost in its 'trees' since I first stumbled upon it a couple years back.
    **George W. Bush was a very wealthy child. Did he receive effective grammar instruction?

    __
    We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
    [ Parent ]
    another long reply... (5.00 / 1) (#491)
    by reklaw on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:00:22 PM EST

    I have greatly enjoyed our exchange.

    Me too -- I got the feeling at one point that I had quite offended you, so I'm glad to read that.

    Anyway, firstly, my reason for only replacing the first "one" was... well, it was that I screwed up and only half-edited the sentence, really. I'd have done something more like this:

    It cannot be assumed that your personal experiences are immediately generalizable to the entirety of human behavior. That you have not heard or read any such communications is no evidence of their absence from daily discourse.

    I am, however, glad that I made the mistake, as it caused you to link me to that great Silva Rhetoricae site.

    To you it's archaic. To me, it's pretty. Humans; go figure.

    I'd say that it's both pretty and archaic at the same time -- it sounds nice in its own way, but just isn't in common use any more. If you want to use it then it is, of course, fine by me, but you should remain aware of the tone that is likely to be perceived by the reader when you write in that style.

    This gets at what you're talking about here: It is unfortunate that I have no way to gain your trust in this type of forum. Your style alone was enough for me to read in all sorts of things, which were then confirmed beyond reasonable doubt (in my mind, anyway) by what you seemed to be trying to prove with your assertions. Yes, I'm aware of the... um... irony (if this is irony) that I thought I was seeing someone throwing stereotypes around, when in fact all I was seeing was my own stereotype of someone who thinks in stereotypes. If you see what I mean. It's impossible to be constantly on guard against such things when reading.

    Regarding the hyperbolic voice -- 'the Queen's English' and the idea that no-one speaks it but the Queen is such a common example of it that I wasn't really aware of what I was doing with the phrase until I thought about it a little. On the second example, using phrasing like this:

    You're claiming that, except for yours, parents let kids watch too much TV and this is bad and makes them speak bad and be bad people

    Well... it's just not effective. What I was doing wasn't so much reductio ad absurdum as trying to commit that even greater evil of putting words in your mouth -- but for good reason, because they were the ones that I saw coming out, so to speak. Perhaps I've just been discussing politics for too long, but I find that people try to phrase their arguments in such a way that they look good and they can get away with denying whatever they want to later by not saying too much. That's why I wasn't just exaggerating what you were saying, but trying to get at what you were really saying. I don't like it when I respond to someone's implied meaning and they simply say "I never said that". Yes, on this occasion I appear to have been wrong about what you were implying, but I'm not usually -- and people's responses to simply stating what you thought they said (or perhaps not so much thought as felt they said) can often be very revealing.

    I have to say that I still don't understand why you made your television assertion. If what you were saying was (and don't worry, I do believe you) that television has a stronger effect, over the American lifespan, than traditional grammar instruction, then, uh, yes, it does. I don't see why you needed to state that. The impression of your argument that I got from your statement was:

    1. Too many parents leave their kids in front of the TV, using it as a babysitter.
    2. Less time is spent in grammar instruction.
    3. Grammar instruction is good, because if we'd had some proper grammar instruction then we wouldn't be suggesting alternatives to the proper style ("the outmoded and awkward mechanics of Official Usage only seem outmoded and awkward to those who were not successfully indoctrinated by their academic institutions").
    4. TV is bad, because it teaches children bad grammar.
    5. So, over-consumption of TV relative to grammar instruction is bad.
    6. This means that the parents putting their children in front of a TV instead of teaching them grammar are doing the children a disservice.
    So, those were the thoughts in my mind. I didn't challenge your facts, but I did take respond to point 6 (by attempting to defend the parents who might be using TV as a babysitter) and to point 3 (by attempting to defend our right to suggest alternatives to the proper style, rather than sticking to the "Queen's English"). I know the points there are probably wildly different from what you were thinking when you wrote the post, but they're what I saw when I read it -- I don't think they're entirely unreasonable, but were probably caused by the tone more than the content.

    Oh, and to get back to the point for a second (although I'm not altogether sure what it was now), I reckon you've pretty much won the arguments for richer children and poorer children watching more-or-less equal amounts of TV, although I still don't think I agree with you that spending this time in grammar instruction instead would be beneficial to them.

    Your closing thought about art and science is interesting. I'm really not sure how to respond to it -- I suppose, though, I would give things that are artistic but done with precision and symmetry a description of "craft" instead of "art". It's like the difference between freehand drawing and technical drawing. Is technical drawing art? That depends on your definition of art, as you say, and I've seen people argue for literally days about what exactly art is.

    communication is inherently confusing

    Yes... yes, it is.
    -
    [ Parent ]

    May I point out one thing? (4.00 / 2) (#397)
    by janra on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:18:24 PM EST

    Sure, it's a side issue, but this annoys me a little.

    But I usually wouldn't use [the "Queen's English"] myself for fear of distracting the members of my audience. They might spend their time pondering my snobbishness instead of the subject at hand

    Proper grammar and a snobbish style are completely unrelated. The poster in question does seem to be using both, which may be the cause of some of the argument in this thread.

    In case you're wondering, this annoys me because I see a lot of people (all over the place, including here, and sadly on many writing boards) defending their poor grammar by claiming that they're simply not being snobbish, or that it's their "style". I rarely get accused of snobbery, despite my attempts to maintain proper grammar, oddly enough :-)


    --
    Discuss the art and craft of writing
    That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
    [ Parent ]
    true (none / 1) (#427)
    by Polverone on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:36:46 AM EST

    Gramatically correct speech doesn't have to sound snobbish. In this case, it appeared that the original author couldn't write in the manner of a 19th/early 20th century educated gentleman without being accused of snobbery befitting such an educated gentleman. That's too bad, because I enjoy the style. I'd find it odd in a spoken conversation, but a treat in writing.
    --
    It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
    [ Parent ]
    certainly (none / 1) (#261)
    by ulrich on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:28:43 PM EST

    You are right to damn your parents for not giving you an education.

    [ Parent ]
    Oh, they gave me an education. (none / 1) (#265)
    by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:32:09 PM EST

    They just forgot to indoctrinate me in a robust instructional system.
    -
    [ Parent ]
    How did television become involved in this? (4.50 / 2) (#274)
    by NoBeardPete on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:23:08 PM EST

    You think that children are exposed to more vernacular because they watch television? You seem to be implying that a child's time is split between TV and school, and the ratio of these two activities determines how formal their speach is. Has it occured to you that people also spend time with other people in unstructured activities? I would guess that most children spend more time listening to other people speak than listening to people on TV speak. Children certainly spend more time actively conversing with other people than with the TV.

    If you're looking for some linguistic problem to pin on TV, try blaming it for a decrease in regional variations in language. Don't try to blame it for people not using "proper" English.


    Arrr, it be the infamous pirate, No Beard Pete!
    [ Parent ]

    Excellent point. (4.00 / 1) (#295)
    by killmepleez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:41:28 PM EST

    The homogenization of language is another, related effect of widely available media, whether they be television, radio, or the printed word. In truth, this phenomenon has been occurring ever since Gutenberg "democratized" literacy by making it more affordable. Television merely does so at a much greater level because its use of sound and imagery, especially modern quick-edit styling, holds the average person's attention deeper and longer than sound alone [radio] or the printed word.

    The relation between your point and mine is that television, being driven alternately by businessmen [whose goal is viewership] and artists [whose goal is an accurate or interesting portrayal], makes overwhelming use of the vernacular.

    __
    We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
    [ Parent ]
    And normal interactions don't? (5.00 / 1) (#304)
    by NoBeardPete on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:10:40 PM EST

    You say that television makes overwhelming use of the vernacular. What's the alternative to TV, though? If kids weren't all watching TV, they'd probably be hanging out with other kids, or perhaps adult relatives or neighbors. Do you think that they would hear nothing but the Queen's English in these enviornments? I suspect there's just as much vernacular being thrown around the average school yard or playground as there is on TV.

    You seem to be supposing that in some mythical time, before the widespread adoption of television, children were spending all of their free time conversing with their grammar teachers, or other highly educated adults who took pains to speak "correctly". I do not think this is so.


    Arrr, it be the infamous pirate, No Beard Pete!
    [ Parent ]

    Ceteris Paribus (none / 0) (#519)
    by killmepleez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 11:10:14 AM EST

    There are indeed many other elements which affect language development than television and schooling. I chose to narrow my treatment to the proportion between two specific factors. Much of the ensuing confusion has derived from my specificity [of which reklaw is justifiably suspicious, because it often allows distasteful motives to be cleverly hidden just off-camera, so to speak], and you are right to point out that this specificity also limits the applicability of the argument.

    __
    We're all, not just those we kill, subordinated in the service of something larger. The difference between us and the corpses is that we are willing serv
    [ Parent ]
    It's Wrong (none / 0) (#203)
    by wanders on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:54:08 AM EST

    Yes, "it's wrong". This can convey both that the actual statement is wrong and your righteous contempt for a being dumb enough to make such a statement.
    ~
    ~
    :x
    [ Parent ]
    german "sie" (none / 0) (#300)
    by benoit on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:44:17 PM EST

    In German the verb indicates the usage of the plural or singular "sie" and if your friend talks about a single friend of his or hers (as in your example) you would have to answer using the singular form, in which case the friend of your friend is female.

    Hm...

    [ Parent ]

    German (4.66 / 3) (#457)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:49:55 PM EST

    Germans don't use "sie" to refer to something of unknown gender. Yes "sie" is the word for "she" and "they", but only in some grammatical cases, and their verbs always conjugate differently. So you are never going to have ambiguity about if you mean "she" or "they".

    Also, Germans don't use "they" to refer to something of ambiguous gender, because this isn't how their gender assignment works. What happens in German is that, since each word has its own gender, you use the pronoun for that word's gender. So if you say "a person says 1+1 =3", in German you would reply "she is wrong" because "Person" is feminine. If you say "a child says 1+1 =3", you say "it is wrong" because child is neuter.

    So you don't run into this problem because you use grammatical gender and not actual gender, and this is information you always have.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    A-ha. (none / 0) (#479)
    by reklaw on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:32:40 PM EST

    Thanks for correcting me on that -- what you say makes sense, in that I know it's what is done. I just hadn't realised what exactly was being expressed despite knowing how to use the grammar correctly, if you see what I mean. I remember now thinking how absurd it was to have to refer to a male cat as "she", just because the word "Katze" is feminine.

    It's odd to me that English runs into this problem because it has no grammatical gender (or at least, very little). I always thought of that as one of the best things about English...

    Also, it's interesting that Person is feminine. I know the word's gender doesn't really mean anything where inanimate objects or animals are concerned, but with people it follows the actual gender (die Mutter, der Vater) -- is there anything in the fact that the word for a person is feminine?
    -
    [ Parent ]

    Person (5.00 / 1) (#494)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:41:08 PM EST

    I don't know why "Person" is feminine, but I don't think it is anything more than for historical reasons.  It is also feminine in French ("la personne") and Spanish ("la persona"), and I imagine they are all related.  I don't know any Latin but I'm willing to bet all forms of "Person" probably come from there.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    Already in common use (3.50 / 8) (#5)
    by Imperfect on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:06:13 PM EST

    At least from what I've heard, the singular they has been acceptable for a long time now.

    A good article, nonetheless. I'll +1FP it when it comes up -- although if you gave "Solution Good" a different name, I'd be happy. It grates at me grammatically.

    Not perfect, not quite.
    Needless to say, the common language ... (4.93 / 32) (#7)
    by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:08:52 PM EST

    ... has devised its own solution to this problem.

    Example - When some motherfucker comes to our site, the fucker will see it and fuckin' want to buy it.

    Example - When a motherfucker's crossing the street, that fucker better watch out for the fuckin' cars.

    Example - When a person dances, that motherfucker's having fun.

    Example - Some fucking magician who fucking shows you the motherfucking tricks is gonna be one fucking jobless motherfucker.

    Note also that this solution to the singular pronoun problem also relieves one of having to know many adjectives, as "fucking" will usually do for most circumstances.

    On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
    Correction (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by krek on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:38:30 PM EST

    In all of your examples, 'fucker' and 'motherfucker' are not being used as pronouns, they are simple nouns preceded by the prepositions 'the' and 'they'. You also used 'motherfucking', this is a ajdective not a pronoun.

    [ Parent ]
    motherfucing? (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by jjayson on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:00:46 PM EST

    Would motherfucking a present participle? Or is it just an adjective that happens to coincidentally end in -ing?
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    Naw! I was lazy. (none / 0) (#310)
    by krek on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:26:06 PM EST

    It was in fact a present participle and not an adjective... mind you, a present participle is just a verb conjugated in such a way so as to make it serve the function of an adjective. And, chances are that any word serving as an adjective that ends in 'ing' would be a present participle.

    oops

    [ Parent ]
    slang (5.00 / 1) (#335)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:37:22 PM EST

    However, my point was the slang often does not follow the rules. "To motherfuck" is not a verb, so "motherfucking" might be more appropriately called an adjective.
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    Ah, but you forgot the Syllable Sin (4.00 / 3) (#20)
    by urdine on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:58:20 PM EST

    "Motherfucker" is like, 3 syllables! What kind of honorable pronoun is that?

    [ Parent ]
    Mofo (nt) (5.00 / 1) (#136)
    by Kragg on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:09:15 AM EST


    --
    "How can one learn to know oneself? Never by introspection, rather by action. Try to do your duty, and you will know right away what you are like." -- Goethe, Willhelm Meister's Travels.
    [ Parent ]
    In Australian English (5.00 / 1) (#141)
    by lucius on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:25:30 AM EST

    we'd probably use ' that cunt', as in:

    "That cunt's got a fucking problem"

    "I'm going to kill that cunt"

    [ Parent ]

    it's one step forwards, one step back (5.00 / 2) (#151)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:13:00 AM EST

    because the language has created an extra problem in this domain too. Take the following sentence, exhibiting the USian English possessed ass reflexive construction:
    John thinks that his ass does not deserve to get dragged to jail.
    Now, what's the generic version of this?
    Everybody thinks that {his/their} ass does not deserve to be dragged to jail.
    The problem, which you sought to avoid by delving into the more lurid domains of English vocabulary, resurfaces even there.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    I'll give it a shot (4.00 / 1) (#307)
    by krek on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:17:19 PM EST

    Everybody thinks that {his/their} ass does not deserve to be dragged to jail.

    -becomes-

    Everybody thinks that their own ass does not deserve to be dragged to jail.



    [ Parent ]
    You discriminate fatherfuckers! [nt] (5.00 / 1) (#187)
    by Viliam Bur on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:53:32 AM EST



    [ Parent ]
    To be honest, I'm fine with "he" (4.70 / 10) (#8)
    by Control Group on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:11:22 PM EST

    Or "she," for that matter. In fact, my favorite method of dealing with the supposed sexism of the genderless "he" is to have every person/writer use his own gender as the generic. Unfortunately, as a male, it's non-obvious that this is what I'm doing. So I admittedly cop out with s/he when writing (though my internal monologue translates that to "suh-hee," not to "she or he"). Not that I feel guilty about the gender bias, but because they've (that's the conspiratorial "They," not the singular genderless "they") worn me down with mindless complaints about it, and I'm sick of hearing it.

    However, I'll trade you one-for-one on this. I'll give you singular, genderless use of "they," if you can give me proper English acceptance of "y'all" as "you plural," relegating "you" to "you singular."

    I really wouldn't mind seeing widespread use of the singular "they." It would cut down on my grammatical elitism, some, and that always hurts...but I can still hide behind criterion/criteria, medium/media, and datum/data and pretend proper usage makes me better than others. Which is really all I want out of a grammar, anyway.

    ***
    "Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."

    no deal. (none / 0) (#15)
    by gauntlet on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:47:13 PM EST

    I want a singular genderless pronoun to refer to persons as much as the next person, but y'all is a different kettle of fish. Y'all is a contraction (elision, when spoken) of "you all," which is essentially a compound noun rather than a pronoun.

    "Yous" would be a better option.

    Besides, no one's offended when "you" is used to refer to a group.

    Into Canadian Politics?
    [ Parent ]

    Sure, but so what? (none / 0) (#23)
    by Control Group on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:03:40 PM EST

    You're right, it's actually a compound noun. But so is "herself," "yourself," etc. Same with "everyone" and "anyone." I don't see how that makes it somehow invalid as a pronoun. It seems to fit my requirements for a pronoun, in that it's short, useful, and descriptive. So is "yous," I supppose, but I admit that I'm biased towards "y'all," since I'm from the upper midwest, and I hear "yous" all the time. Shivers up my spine.

    Oh, and by the way: can you explain to me why it's "himself," and not "hisself?" We use the first person possesive "my" for "myself," the second person possessive "your" for "yourself," the third person feminine possessive "her" for "herself," but not the third person masculine possessive. No. We use "him," when, really "hisself" makes more sense: his self.

    Just a little peeve of mine.

    ***
    "Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
    [ Parent ]

    himself/hisself (none / 0) (#36)
    by transient0 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:34:38 PM EST

    First off, i think you are intentionally misrepresenting part of your case. Unless you can present me a really convincing etymology I see no reason to believe that the "her" in "herself" is necessarily the possessive rather than the objective form.

    If "herself" is taken to be the objective and you include the third-person plural "themselves" (and theoretically "themself", if the author of this article gets his way (or should I say "their way"?)) then you get the following breakdown:

    "himself" - objective
    "herself" - objective
    "themselves" - objective
    "myself" - possessive
    "yourself" - possessive

    That being the case, if you were arguing for a standardization of form, you would be better off pushing for "meself" and "youself". Personally I'm happy to accept that grammar doesn't really make any sense and as long as the meaning gets through, it's doing it's job. If you want to use hisself, I'll probably catch your drift, so I'm fine with it.
    ---------
    lysergically yours
    [ Parent ]

    *blink* (none / 0) (#54)
    by Control Group on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:19:10 PM EST

    Believe it or not, it never even occurred to me to think that it might be the objective "her" in use. I don't have an etymology on it, because, in my mind, it was obvious, referring to "her self," just like "my self" and "your self," because they made intuitive sense to me. Proceeding from which, of course, "him self" and "them selves" become somewhat inexplicable.

    I maintain I wasn't intentionally misrepresenting anything; though perhaps blatant disregard of such an obvious possibility indicates such ineptitude that I might as well have been.

    I shall return when I've done some research on the etymology. I might even turn out to be right...

    ***
    "Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
    [ Parent ]

    Yous may not agree with me (none / 0) (#93)
    by rodoke3 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 09:20:58 PM EST

    but, personally, I find "yous" to just sound awkward.  Alone, it sounds fine, but just trying to use it in everyday phrases sounds awkward.  Although, I must admit I am also a little biased (Midwest US). I would be interested in knowing where  more people use "yous", though.  Are "y'all" or "yous" used commonly outside the United States?

    I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


    [ Parent ]
    Yous (none / 0) (#176)
    by Gully Foyle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:38:45 AM EST

    Yous should only ever be used with a strong Glaswegian accent.

    If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
    [ Parent ]

    Same problem here (none / 0) (#202)
    by Control Group on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:49:42 AM EST

    "Yous" is used by far too many stereotypical upper-peninsula (of Michigan) types ("Ya der, hey? Yous guys going to da bars, hey?"); it's like nails on a chalkboard to my ear.

    On the other hand, I could believe that "y'all" has a similar problem for anyone from South of the Mason-Dixon line, so perhaps that doesn't work, either. We ought go back to thee/thou/thine for singular, and keep the various forms of "you" for plural.

    That should be easy to make fly.

    ***
    "Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
    [ Parent ]

    This is an interesting link (5.00 / 3) (#276)
    by NoBeardPete on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:31:35 PM EST

    http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~golder/dialect/staticmaps/q_50.html points to a survey of Americans on the plural form of "you" that they use, including a geographical breakdown. Check it out.


    Arrr, it be the infamous pirate, No Beard Pete!
    [ Parent ]

    Y'alls should comprimise.. (none / 0) (#415)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:10:07 AM EST

    Or would it be yous'all?

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    I agree in principal (none / 0) (#179)
    by squigly on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:43:52 AM EST

    I often want to use a plural version of "You".  Oddly we seem to have an obsolete formal version of you (Thou/thee) - at least I think that it's meant to be a formal version, but no plural.

    But I'm English.  Y'all just doesn't sound right with an English accent.  I'm not even sure it would sound right in the northern US.  

    [ Parent ]

    "thou" is informal [n/t] (5.00 / 1) (#256)
    by ulrich on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:20:40 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Wrong; Thee is objective case (read on) (none / 0) (#270)
    by blach on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:47:56 PM EST

    Hi there,

    Though archaic, the pronoun "thou" is the subjective case (that is, you would use it as the subject  of a sentence, for example, "thou art..")

    "Thee," on the other hand, is objective case; it is never used as the subject of a sentence (well one of my dictionaries says it CAN be informally, but I personally have never seen this usage).

    If you are looking for an archaic plural "you," perhaps what you're seeking is "ye."  Note that ye is used in the subjective case only.

    The best,
    James,
    who of course could be totally wrong.

    [ Parent ]

    Yes. (3.00 / 1) (#328)
    by tkatchev on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:08:32 PM EST

    The Biblical "Thou" is informal and with a capital "T" to distinguish it from regular old "thou".

    (Using "you" to refer to God is wrong on so many levels that the Biblical "Thou" persisted even after it disappeared from the English language.)

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    You're thinking too much (4.85 / 14) (#11)
    by davidduncanscott on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:28:47 PM EST

    Why alter a working structure? There's a classical solution to this problem, and it's embedded within the idea of the agreement of noun and pronoun.
    A person driving through Boston will never get to his destination.
    People driving through Boston will never get to their destinations.
    When a user comes to our site, she or he will see our product and she or he will want to buy it.
    When users come to our site, they will see our product and they will want to buy it.
    When a person dances, it has fun.
    When people dance, they have fun.
    When a person crosses the street, she has to watch out for cars.
    When people cross the street, they have to watch out for cars.
    If a magician showed you how their tricks worked, they wouldn't have a job.
    If magicians showed you how their tricks worked, they wouldn't have jobs.

    I won't claim that there aren't more awkward cases, but not nearly as many as people seem to think.

    (Oh, and by the way, my 8th grade English teacher was a good man, and among other things taught me that the creation of a new noun, like "bling bling," is not a grammatical issue, nor is the manner in which websites, books, or traffic offenses are cited.)

    That won't always work (4.50 / 6) (#32)
    by roystgnr on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:22:00 PM EST

    If I suggested it to your spouses, what would they say?  If you used it in a memo to your bosses, how would they react?  If in 2004 we elect Presidents who speak like this, won't it be odd of them?

    Sometimes you need a pronoun which must be singular but which is of indeterminate sex.  If we allow "they" for those (admittedly rarer) cases, then why bother ever trying to squeeze they back into its role as a plural pronoun?

    [ Parent ]

    Dunno 'bout you (3.66 / 3) (#35)
    by davidduncanscott on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:29:01 PM EST

    but my spouse isn't of indeterminate sex, nor is my boss. If one is referring to an individual, than perhaps one should use the pronoun appropriate to that individual.

    Alternatively, one could use "one", as I just did. "If one drives through Boston, one won't reach one's destination."

    In fact, come to think of it, I suppose "one" is just that -- a noun of indeterminate gender. Pronouns are never needed, just nice.

    [ Parent ]

    problem with "one" (none / 0) (#37)
    by urdine on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:34:51 PM EST

    ...is you have to use "one" everywhere or it sounds strange:

    "If a person drives through Boston, one won't reach one's destination."



    [ Parent ]
    it doesn't just sound strange (5.00 / 2) (#49)
    by tps12 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:05:18 PM EST

    It sounds strange because it's incorrect. "One" is a noun in that context, not a pronoun.

    [ Parent ]
    Pronouns (5.00 / 2) (#38)
    by toy on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:34:58 PM EST

    1. Poindexter says: There is an article about pronouns in the queue by a pedant. It seems the author's article has triggered a discussion. The author thinks writers should use "they" as a pronoun as opposed to "he," which the author thinks is too gender-specific. The author also questions the alternative, "s/he," on account of its lengthened syllables in spoken speech. The author tries to mention made-up words, but the author decides to keep it brief. The author concludes with a demonstration of the author's adherance to "they."

    2. I say: There is an article about pronouns in the queue by a pedant. It seems his article has triggered a discussion. He thinks writers should use "they" as a pronoun as opposed to "he," which he thinks is too gender-specific. He also questions the alternative, "s/he," on account of its lengthened syllables in spoken speech. He tries to mention made-up words, but he decides to keep it brief. He concludes with a demonstration of his adherance to "they."




    º
    My buddies



    [ Parent ]
    ah, yes, but... (5.00 / 1) (#66)
    by mlc on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:07:27 PM EST

    Consider:
    I can't determine the gender of your spouse, davidduncanscott, without meeting ____.
    You (presumably) have at most one spouse, so I am referring to a single person here. But I don't know if ey is male, female, or perhaps doesn't identify with either of the binary genders. Similarly, if I don't know your boss, but know that you have one:
    Please ask your boss what _____ thinks of this.
    In contexts (like k5) where I can get away with it, I usually use the Spivak pronouns (link in main article) for cases like these: Please ask your boss what ey thinks of this, etc.

    --
    So the Berne Convention is the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. Is this like Catholicism? -- Eight Star
    [ Parent ]

    Re-phrase. (5.00 / 2) (#108)
    by Kwil on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:17:54 PM EST

    Without a meeting, I can't determine the gender of davidduncanscott's spouse.

    Please go ask what your boss thinks of this.

    That Jesus Christ guy is getting some terrible lag... it took him 3 days to respawn! -NJ CoolBreeze


    [ Parent ]
    Why do we need any pronouns at all, then? (4.00 / 1) (#329)
    by roystgnr on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:10:24 PM EST

    If you think you can rephrase every sentence to remove the pronoun referring to a single person of unknown sex, surely you can also rephrase every sentence to remove the pronoun referring to a single person of known sex, and voila!  The problem is solved!  We can simply stop using "he", "she", "him", and "her" altogether.

    [ Parent ]
    Presidents (none / 0) (#177)
    by Gully Foyle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:41:56 AM EST

    If in 2004 we elect a President who speaks like this, won't it be odd of X? X = she when you elect Clinton...

    If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
    [ Parent ]

    Bravo (3.50 / 6) (#14)
    by LairBob on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 03:44:14 PM EST

    After several years teaching AP-level high-school English, and tangling with just about every other member of the department on this topic (especially my roommate, who was another twenty-something fuck-up like me, and the former colleague who is now my wife), I have never found a general solution to this problem that works better for me than the impersonal "they".

    Granted, you still have the occasional agreement problem, but once I sat down and did my own little bit of research, and discovered, as you did, that it's been in use for like seven hundred friggin' years, before English was even really modern English, I decided "Screw it, I'm using it."

    My preference (4.20 / 10) (#43)
    by SiMac on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 04:53:14 PM EST

    I would prefer combination of she and it. It would be one syllable and it won't set off the grammar/spell checker, although to the uninitiaited it might seem a bit vulgar.

    Manure (5.00 / 3) (#88)
    by 3ebnut on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 08:44:22 PM EST

    And don't forget the politically correct coinage from "he or she or it":

    h'orsh'it

    [ Parent ]

    horshit? what's that? [nt] (5.00 / 1) (#113)
    by by on on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:39:27 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    irregardless, it's inflammable (4.16 / 6) (#51)
    by circletimessquare on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:10:01 PM EST

    irregardless of the subject matter, the points made are presented in an interesting manner... +1 fp

    One entry found for irregardless.
    Main Entry: ir·re·gard·less
    Pronunciation: "ir-i-'gärd-l&s
    Function: adverb
    Etymology: probably blend of irrespective and regardless
    Date: circa 1912
    nonstandard : REGARDLESS
    usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that "there is no such word." There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.

    ...

    one thing i never understood was why inflammable and flammable mean the same thing. not only confusing, but downright dangerous! i'm not even joking when i say the govt should mandate the proper definitions of these 2 words on consumer products/ in dictionaries/ press, etc.

    One entry found for inflammable.
    Main Entry: in·flam·ma·ble
    Pronunciation: in-'fla-m&-b&l
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: French, from Medieval Latin inflammabilis, from Latin inflammare
    Date: 1605

    1. : FLAMMABLE
    2. : easily inflamed , excited, or angered : IRASCIBLE
    • in·flam·ma·bil·i·ty  -"fla-m&-'bi-l&-tE noun
    • inflammable noun
    • in·flam·ma·ble·ness  -'fla-m&-b&l-n&s noun
    • in·flam·ma·bly  -blE adverb


    The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

    (in)flammable (4.75 / 4) (#55)
    by Control Group on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:23:10 PM EST

    Rightly or wrongly, I was always taught that "flammable" means simply "capable of burning." Inflammable, on the other hand, is distinct insofar as it implies "capable of burning explosively." So, dry wood is flammable, but gasoline vapor is inflammable.

    I have since tried to find either justification or debunking of this distinction, but have been unable to definitively (NPI) do either. Nonetheless, it seems a useful distinction to me. We have two words, we might as well give them useful nuances of meaning.

    ***
    "Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
    [ Parent ]

    3 Amigos... (5.00 / 2) (#264)
    by snodgrass on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:31:16 PM EST

    "He's not just famous, he's INfamous!" :^)

    [ Parent ]
    Dictionaries... (4.80 / 5) (#72)
    by sjbrodwall on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:26:27 PM EST

    ...are guides as to the usage of words, nothing more. For example, most dictionaries will allow "feb-yoo-ary" as an accepted pronunciation of "February". Thus the fact that it's in the dictionary doesn't mean it's "right".

    It must be acknowledged, however, that in the US, at least, there isn't any official version of the English language. 'Taint an easy fact to swallow for language purists such as myself.




    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]
    Logical vs. right (5.00 / 1) (#459)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:03:39 PM EST

    I think you are talking about "logical" as opposed to "right".  If the word is used that way, such that the other party understands them, and especially if the word has made it's way into the dictionary, then it is as "right" as there is in language.  Really, language is too fluid (over time and distance) for there to ever be a "right" way for anything.

    Now, if you want to argue that one way is more *logical*, I'll agree with that.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    Flammable is a non-word. (4.60 / 5) (#101)
    by i on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 10:13:04 PM EST

    It was invented by firefighters. Here goes:
    • people label stuff that easily catches flames (like gasoline) with the word inflammable (which is a correct term for such stuff)
    • other people are illiterate morons and they assume that in- in inflammable is a negative particle, and the whole word means "does not catch flames"
    • they start playing with matches close to stuff labeled inflammable
    • hilarity ensues. No, not really. Great fires and lost lives and property is more like it
    • this happens again, and again, and again, all over the English-speaking world
    • fire departments all over aforementioned English-speaking world become sick and tired, and require the dangerous stuff be labeled with a word that does not contain any part resembling a negative particle
    • the word flammable is born
    • ???
    • PROFIT!
    This might or might not be an urban legend.

    and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

    [ Parent ]
    Maybe, maybe not (5.00 / 2) (#199)
    by Viliam Bur on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:23:55 AM EST

    This word reminds me of another English word "inhabitable" which means both "where one can live" and "where one cannot live" - depending on the country and century.

    [ Parent ]
    And pronunciation... (5.00 / 1) (#432)
    by Mandoric on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:16:43 AM EST

    Where one lives is in-hab (a as in cat)-it-a (as in father)-ble.
    Where one can't live is rendered as in-ha (a as in father)-bit-a (as in father)-ble.

    Or at least this is the common usage I've observed in New England over the past couple decades.

    [ Parent ]

    Nasty (4.00 / 6) (#53)
    by jpmorgan on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:18:49 PM EST

    The Economist covers this well in their style guide. Using 'they' as a singular pronoun sounds horribly, horribly wrong. More often than not it is painless to reword your sentence to make it unnecessary, and in those rare instances where it isn't possible, 'he or she' (or 'she or he') will do.

    Neat. (4.00 / 1) (#57)
    by toy on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:26:40 PM EST

    The latter half of that guide is really interesting. I wish more people would follow it, both for articles here but especially for articles in professional newspapers. Chatty newspaper stories annoy the hell out of me.



    º
    My buddies



    [ Parent ]
    I don't agree with it (3.75 / 4) (#185)
    by tjost on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:50:19 AM EST

    Thus Instruct the reader without lecturing him is better put as Instruct readers without lecturing them. But some sentences resist this treatment: Find a good teacher and take his advice is not easily rendered gender-neutral. Avoid, above all, the sort of scrambled syntax that people adopt because they cannot bring themselves to use a singular pronoun: We can't afford to squander anyone's talents, whatever colour their skin is. Or When someone takes their own life, they leave their loved ones with an agonishing legacy of guilt. Or Where a person positions their writing on the page...
    It's funny, I think the use of "their" sounds great in these sentences. Find a good teacher and take their advice. Sounds just fine. Perhaps it's because I'm used to it. I believe "they" will be the new gender-neutral pronoun.

    [ Parent ]
    Another K5 story on this subject (3.20 / 5) (#61)
    by Alia on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 05:53:12 PM EST

    was posted in 2001. It's quite good, too.

    damn! you caught that too... (none / 0) (#64)
    by canadian ice on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:04:14 PM EST

    i'd just copied the url and was about to paste it... got me by like 10 minutes! bah!




    Beer Bottles don't break if inserted correctly...

    [ Parent ]
    No. (5.00 / 1) (#67)
    by toy on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:07:39 PM EST

    No, that was covered. Different advocacy.



    º
    My buddies



    [ Parent ]
    PC pricks (3.10 / 20) (#70)
    by godix on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:20:26 PM EST

    Usually I use the sex that most commonly does that action; therefore hookers are she, pimps are he, and johns are desperate fucks. A truely generless activity gets labeled as he. The point of communication is to make others understand what you mean and everyone understands the genderless he. Using it also gives the bonus of you quickly learn who is a PC prick who thinks language is for mind control instead of communication. Once you find out they're an asshole the quickest way to get rid of them is to ask 'What the hell is up with that S/he shit? We aren't talking about transexuals, you cunt. Try using English motherfucker, no one can understand your PC shit. And while we're at it, not every black in the world is from Africa OR America you nationalistic biased pinhead.' They tend to go away quickly after that.



    "A disobedient dog is almost as bad as a disobedient girlfriend or wife."
    - A Proud American
    Why not both? (4.50 / 4) (#92)
    by rodoke3 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 09:01:57 PM EST

    Using it also gives the bonus of you quickly learn who is a PC prick who thinks language is for mind control instead of communication.

    Why can't it be used for both. For years, especially in the last century, many use language to affect people's feelings and thus their actions. For example "Shell Shock"-->"Battle Fatigue"-->"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder". Although they describe the same affliction, the three phrases don't exactly have the same affect. "Spin", "connotation", or whatever you want to call it, language can and will be used for "mind control".


    I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


    [ Parent ]
    Clumsy expressions (4.33 / 3) (#183)
    by am3nhot3p on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:48:24 AM EST

    And while we're at it, not every black in the world is from Africa OR America you nationalistic biased pinhead.

    Coming from Britain, the whole African-American thing sounds absurd and clumsy. We tend to call people black, white, or Asian (and we mean a different kind of Asian from your Asian!). Besides, how far back do you go in establishing Africanness? We all came out of Africa in the distant past, apparently. And what about a white, say, Zimbabwean? If they immigrated to America, they wouldn't be African-American, right?

    However, the most amusing example of misuse of the expression has to be the story of the US news presenter who, while interviewing Nelson Mandela, referred to him as an "African-American."



    [ Parent ]
    S/he shit (1.00 / 1) (#234)
    by Cro Magnon on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:32:05 AM EST

    Actually, I WAS talking about a transexual! :)
    Information wants to be beer.
    [ Parent ]
    whares tha fier?? (1.00 / 1) (#71)
    by Grammer Natzi on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:21:04 PM EST

    You kin use their words howevar you want to!

    Singular "they" (3.75 / 4) (#77)
    by Simon Kinahan on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:43:07 PM EST

    Every English style guide I've come across basically says that the singular use of "they" is fine, but that some people are likely to go purple and splutter over it. Almost everyone uses it in conversational English. Several writers much better than the average pedant have used it in written English. Personally, I'm not particularly bothered about gender-neutrality as a principle, I just suspect the mental image connjured up by sentences such as "Someone has left a packet of tampons in the ladies' toilets.  Could he please collect them from reception", is insurmountably wrong, and I object to having to mangle the language my transforming singular sentences into the plural, and other such circumlocutions.

    Simon

    If you disagree, post, don't moderate
    Everyone has their hangups (5.00 / 3) (#89)
    by rodoke3 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 08:53:53 PM EST

    Some are sensitive over (he/she/their/...), others will argue forever over

    a'int

    . Personally, I don't care when people use who when they mean whom, but what really gets on my nerves is when they make the converse of that mistake (e.g. Whom cares?).


    I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


    [ Parent ]
    for a second there (2.50 / 2) (#110)
    by by on on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:33:00 PM EST

    I thought your quote was suggesting that a person be collected! "Could he please collect them from reception."

    [ Parent ]
    The next generation will tell us (3.40 / 5) (#79)
    by BenJackson on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 06:55:54 PM EST

    I still read "he" as a generic pronoun. When I see "she" I think the author meant to limit the statement to women only (though I'm slowly getting over it). "They" is acceptable to me (ahem) and I use it myself from time to time. We won't really know what direction American English is going to take until a new generation of kids grows up and turns our pronoun pidgin into a creole.

    You forgot a possibility (4.42 / 7) (#81)
    by sctfn on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 07:28:58 PM EST

    The solution I've most often heard mentioned is that the author should use his own sex in a sex-neutral position. It's already accepted as grammatically correct, and avoids most questioning.

    What if there are several "authors"? (4.33 / 3) (#146)
    by fraise on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:41:28 AM EST

    I edit translations, and between the original author - which is often not a single person - and the final translation, it goes through at least three stages: original, translation, final edit. So you've got a bare minimum of three different people writing it.

    I've been using "they" for the last year in my work. It's the most accepted usage amongst all the translators and editors I work with, s/he coming in a close second. Myself? I use "he" or "she" depending on how I feel, but remain consistent throughout a document. S/he looks too unnatural to me, except in a few specific cases (legal, for example). In other words, as another poster said, there's no set rule.

    [ Parent ]
    Yeah, like the UN Declaration of Human Rights.. (5.00 / 1) (#446)
    by Jave27 on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:32:26 AM EST

    .. which you can find here.

    It uses the genderless "he", while at the same time, proclaiming all of these rights regardless of sex, race, religion, etc. The PC crowd would probably have a field day with this if they sat down and read the whole thing, but I haven't seen any criticism of it anywhere.

    "Beating up the homeless. It's cruel, but it's a good clean work-out and leaves you feeling winded and superior." - CheeseburgerBrown
    [ Parent ]

    majority (2.00 / 1) (#546)
    by The Shrubber on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 12:38:17 PM EST

    use that of the majority of authors?

    if even number, then use that of the author which comes first alphabetically?

    or shrug?

    [ Parent ]

    "Linguistic Shorthand"? I disagree (3.00 / 5) (#87)
    by rodoke3 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 08:42:25 PM EST

    If a pronoun is more than one syllable in length, the very purpose of that pronoun has become invalid. This should be obvious if you think about it. A pronoun is linguistic shorthand--who ever heard of long-winded shorthand?

    I have to call bullshit on this for two reasons. First, a pronouns purpose is not for "linguistic shorthand". Its purpose is to substitute for nouns and noun phrases. Such as when a particular noun is unknown. Pretty much any use of a pronoun that I have seen is consistent with that definition. Secondly, have you studied a foreign language? Many of them are rife with multisyllabic pronouns. Two languages that come to mind are Spanish and Japanese (e.g nosotros, ustedes, watashi, omae).


    I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky


    Nice SF there hotshot. (4.00 / 5) (#100)
    by sudog on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 10:09:10 PM EST

    " Such as when a particular noun is unknown. "

    That's a lovely sentence fragment you've there. Are you sure you're qualified to lecture the rest of us on grammar and syntax?


    [ Parent ]

    Pro-forms (5.00 / 2) (#142)
    by MonkeyMan on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:25:42 AM EST

    If a pronoun is more than one syllable in length, the very purpose of that pronoun has become invalid. This should be obvious if you think about it. A pronoun is linguistic shorthand--who ever heard of long-winded shorthand?
    I have to call bullshit on this

    The rational for pro-forms (a notion that includes words like "mine", "myself", and "here"): The prototypical use is to refer to something the audience is already aware of - "she" can refer to a female being discussed while "that is disgusting" may refer directly to experiencing a bug splattering on a windshield, rather than any previous mention of that event.

    Yes, all pro-forms can have non pro-form paraphrases (and if the pro-form is not shorter than its paraphrase then it is fairly useless). But it is incorrect to say a pro-form stands for a paraphrase because paraphrases are unbounded - "she" might be "that woman", "that woman in the hat", "that woman in the hat and raincoat", "that woman in the hat and raincoat walking away", etc.

    Pro-forms encode little information - most of what they refer to has to be picked up from context. And often the information encoded is degenerate. In English, the small paridigm examples can encode Number (I : we), Person (I : you : he), Gender (he : she : it), and Case (I : me). However most of the 2*3*3*2 possibilities are not distinguished by different words - Gender is only marked in 3rd Person Singular, and "you" is only marked as 2nd Person and says nothing about the other features. (the degeneracy of "you" gives rise to several augmented versions to introduce plural, such as "you all").

    English also has the notion of diexis (near vs. far) that crops up when not talking about people. E.g. (this : that)(here : there).

    Different languages have different features (or a different number of feature values than English) that can and sometimes must be encoded in pro-forms. Finnish has (as I recall) 17 different Case values. Some languags include "dual" (= 2 individuals) in their Number system (singular : dual : plural). East Asian languages often encode "politeness" features such as (in-group : out-group), (high-status : low-status), (womens-talk : mens-talk).

    And then there are the Classifier languages in which every concept is classified to fall within some moderate sized set of linguistically named categories (such as "long thin thing", "flat sheet-like thing", "dangerous burning thing"). Sometimes these classifications make sense but other times the rational may have been lost in history. [European languages that assign sex to things like chairs are sometimes regarded as having degenerate classifier system]. But anyway, sometimes a naked classifying word, say "ba", is sufficient to act as a pro-form and the audience understands it as a reference to an in-context "ba-like" thing.

    [English is full of second-order classifiers for collections of stuff: "flight of stairs", "loaf of bread", "bunch of grapes", etc., most of which have no independent meaning. Naked use of these is very pro-form like.]

    So, lanugages differ in what features and how much information can (and sometimes must) be encoded in pro-forms. Evolution of languages causes very common words (such as pro-forms) to shorten and their encoded distinctions to be lost (as long as the distinctions might be able to be picked up from context). However some languages like to carry a lot of information in their pro-forms. If some of this info was reduced then it might be hard to make sence of sentences or it might be considered very rude. As a general trend pro-forms tend to be short and carry little information. Making sense of instances where this is not the case can be very interesting.

    [ Parent ]
    Japanese Pronouns (5.00 / 1) (#283)
    by vorfeed on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:58:36 PM EST

    Secondly, have you studied a foreign language? Many of them are rife with multisyllabic pronouns. Two languages that come to mind are Spanish and Japanese (e.g nosotros, ustedes, watashi, omae).

    Even though they're usually referred to as pronouns, words like "omae" and "watashi" are not strictly such - they are technically nouns. English pronouns are usually used as a shorter way to refer to someone who has already been mentioned. Japanese doesn't need such a shortcut, because in Japanese you already drop the previously-established word in that situation. Unless you're talking to or about someone extremely familiar, or you need to distinguish yourself or your owned item from another, you usually don't use these words. Even the "owned item" usage doesn't come up as often as it does in English, because Japanese has special words for many of the common things that might belong to one as opposed to someone else (relatives, house, wife or husband, etc).

    On top of that, Japanese pronouns did not evolve in the same way English ones did, and they're not really used for the same purpose. Today's Japanese pronouns all come from lowering words that eventually became more polite (perhaps through self-effacing usage), or elevating words that eventually became more rude (perhaps through sarcastic usage). For example, "omae" used to be a polite way to refer to someone, but now it is considered rude. In another hundred years, "anata" might well become rude, and "otaku" might take its place, with a new super-polite word taking the place of "otaku". In this way, Japanese pronouns have less to do with shortening speech or standing in for a noun phrase, and more to do with tagging where the speaker's social level is with respect to the audience and the subject/object of the sentence.

    Japanese and the Japanese: Words in Culture, by Takao SUZUKI, has an entire chapter dedicated to the evolution and use of Japanese pronouns. It's really quite an interesting book, you should check it out if Japanese interests you.  

    Vorfeed's Black Metal review page
    [ Parent ]

    Maybe that's why... (none / 0) (#460)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:15:12 PM EST

    the Spanish leave out the nominative pronoun 90% of the time.

    "[Nosotros] vamos al cinema."

    "Nosotros" would almost always be left out here.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    Alternating pronouns (1.83 / 6) (#90)
    by 3ebnut on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 08:54:26 PM EST

    Sometimes a writer spends the whole book/article writing "he" throughout, and he is probably going to be considered as not even thinking about the gender stigma attached to that word. On the other hand, when a writer switches between "he" and "she" from one hypothetical person to the next, it will be clear that she is even-handed and can see people of any gender in any scenario.

    What isn't clear (5.00 / 5) (#97)
    by godix on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 09:38:19 PM EST

    ...is what's going on. The switching of pronouns stops clear understand. Instead of concentrating on your message the reader is concentrating on 'did we switch people all of a sudden or did the character suddenly decide to get in touch with his female side?' Even worse are the people who don't pick up what you're doing, your writing will be considered 'wrong' even though they can't place why. Your book will get thrown away as 'just another bad author' along with any point you may have had beyond the pronoun switch. If you want people to understand what you say pick a pronoun and stick with it.


    "A disobedient dog is almost as bad as a disobedient girlfriend or wife."
    - A Proud American
    [ Parent ]
    Horribly lame (5.00 / 5) (#104)
    by jjayson on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 10:33:59 PM EST

    While having hypothetical people of different genders is useful for breaking up monotony, switching the gender of a person, as you did, is inexcusable.
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    on the other hand... (5.00 / 3) (#120)
    by coderlemming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:31:39 AM EST

    Sometimes a writer spends the whole book/article writing "he" throughout, because he has chosen to maintain consistency in his writing. On the other hand, when a writer switches between "he" and "she" from one hypothetical person to the next, the reader will be slapped in the face at every pronoun choice with the fact that the author has chosen an inelegant solution to the problem.


    --
    Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
    [ Parent ]
    Simpler solution. (4.13 / 15) (#99)
    by sudog on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 10:05:19 PM EST

    Just use "he" and ignore the complaints.

    Seems easy enough to me. "He" has been neutered as a pronoun over centuries of use anyway. Every reasonable human I talk to knows that even though "he" is masculine, we don't mean it in the oppressive, patriarchal sense. We use it in the gender-neutral, practical, and familiar sense.

    Using "he" is not a horrible comspiracy dredged up out of the slime of some evil male genius' rape fantasies, and continuing to use it doesn't subconsciously oppress the women who hear it.

    So what difference does it make if a few obnoxious pro-PC hangers-on from the 90s continue to make a stink about it? None to me.

    Don't transform "they" into a singular when it's easier, and less ambiguous in many cases, to simply ignore PC and use "he."


    Written by a male? (2.66 / 3) (#269)
    by ScotC on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:44:26 PM EST

    As long as we're "ignoring PC", why not bring back other words with centuries of traditional use, like dago, spic, nigger, kike, chink, etc.? So what if a few obnoxious pro-civil rights hangers-on from the '60s don't like it.

    The use of "he" doesn't have to be "a horrible comspiracy [sic] dredged up out of the slime of some evil male genius' rape fantasies" to be found offensive. In fact, suggesting that it is such a conspiracy is nothing more than a pathetic straw man argument.

    As for whether it subconsciously oppresses women, that's hard to say. I doubt that sudog has the expertise to reach such a conclusion, or that he can cite any valid research that supports that opinion. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that gender bias in our language influences us as a society to some degree. And since it's not a big deal to use more neutral language, I don't see any good reason not to.

    I agree that "they" isn't the answer, but there's nothing wrong with using "he or she" or with alternating between he and she, which seems to be growing in popularity.

    [ Parent ]

    There is a simple enough counter to your examples. (5.00 / 1) (#421)
    by sudog on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:59:24 AM EST

    ..and that is: The terms you mention are specifically derogatory, and were designed to be so from the get-go. The pronoun "he," on the other hand, is not used in a specifically derogatory sense and thus your argument falls apart.

    My mention of an evil genius' rape fantasy was obvious hyperbole. The fact that you took it as anything more than sarcasm suggests you need a few courses in simple language comprehension.

    If "he" is an oppressive gender bias and most first-world countries are male-dominated, then why do feminine forms (such as those in German for example) arise in similar circumstances?

    Using "he or she" is uncomfortable and lengthy--especially if you alternate. It's also jarring to read and will be so until you can get mainstream acceptance and retroactively fix all popular literature. In about a generation, it'll be normally accepted.

    Of course, slightly more reasonable people like myself are going to ignore you, use the pronoun "he," and then laugh and point at whoever calls me a misogynist.

    *shrug* Worrying about it and feeling guilty about the natural evolution of the English language are not things anyone here (or elsewhere) should concern himself with, unless he is also willing to gut every possible reference to the patriarchy in the rest of the language also, or replace English entirely with a genderless, man-made language.

    It's a waste of time to worry about a single pronoun while ignoring the rest of it.


    [ Parent ]

    too simple, it turns out (1.50 / 2) (#487)
    by ScotC on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:33:31 PM EST

    The terms you mention are specifically derogatory, and were designed to be so from the get-go. The pronoun "he," on the other hand, is not used in a specifically derogatory sense and thus your argument falls apart.

    My argument was not based on whether words are designed to be derogatory or not. It is enough that some words used in specific ways offend significant numbers of people, and that the people who use those words that way do so knowing they will be offending those people. I don't see a huge moral difference between using a specifically derogatory term and using a "neutral" term in a way you know many people find offensive.

    Using "he or she" is uncomfortable and lengthy--especially if you alternate.

    Yes, I imagine those extra five characters (and let's not forget the two spaces!) add significant wear and tear to your keyboard. Or, if you're using she instead of he every other time, that's a whole extra letter for every two occurrences of he. How do people put up with it?

    My mention of an evil genius' rape fantasy was obvious hyperbole. The fact that you took it as anything more than sarcasm...

    OK, so when you wrote, "Using "he" is not a horrible comspiracy [sic] dredged up out of the slime of some evil male genius' rape fantasies, and continuing to use it doesn't subconsciously oppress the women who hear it.", it was just sarcasm. That means you aren't seriously denying that always using he could subconsciously oppress women. I'm glad we agree.

    Of course, slightly more reasonable people like myself are going to ignore you, use the pronoun "he," and then laugh and point at whoever calls me a misogynist.

    I didn't actually call you a misogynist, but you seem to think you deserve to be called one. I'm sure you have your reasons.

    [ Parent ]

    children, children (and my pronoun treatise) (3.00 / 2) (#507)
    by fringd on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 04:28:59 AM EST

    chill the fuck out. you're at each other's throats. what is it about talking on the net that can make people get pissed off so quick. you fuckers. stop magnifying the hatred in everything you read before responding.

    ok, now i'd like to make some observations. ScotC is obviously appalled at the suggestion that maybe this whole 'down with he' thing is a bit over the top. personally i can see the sense in both sides here. that's because i'm a chickenshit fence-walker.

    first, while i am all for equality and inclusion, i can see instances where the use of 'he' instead of 'he or she' is fine. "if the user cannot read his mail, he or she should reboot his or her machine." his or her is wordy, and i doubt anybody cares enough to justify the waste of his or her braincells involved in this song and dance.

    in the following sentence however "every gynecologist should warm the tools before she uses them." we are compelled to believe that all gynecologists are female. in a situation like this, we could really use something like "before they use them." it sounds natural, so why not. fuck the grammar nazis.

    singular they is not best for all sentences however. "when a person drinks and drives, he throws away his life." becomes "when a person drinks and drives, they throw away their life." drives/throw a bit akward. there is a switch from singular to plural. it is more obvious still here: "a person is what they are." is/are is/are akward. how many people are we talking about? all told, we're better off laying down the heavy hand of matriarchy and opressing males with "a person is what she is." "when a person drinks and drives, she throws away her life." or don't change at all, yay patriarchy!

    i would now like to recommend a they/he combination method, using each method where it's suited. problem solved. or is it? some phrases really confound even this two tiered assault. let's examine the following sentence where we talk about a specific person whose gender we do not know: "when i finally see my new family doctor for the first time, i hope he can find out what's wrong with my bum knee." it feels wrong to give dr. example a penis and beard so prematurely. if it were an indefinate, conceptualized person we were talking about, 'he' might be fine, but here it's not. we'll feel akward if we guess wrong, and some akward situations can arise from communicating with others wrongly. can't we just leave this person's gender out of the picture?

    "i know," you're thinking, "'he' is out, fine, let's use they!" i'm sorry to break the news, but since it's a rather individualized person, 'they' will not work well either. it sounds akward, listen: "when i finally see my new lifelong personal doctor that will handle me for the rest of my life and be my guardian and companion, dr. example who comes highly recommended, the fabulous, the wonderful, the mysterious, and most of all the specific definate individual, i hope they can find out what's wrong with my bum knee." i laid it on pretty thickly, but you get the point. the more specific you make the person, the less you can use 'they' as a pronoun. eventually the person just becomes too singular and definate to use a plural pronoun for. a short example might look like this: "i've never seen pat, what color is their hair?" the gender neutral name has left you hanging, so he and she are out, chris is a specific person though, so they will be of no help. all told i cannot think of an elegant way to handle chris and dr. example. they are specific well defined people whose gender we do not know.

    these akward spots come up in my conversations from time to time. for some people like transgendered folk, they come up ALOT. transgendered folk often like to reserve judgement on someone's gender for a pretty good term after meeting them. not assigning one until it is well understood through communication. in these circles, artificial constructs like ze,zim,zir or hir,hirm,hirs are starting to find footing. let's try it on for size: "when i see my new family doctor for the first time, i hope ze can find out what's wrong with my bum knee." "i've never met chris, what color is hirs hair?" not terrible, fairly similar sounding to he/she, fairly similar to his/her. almost understandable without any explanation. best of all, it walks the line pretty well, no tits or balls on chris or the doc just yet.

    as an aside, another goofy pronoun that i hear transgendered cats in philadelphia have taken a particular liking to is "pirate." as in "so pirate walks into a bar and orders a drink. the bartender says blah blah and then pirate says blank blank." or "any pirate can have pirate's way at joe's bar." to piratize our example sentences: "when i see my new family doctor for the first time, i hope pirate can find out what's wrong with my bum knee." "i've never met chris, what color is pirate's hair?" strange and a bit confusing admittedly, but again there's no gender assignment, and it's kind of entertaining. :)

    so finally i'd like to purpose a system of choosing one of 'he' or 'she' as deemed currently appropriate, combined with 'he or she', combined with 'they', combined finally with 'ze,zim,zir' or 'pirate' or whatever when really desperate.

    now that i've laid my cards on the table give me a moment to make a summary and some too-late justifications. i hope i've shown that no single pre-existing pronoun seems to suffice alone for 3rd person singular neuter; 'they' singular is good (despite it's bad-grammar rap) but not generally applicable enough to fill all the gaps; 'he or she' is too wordy for everyday use; 'he' or 'she' is not inclusive enough for some sentences (even for the most politically-incorrect); ze,zim,zir' and it's bretheren will be a battle to introduce, although it may be worth trying; i won't touch on pirate ;)

    we will never be rid of all of the old broken ways we already use, but by bringing back some older less broken ways (they), by not being pc nazis (he), by bringing forth some new futuristic ways (ze), and finally by using the right tool for the job, i think we can communicate clearly and without bias in a world of ever more gender-sensitive people.

    god, it's late and i've been editing this alot to try and get my plan right/explain this all clearly. any responses will make me feel like my life is not a horrible waste. sorry for calling you fuckers.

    k, peace out
      -ram

    [ Parent ]

    And on.. and on... (4.00 / 1) (#567)
    by sudog on Mon Jun 23, 2003 at 12:37:19 PM EST

    Some people claim to be offended by other perfectly normal and innocent words. What needs to be considered is whether the basis for offense is rational. From that foundation, then, a decision can be made as to whether or not to continue to use the terminology.

    The root of this argument is whether someone's offense at the term "he" is rational in the context of its use as a neutral pronoun, and furthermore whether it is rational for the rest of the (majority) of the population to discontinue to use the term in the face of that offense. It is my contention that it is not in either case.

    Is it your contention that it is rational for some to take offense? Further, it seems to be your contention that even though it is not rational to expect the rest of the populace to discontinue using a term, that fact is irrelevant, and they should stop using it anyway.

    Most people use the pronoun "he" without a specific derogatory meaning in mind and are thus innocent of deliberate insult or oppression. Even those people who choose to use the word "he" even though others have made the claim that the term offends certain people, are innocent of specific insult because the term is generic and they use it with a clean conscience. Wouldn't it do more damage to "The Man" in the long-run to subvert the meaning of the pronoun to a neutered one rather than pissing people off by correcting them based solely on politically-correct grounds?

    The discomfort is not from using the extra words or sentences. "He or she" can be ambiguous and so the reader is forced to decide what is meant each time the term is encountered. Reading material with "he or she" littered throughout it is a jarring experience, and is often the sign of a deliberate ploy on the part of the author to raise awareness of the anti-"he" pronoun movement.

    Alternating between "she" and "he" is similarly jarring, because changing the pronoun often is also ambiguous and could mean the author was discussing two distinct individuals rather than one nebulous one. I have no problem at all reading the pronoun "she" if it's used consistently throughout a work; however, using "he or she" or "he" then "she" is not only a waste of time, but will waste more of the reader's time as well as they try to understand what you're talking about.

    You see, nobody has a problem with using "she" exclusively except for those people who have difficulty reconciling the fact that the word "he" is embedded in the term, and those who don't want to seem like hypocrits by being logically inconsistent with their own arguments.

    The point is, that the people "doing" the "oppressing" don't care one way or the other, so long as there's consistency and flow--so the people who have a problem are only fighting with themselves over what term should be used, when in actuality the simplest solution is just to use the term "she" as a direct counterbalance and never indulge in the "oppressive" side of it again.

    Bastardizing the rest of the language is a far, far poorer choice.

    And you ignored my statements..  again. I said "obvious hyperbole." You do know what hyperbole is, right? Go look it up.. I'll wait.

    Okay? Done?

    Do I still need to explain what I was doing by mentioning the fictional "Man" who oppresses the black man, who oppresses women, who subverts culture and language, who owns every major corporation, and who rapes the planet and pillages the hard-working people of every nation? If so, don't bother replying, because this conversation can go nowhere.

    I'm not denying that some women can feel oppressed by my use of the pronoun "he." To state otherwise would be to ignore the simple facts right before my nose. What I am denying is that it is rational for them to feel oppressed by my use of the term, and that it is rational for them to expect the rest of the world to conform to their politically-correct world view.

    What they don't seem to grasp is the inconsistency of what they're asking to begin with: They feel that my vocabulary oppresses them in some way; yet, they ignore the fact that their attempt to control the way I speak or write is a far more overt attempt at oppression directed at myself. Now I ask you--how do they reconcile this problem? Why, by claiming that the insult is greater on their part, and thus by invalidating my rights as an individual and as part of the greater whole.

    By their logic, all I'd have to do is become *more* offended than they, and they'd drop it. Of course, we all know what happens then. I get to be called a misogynist.

    Rather than introducing more barriers to communication than there already are, wouldn't it be more constructive facilitate better communication by actively attemping to understand what was meant by an author instead? This last is especially for you, by the way.


    [ Parent ]

    faulty premise (1.00 / 1) (#568)
    by ScotC on Mon Jun 23, 2003 at 06:12:35 PM EST

    Some people claim to be offended by other perfectly normal and innocent words. What needs to be considered is whether the basis for offense is rational.

    I disagree already. If a complaint is sincere, even if it is not rational, it is worth taking into consideration, especially if it is shared by a large number of people.

    That doesn't mean I agree that being offended by he is irrational, just that I don't think rationality is relevant to the issue.

    Even those people who choose to use the word "he" even though others have made the claim that the term offends certain people, are innocent of specific insult because the term is generic and they use it with a clean conscience.

    That sounds like a rationalization to me. You seem to think that offense happens (or doesn't happen) when a word is spoken (or written), and that the intention of the speaker determines whether the word is offensive. I think it's more realistic to think that the offense happens when the word is heard (or read), and that the listener decides whether the word is offensive. Your way of looking at it reminds me of a Simpson's episode, where Bart says he's going to swing his fists around in circles, and if Lisa happens to get in the way, it's her fault. It's basically saying that you know your actions will quite likely hurt someone, but you don't care because you're not specifically trying to. I guess you could call it linguistic collateral damage.

    You see, nobody has a problem with using "she" exclusively...

    I don't know of anyone who does that, and I would have a problem with it if someone did.

    Look, I'm not trying to oppress you, or to force anyone into using language in a way he's not comfortable with. I certainly don't "expect" anyone to use more neutral language just because I think it's a good idea. It just seems to me that the people who complain the loudest about "political correctness" (which is a term used almost exclusively by people who are opposed to it) are the ones who benefit from the status quo, i.e. white males. Is that coincidence? I doubt it. I am a white male, but I am not in denial about the fact that I probably get treated better than I would be if I were a woman or a minority. When women and minorities say they are discriminated against, I don't assume they're all lying. If a simple change to the way I use pronouns can level the playing field even a little, it seems like a small price to pay. The language will survive.

    [ Parent ]

    .. and on .. (3.00 / 1) (#569)
    by sudog on Tue Jun 24, 2003 at 01:07:13 PM EST

    I disagree already. If a complaint is sincere, even if it is not rational, it is worth taking into consideration, especially if it is shared by a large number of people.

    You are missing something important: in order to decide whether it is rational, it must be considered. To decide that it is irrational without consideration is, for lack of a better term, stupid.

    I find it interesting that you would ascribe such an act to me without considering the possibility that I do consider new complaints, have considered old ones, have weighed their merits, and based on the anti-"he" proponents' claims have rejected them as irrational.

    At this point, we are beginning to argue semantics, and since you are incapable of making anything but assumptions, and since you have apparently not noticed the fact that I was using "they" rather than "he" in my notes (as I'd hoped you would,) I no longer find you a challenge to converse with.

    Your logic is incorrect: if we must always worry about offense on the part of the listener, we get quagmired in political correctness rather than actually attempting to communicate. Graciousness on the part of the listener when it's obvious the speaker meant no affront is pure nobility; take a lesson from the Queen, who slurps from her soup bowl if someone at her table does in order to lessen the embarrassment once the poor manners are eventually exposed. Note that someone who uses the term "he" knowingly is most likely not doing it out of a sense of poor manners. By bringing up this example, I am merely suggesting that it is uncouth to criticise a speaker when considering the situation from the irrational viewpoint of the anti-"he" proponents.

    It is far more useful for the listener or reader to attempt to understand what is being said, rather than negatively commenting on the mode of communication.

    You also appear to be stripping all context out of specific phrases, letting them stand on their own, and trying to expose them as logical fallacies. On their own they appear to be. However, what I tried to imply in my original note was that the people *doing* the oppressing don't care what pronoun is used, just that there is good diction and flow. (Notice how this goes back to reader comprehension.) The implication was that "nobody" was the majority of people who don't actually care about the pronoun debate one way or the other. The fact that you stripped the word "nobody" out to let it stand on its own just means that arguing with you is pointless after all. I was hoping it wouldn't be.

    This argument is over. And, now that you know I won't be responding to any further notes in this thread, do yourself a favour and don't waste your time responding again to this one.

    [ Parent ]
    Voice: the determining factor (3.50 / 2) (#103)
    by opendna on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 10:24:51 PM EST

    Personally, I believe the choice of pronouns should be made with the same care and caution as any other word. There's no more a "correct pronoun" than there is a "correct vocabulary".

    I'm just as careful when faced with a choice of he, she, they, it, I, we, you as I would be when faced with chosing a word meaning "bad": nauseating, ill, rotten, mischievous, stale, tainted, unruly, immoral, inferior...?

    One could lecture one's students to sleep on the topic of pronouns and prepositions and other pompus poppycock. A student might head the lessons; his prose will be as colorful as the rules. Another might rebel so that hers are so incomprehensibly obscured by post-modern linguistic variation that s/he loses all track of what he/she was... uh... what? Another will mimic our professor and affect a tone we all recognize. You illiterate technofreaks are so deep in your C++ porn accumulators you probably haven't even noticed the difference because you're too busy playing language police. When confronted with the kind of human defect that likes to play language cop there are very few choices: you can ignore it, destroy it or tell it to go fuck itself.

    The point I'm trying to make is that these words affect how I sound. No doubt there is a fetal reject that doesn't like that I put periods outside parentheses (e.g. "correct vocabulary".), refuse to sandwich apostrophes between S' (e.g. others' writing) and end sentences with prepositions. It knows what to do to itself because "this is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put". (Winston Churchill)



    Prepositions at the ends of sentences (3.00 / 1) (#114)
    by Carennann on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:41:57 PM EST

    Anyone objecting to my use of a preposition at the end of sentence will be spat on.

    [ Parent ]
    It isn't always correct. (none / 0) (#126)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:49:59 AM EST

    Currently, it is considered good style to avoid putting a prepositiona at the end of a sentence, unless it is clearer to leave it there. Many sentences can be rewritten to have a proper preposition phrase, and they should be changed. The Churchill example shows this, too.

    However grammar changes, and in a decade there might not be any aversion to it.
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]

    What I use varies... (3.50 / 4) (#105)
    by dipierro on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:08:43 PM EST

    I generally switch between "he", "she", and "s/he". Sometimes I find a way to just reword the sentence completely (rarely with "one" though). This usually helps you to be politically correct, grammatically correct, and still not sound like a pedant! As for s/he...

    "S/he." Sure, it looks ugly, but at least it's short and gender-inclusive! Short, that is, until you try to speak it. The consensus is simply to spread out the term to the phrase, "she or he."

    I generally pronounce "s/he" as "she." A lot of times I'll throw in a "he" or a "she" in an unexpected place just to startle people. I especially like using "she" as the genderless pronoun to represent a mass murderer, rapist, terrorist, or hacker. Yep, I use the term "hacker" too.



    That's why I use 'she' (3.50 / 2) (#431)
    by Homburg on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:08:21 AM EST

    When I write anything, I find using 'she' all the time seems wierd, particularly when referring to rapists, hackers, or even people with military ranks ('The General began to plan her attack').

    That, of course, is why I think it's a good reason to use 'she' as the gender-unspecific pronoun; not because of some abstract 'fairness', but because it makes us think more about gender-related stereotypes as we encounter them.

    The only difficulty with this is when discussing authors in the past, who used 'he' to refer to any person, not because they were using it as gender-neutral, but because the only people they thought worth mentioning were male. If I find myself having to paraphrase Hobbes, for example, it would distort his sense to use 'she', but would imply more conscious gender-specificity than he actually had, to use 'he', so I tend to go for 'they' in that context.

    [ Parent ]

    Scary (1.00 / 1) (#106)
    by The Central Committee on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:10:56 PM EST

    I was never taught that "he" is a genderless pronoun. I will now endevour to use it as much as possible to make up for lost time.

    You personaly are the reason I cannot believe in a compassionate god, a creature of ineffable itelligence would surely know better than to let someone like you exist. - dorc

    but it isn't (4.16 / 6) (#132)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:25:04 AM EST

    Grammatical gender is a fucking complicated thing. (Hey, I'm making a career out of it, so trust me on this.)

    He is a grammatically masculine pronoun, not "genderless"; if it were truly "genderless" we would not be able to state gender agreement rules for English. You can't say the following sentence at all: if a farmer owns a donkey, then he's pleased with herself. The reflexive herself has to agree in gender with its antecedent he. The reason the sentence is ungrammatical is because the subject pronoun is indeed masculine.

    The thing is that one has to be extremely careful not to confuse the grammatical notions "masculine" (he), "feminine" (she) and "neuter" (it) with the semantic ones "male", "female", "inanimate object" and "animate being of indeterminate (natural) gender." The heart of the matter is that there are 4 meanings involved here, but only three pronouns, and thus one of the pronouns gets "overloaded": he gets used for both the first and the last of these.

    So, to wrap it up: he is a masculine pronoun, which is used both to refer to males and to animate beings of indeterminate gender. There are two kinds of rules involved: rules that make reference to grammatical genders like "masculine" (the subject-reflexive agreement rule), and rules that refer to meanings like "male" and "female" (the rule that says that the notion "male" is expressed by a masculine pronoun).

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    The solution I last heard (1.00 / 1) (#107)
    by Anonymous 242 on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:14:45 PM EST

    My last English composition course that covered the topic stated that the current best practice was to alternate use of 'he' and 'she' throughout a work. When introducing a gender-unknown person to be referred to, use either 'he' or 'she.' The next time a gender-unknown person is introduced, use the pronoun not used first time around.

    careful... (4.00 / 1) (#119)
    by coderlemming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:24:36 AM EST

    It's pretty easy to slip up and refer to the same non-gendered entity as both "he" and "she" in successive sentences. You'd think it'd be simple enough to pay attention to what you're doing, but if you're writing a long paper/article/essay and doing lots of editing and the same non-gendered entity is referred to a ways down in the paper, well, mistakes can happen that just bring attention to the fact that it's still awkward to refer to someone in a non-gender-specific manner.


    --
    Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
    [ Parent ]
    you too (4.66 / 3) (#133)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:37:15 AM EST

    It's pretty easy to slip up and refer to the same non-gendered entity as both "he" and "she" in successive sentences.

    As a general rule, you use grammatically neuter pronouns (e.g. it) to refer to non-gendered entities in English; a "non-gendered entity" is an inanimate being, e.g. a rock, and you usually don't call a rock a "he" or a "she".

    What you mean to say is "animate being of undeterminate gender"; and even this is just an approximation to a good characterization.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    you're right (none / 0) (#230)
    by coderlemming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:27:24 AM EST

    Bleah. My bad. I was trying to be brief but I ended up saying the wrong thing. I think that's a great example of how difficult this situation is.


    --
    Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
    [ Parent ]
    Is it even a pronoun? (3.00 / 1) (#419)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:44:06 AM EST

    Err, huh?  The word it wasn't refering to any entity that could posses a specific sex that I can think of, although I'm at a loss as to exactly what word it refers to here.  Trying to deconstruct that sentence just befuddles me, but you can't just drop in "animate being of undeterminate gender" to replace anything without some major restructuring such as "An animate being of undeterminate gender will pretty easily slip up..."  Which is switching from passive to active voice isn't it?  In fact you could rewrite the original as "It's pretty easy for an animate being of undeterminate gender to slip up..." which kind of undermines your objection.

    The usage of the contraction it's here appears to be a shortcut for "It is [verb phrase] for one..."  If it's considered right or wrong I have no idea, but it's fairly common usage...

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]

    I've done this (5.00 / 2) (#221)
    by Cro Magnon on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:59:22 AM EST

    Not when writing but when talking! I was talking to my mom about a hypothetical situation, alternating my "he's" & "she's", and Mom asked if this person was a transvestite!
    Information wants to be beer.
    [ Parent ]
    You're right. (3.25 / 4) (#109)
    by CheeseburgerBrown on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:31:56 PM EST

    I use they, they use they. It's pretty common, isn't it? I thought this issue had already pretty much already been decided through usage. Am I wrong?

    (...It's also good because it reminds me of giant radioactive ants. Giant radioactive ants are cool.)


    ___
    I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski. Personally, I pref
    Here comes (t)he (3.33 / 3) (#111)
    by mami on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:34:43 PM EST

    Language Police.

    As of today it is political and morally incorrect to use the word "he".

    Language is formed by those who use it.

    That, my friend, is self-deception. I think of "he" and talk of "him" and dream of "his" definitely too much - in secret of course, because the language police is watching my mind and punishes me, if HE goes HIS own ways.

    Oh that PC stuff (3.00 / 2) (#135)
    by morkeleb on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:00:00 AM EST

    Is about as dead and buried as the Dot Bombs....I wouldn't stress.


    "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry." - Emily Dickinson
    [ Parent ]
    no idea what you are talking about (none / 0) (#341)
    by mami on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:04:19 PM EST

    may you didn't either what I tried to talk about as well. Forget it.

    [ Parent ]
    But if we accept (3.91 / 12) (#112)
    by scatbubba on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:35:25 PM EST

    "But if we accept that "he" is no longer valid as a singular, genderless pronoun"

    We don't.

    er, ok... (2.00 / 6) (#117)
    by coderlemming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:20:18 AM EST

    Then stop reading the article, since you're not even granting the author the article's premise. Don't be a dick.


    --
    Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
    [ Parent ]
    King-sized douche alert!!!!! (3.16 / 6) (#122)
    by Hide The Hamster on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:29:19 AM EST

    WOOOP! WOOOP! WOOOP! WOOOP!


    Free spirits are a liability.

    August 8, 2004: "it certainly is" and I had engaged in a homosexual tryst.

    [ Parent ]
    Call me crazy... (4.60 / 5) (#115)
    by Matt Oneiros on Mon Jun 16, 2003 at 11:51:39 PM EST

    but in my world the only genderless, grammatically sound, alternative to using he or she is "one".

    Personally, I vary the uses. In speech I use "they" because I already have horrible spoken grammar so that's an odd place to start correcting myself. In a fairly casual document such as a FAQ I use "he" and "she" equally. In formal papers I use "one".

    I also use "one" to make people feel mentally inferior. In the case of "they", I often use it to confuse people.

    Lobstery is not real
    signed the cow
    when stating that life is merely an illusion
    and that what you love is all that's real

    heh... I'm gonna start using "neo" (nt) (3.50 / 4) (#124)
    by Run4YourLives on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:47:07 AM EST



    It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown
    [ Parent ]
    I would also prefer "one" (4.00 / 2) (#171)
    by Viliam Bur on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:34:15 AM EST

    if I were an English speaker. (Or probably "the one" - when refering to already mentioned person.)

    But we still need to check for PC-ness:
    Does pronoun "one" discriminate people who are more than one?
    Answer: If they are more than one, they are not a minority, so they can be discriminated. Everything is OK. :)

    [ Parent ]

    You're crazy (4.00 / 2) (#175)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:37:45 AM EST

    "One" implies genericality - "Crazy people try one's patience" means that the patience of people in general is tried by people who are crazy, not that there is a specific person of unspecified gender whose patience is tried by crazy people (c.f., "crazy people try her patience").

    "It" would pretty much cover what you're describing, except that there's a difference between gender-unspecified and ungendered.


    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    Of course it implies an amount of generality, but (none / 0) (#349)
    by Matt Oneiros on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:17:14 PM EST

    I follow what I am taught and what I have read.

    From  Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style"
    In formal usage, the pronoun one is sometimes used as a generic pronoun meaning "anyone": One would hope that train service could be improved. The informal counterpart of one is you: You never know what to expect from her. Trouble arises when you use one in a series of sentences. You must choose a relative pronoun to refer back to one. You can of course use one and one's repeatedly, as in One tries to be careful about where one invests one's money. But in a sequence of sentences this may start to become tedious. A traditional alternative has been to use he, him, and his: One tries to be careful about his investments. This has the drawback of raising the specter of gender bias. For a more detailed discussion of this problem, see the entry for he under Gender. Because of these problems, the temptation may arise to switch to you, but this will undoubtedly be distracting to your readers. It's better to use the same generic pronoun throughout.

    See also the discussion of gender the reference here.

    Perhaps this is not "correct" modern usuage in some eyes. So long as I am graded based on how closely I follow these guides, I will follow them.

    Lobstery is not real
    signed the cow
    when stating that life is merely an illusion
    and that what you love is all that's real
    [ Parent ]

    You're not following the guides (none / 0) (#454)
    by synaesthesia on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:11:11 PM EST

    The guides are describing a different use of the word "one". "Crazy people try one's patience" is not a less gender-specific way of saying "Crazy people try his patience". It's got a different meaning.

    Can you not see the difference between "Someone who can't speak English ought not to be allowed to speak to one's fellow countrymen" and "Someone who can't speak English ought not to be allowed to speak to his fellow countrymen"?


    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    They is / They are (4.00 / 2) (#121)
    by duncan bayne on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:11:45 AM EST

    I hate the use of 'they' as a singular - it isn't, & it sounds sloppy.  In particular, it causes no end of confusion as to the plurality of associated words.

    E.g.:

      If someone wears a red hat, they is a clown.
      If someone wears a red hat, they are a clown.
      If someone wears a red hat, they are clowns.

    All of the above are truly horrible.  

    Better to adopt 'he' (or 'she') as being potentially gender-neutral, to avoid confusion.

    I wish the article had addressed this... (4.00 / 3) (#155)
    by rvcx on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:53:26 AM EST

    ...but I think it's obvious (meaning I don't know enough about grammar to back it up with reason) that 'they' should continue to be conjugated as third-person plural, but should otherwise be considered to be used as a 'collective' noun and thus compatible with singular nominals (nominatives? I've forgotten my terminology...). So I'd support your second example as 'correct usage'.

    It isn't even unusual for plural nouns or pronouns to equate to singular constructs.

    E.g.:

      The managers of Microsoft are a bunch of goons.
      The managers are a problem.
      They are an embarassment.

    In this sense, I don't feel at all uncomfortable with "They are a clown." The suggestion is that the entire collective forms a single clown, and if the entire collective consists of one person, then it makes some sense. It sounds a bit weird because it's still not (very) common usage, but I think the construct is logical.

    [ Parent ]

    Agreed. (3.00 / 2) (#231)
    by yet another coward on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:27:47 AM EST

    I cringe when I hear something along the lines of "Everybody is too stupid to admit that they are stupid." The number of people cannot have increaased that quickly within the sentence.

    [ Parent ]
    Yes and no. . . (3.00 / 1) (#298)
    by Fantastic Lad on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:33:28 PM EST

    If someone wears a red hat, they is a clown.
    If someone wears a red hat, they are a clown.
    If someone wears a red hat, they are clowns.

    'Someone' is a word which refers to any person in a group. To then apply 'He' to it makes the selection less random by approximately one half, or implies that the group is only made up of males. Hence it becomes a somewhat illogical use of grammar if nothing else.

    Just because certain word groupings have been around for a long time does not mean that they necessarily make good sense.

    English is a very adaptable language. Anybody who isn't being deliberately stubborn can come up with something else which is both effective and graceful. (Or would people rather I say, "If somebody isn't being deliberately stubborn, he can come up with something else which is both effective and graceful."?)

    -FL

    [ Parent ]

    in German... (none / 0) (#305)
    by arbofnot on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:14:19 PM EST

    German uses "Sie" (capitalized) as a 2nd-person formal pronoun. It is used like a plural ("they") for verb conjugation, although it is closer to the uncapitalized "sie" ("she") in spelling. Girl ("mädchen") is a neuter noun, while a male cat is still feminine. Real/perceived gender, verb conjugation, and pronouns do not necessarily match. English does not exibit these quirks in the same way. So if you are more familiar with English, it may appear less arbitrary than it is.



    [ Parent ]
    Sie/sie/sie... (none / 0) (#461)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:28:07 PM EST

    German uses "Sie" (capitalized) as a 2nd-person formal pronoun. It is used like a plural ("they") for verb conjugation, although it is closer to the uncapitalized "sie" ("she") in spelling

    How is "Sie" (you, formal) closer to "sie" (they) than "sie" (she) in spelling? That makes no sense.

    a male cat is still feminine

    The word for male cat is "Kater", and is masculine, and you can use it if the sex of the animal is relevant.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    The second of your examples sounds fine to me.(nt) (none / 0) (#393)
    by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:22:10 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Platonic Ideals (5.00 / 1) (#422)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:01:08 AM EST

    Okay, but why is 'they' only plural?  Most likely because A) People use it that way or B) Because books that we use to define language say that it is.  Unless you're going to argue that language is something that exists extrinsically as some sort of Platonic Ideal that we're trying to match then the only arguement you have is that it sounds sloppy to you.  But that's the whole point here, the arguement is that there are ideas that people try to express, but have great difficulty doing so because almost no matter how they try to phrase the idea it comes out sounding sloppy to someone.  The arguement is that we can rewrite grammer books and make 'they' singular and plural, and once everyone uses it for a while it won't sound sloppy anymore.  As a matter of fact your second example doesn't actually sound sloppy to many people in my experience, but when it's written in formal contexts people think it looks sloppy.  At least half of the battle has already been won, and the rest will be easy once people make a conscious decision that it is so.

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    bias against men (4.92 / 14) (#123)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:40:25 AM EST

    I object to "he" being the gender neutral construct because it is sexist against men. Women get a whole pronoun dedicated specifically to them, but men do not? That's bullshit. If you want to refer to men, you have to use some unspecific pronoun that could still be referring to a woman. Half the population treated as just a side note. The bias even stretches further. We refer to boats as "she." We refer to most countries as "she." Fuck that shit, yo.

    (This just goes to prove that you can twist anything to fit the way you want to view the world. People who want to see sexism in language will see sexism in the language. If "she" was the gender neutral pronoun we would probably be hearing crap like that from the same people that complain now.)
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." -

    Thanks (5.00 / 9) (#150)
    by bugmaster on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:12:45 AM EST

    This just goes to prove that you can twist anything to fit the way you want to view the world. People who want to see sexism in language will see sexism in the language. If "she" was the gender neutral pronoun we would probably be hearing crap like that from the same people that complain now.
    I've been waiting for someone to say that. The real problem isn't with pronouns; the real problem is with people who think the world is out to get them.

    Actually, I can't even imagine how an ultra-feminist can survive to 40 without a nervous breakdown. Sexism is everywhere ! "He" ? That's the mind-control tool of The Establishment. Sex ? Just a tool of The Man to keep you in line. Books ? All written by white male oppressors. The Washington Monument ? Don't even get me started...

    With an outlook like that, it's a wonder any of those people are still sane. Well, that's debatable, but still.


    >|<*:=
    [ Parent ]

    Herstory (4.00 / 1) (#423)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:14:54 AM EST

    I really love the herstory bullshit too.  History is not a sexist term, it comes from the greek/latin root historia, which itself has a feminine ending!  The word his didn't ever show up until hundreds of years later.

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    "Half" the population... (3.00 / 1) (#302)
    by Gooba42 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:54:13 PM EST

    Let's do away with this "half the population" nonsense. As I recall the last I read any estimate the world population was 2/3 female. 2 females for every one male.

    I object to the arguments about "half the population" on the basis that it is inaccurate and it implies that it matters whether there is a majority or not. The suggestion is that because there is an equal number of x and y we should treat them equally but if there were more of one than the other we should treat them differently.

    If there is one woman in a room full of men or a single man in a room full of women equality is still the ideal.

    [ Parent ]

    The CIA Wold Factbook reports (5.00 / 1) (#331)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:26:52 PM EST

    There are 0.96 males to every female in the US, and China has 1.06 males to every female. I doubt other contries differ much from those numbers.

    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    Inaccuracy of numbers aside... (5.00 / 1) (#469)
    by Gooba42 on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:49:15 PM EST

    My numbers are off, but all that aside my point was that the numbers are irrelevant anyway. Equality is equality and it doesn't matter what ratio you have. Half or three quarters or one twenty fifth, in the end it's not about the proportions or the numbers. It's about the rights of every individual, without any subcategorizing necessary.

    It may be nitpicky, but when things like that slip into the language of otherwise reasonable people it pulls in other issues which shouldn't be confused.

    [ Parent ]

    All in the viewpoint (4.50 / 2) (#462)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:40:49 PM EST

    That reminds me of when I went to a feminist meeting with one of my friends in college a few years ago.  They were talking about how heterosexual sex inherently makes the man dominant and the woman submissive because he is entering the girl.  I raised my hand, and said "why can't it be thought of that the woman envelopes the man, instead of the man entering the girl?"

    They hadn't thought of that.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    +1FP (1.00 / 3) (#127)
    by skelter on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:50:57 AM EST

    For no reason other than to get that damned political tripe off the top of the front page.

    o my lord... (1.00 / 6) (#128)
    by Run4YourLives on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:51:25 AM EST

    This is "geekier" than all those friggen math articles...

    Sorry dude they, there may be something worthy of some sort of discussion here, but I was to bored to read past the "he" paragraph.  

    It's slightly Japanese, but without all of that fanatical devotion to the workplace. - CheeseburgerBrown

    So (2.00 / 6) (#147)
    by Spendocrat on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:42:01 AM EST

    You're here for the technology and culture, but not for the discussion of math or language respectively.

    A 1 for you.

    [ Parent ]

    it's funny how (1.16 / 6) (#129)
    by auraslip on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:52:31 AM EST

    so many people don't understand why not using 'he' to describe generic things is important. They think it harms no one.
    But it does harm everyone.
    First of all it is not efficient(like all sterotypes); that is, if you don't know the gender of someone you should not imply it. It causes confusion.
    Second, most sterotypes harm those that are sterotyped, this one harms those that aren't. That is because you the word he to describe people, it makes it seem that only men are worth writing about. It makes it seem that men are the only ones that belong in that situation.
    For those of you who don't think that this is about supporting the patriarchy, think about this: languge strives for effecience, and as we know sterotypes are uneffecient. So then why the fuck would we use sterotypes?

    124
    Call me stupid (none / 0) (#138)
    by TheModerate on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:39:08 AM EST

    But how does the use of the genderless "he" involve a stereotype of any kind?

    And if I am a man, but this fiasco supposedly harms women, then why should I seek another pronoun?

    "What a man has in himself is, then, the chief element in his happiness." -- Schopenhauer
    [ Parent ]

    I like that only beaners do yard work on my street (none / 0) (#400)
    by auraslip on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:27:12 PM EST

    shit those beaners. What else are they good at.
    124
    [ Parent ]
    Let me ask you this then... (5.00 / 1) (#149)
    by bugmaster on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:06:50 AM EST

    ...would replacing "he" with "she" (as increasingly many people are doing nowadays) solve any of these problems ? If so, which problems ?
    >|<*:=
    [ Parent ]
    depends, if you know the gender (none / 0) (#399)
    by auraslip on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:25:00 PM EST

    of the object of the pronoun. Otherwise anything other then a genderless pronoun would cause confusion.
    124
    [ Parent ]
    Hand waving (none / 0) (#425)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:26:50 AM EST

    You're just waving your hands here so it's very hard to repsond to you.  You say that using 'he' as a genderless pronoun harms everyone, then you say that all stereotypes are inefficient.  Provide an arguement or some evidence for either of these blanket assertions and I can get back to you.

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    ok (2.00 / 1) (#477)
    by auraslip on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:51:09 PM EST

    If you read something that uses "he" to describe something that can be done by both females and males, the author has to specify if it's not male. Logicly it would seem then that it would be weird for women do be in that situation, which just makes it easier for people to assume that only men belong there.

    Think of it like this; if the pronoun for people were whites. Instead of saying people we said "whites", it has no ties to race. It's just the pronoun used to instead of people. If they were a different race you would have to specify, but otherwise it's just assumed they are white.
    Do you see anything wrong with that?
    124
    [ Parent ]

    The inherent harm of restrooms (none / 0) (#495)
    by kerinsky on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 01:22:01 AM EST

    Even if I grant your premise, you've still given no evidence at all that making it easier for people to assume that only men belong in a situation harms everyone, or even anyone.  Futhermore the fact that there are jobs out their predominantly occupied by males only or females only makes it easier to assume that only that sex belongs in that job.  Do we need to ensure that all jobs are occupied by percentages of each sex proporional to their occurance in the population to avoid this hypothetical harm?  What about restrooms, does it harm people that the sign on the door makes it easier to assume that only one sex belongs there?

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    so (1.00 / 1) (#524)
    by auraslip on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:22:42 PM EST

    If a little girl is reading about doctors and they are being refered to as "he's" she will assume that it would be weird for a women to become a doctor.  
    The fact that is unusal makes it all the more unlikely that she won't become a doctor.
    Even if you are some sexist women hater, you have to admit that if someone is capable, but is held back by society we all lose out.
    124
    [ Parent ]
    Stereotypes inefficient? (5.00 / 1) (#463)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:45:03 PM EST

    I thought that stereotypes were highly efficient, and this is why people tend towards them.  It's just that some people don't realize that stereotypes aren't true for all.  But stereotyping puts things into categories we are familiar with, so I'd call that very efficient.

    This doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the subject at hand, but I just thought I'd mention it.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    yes - no (none / 0) (#476)
    by auraslip on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:44:32 PM EST

    First of all the human mind works on sterotypes, from the lowest level to the highest level. If you see a base ball you know that is is round and hard and white before you even get near it.
    As albert enstein said "the mind is a series of sterotypes decided by the age of 18"
    At the higher levels of thinking, sterotypes cause harm. Such as racism and bigotry.

    124
    [ Parent ]
    What the .. ? (3.33 / 3) (#130)
    by Dr Wily on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:57:20 AM EST

    Why is this getting voted up?

    We already have an overabundance of gender neutral pronouns.  First, we have "one," which works just fine, even in the example you give where it allegedly doesn't work.  Second, we have "he," which is gender neutral unless otherwise specified and you should be just fine with that.  

    I don't see how having "he" be gender neutral is any more difficult to accept than transmuting a plural into a singular.  

    And, more importantly (though I suppose this crosses over into editorial territory), why vote this up?  There's no real discussion value.  The premise is idiotic, so the potential yield is limited to flames and idiotic agreement.

    'He' is gendered (4.00 / 3) (#137)
    by silk on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:38:52 AM EST

    In natural languages such as English, there is frequently a gap between formal rules and actual usage.  The formal rules of English state that 'he' is a neuter pronoun; however, in the actual use of the language, 'he' is gendered, or at best ambiguous.  For example, if one were to ask native speakers (such as myself) what the opposite of 'she' is, the most common answer would probably be 'he.'  Likewise, I tend to avoid using either 'he' or 'she' when referring to a person of unknown gender, so as to avoid offending anybody.
    I believe that the truly contentious issue is whether or not use of a gendered pronoun as if it were neuter causes harm or not.  I personally believe that it could very well lead to harm, as it may (for example) subtly influence people to not consider women for positions that they are qualified to hold.  Furthermore, unnecessary ambiguity is intoduced into the language when two pronouns collide.

    [ Parent ]
    Whatever you like. (4.50 / 6) (#131)
    by Apuleius on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:22:35 AM EST

    You can start with the singular "they." I will continue to use "he" as the neuter pronoun. Some Quaker holdouts will continue to use "thou" and "thee." We'll see who prevails.


    There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
    It's funny (4.14 / 7) (#134)
    by morkeleb on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:56:57 AM EST

    Because although I went to UC Santa Cruz in the 90's when all this was going on, I never really encountered much hostility from using the male pronoun in my papers (what few I had to write since I was a math major so I just had to satisfy some general education requirements).

    In high school I actually did get into trouble for trying to switch (in one English paper I interspersed he with she randomly - as I felt this was the most elegant and equitable way of dealing with the situation). I promptly got graded down by my English teacher. Proper English grammar in the case when the sex of the object in question is unknown but is definitely either a male/female and not an it, DEMANDS the use of the male pronoun -

    She was kind of an uptight shrew - but from then on it was pretty much instinctive to use the male pronoun whenever there was any question between the two. And for writing science papers and the like - no one in the hard sciences cares about any of this.

    I personally think the whole thing is kind of stupid - not on the level of USian vs American thing - but definitely up there in the realm of stupid things I could care less about.


    "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry." - Emily Dickinson
    Or they could play with shotguns AND sock puppets! (1.00 / 1) (#426)
    by kerinsky on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:30:19 AM EST

    n/t

    -=-
    A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
    [ Parent ]
    oh boy. (4.59 / 22) (#140)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:41:26 AM EST

    Let's see if I can heroically stave off some confusion here, which judging from the comments is all over the place. Hey, grammatical theory is one damn obscure topic, after all.

    First, it is crucially important not to confuse grammatical and semantic notions; and this is the first thing people confuse when talking about gender and number. You must mentally disconnect the notions "masculine" and "male", and think of the first as nothing more than a slot in a table of pronouns, the second as a property of a person. (Same goes for "singular" and "plural," btw.)

    Now, only after you've done this, you can describe the gender system correctly. There are three grammatical genders in English: masculine, feminine and neuter (e.g. he, she, it). That is to say, if you were to make a table of English pronouns, you'd have to have three rows or columns both for these, for accusative pronouns (him, her, it) and for reflexives (himself, herself, itself). This so far implies nothing about the "meaning" of the words.

    There are grammatical rules that make reference to grammatical gender (which is the whole reason one needs the notion). Prime among these is are agreement rules: a reflexive pronoun agrees in gender with its antecedent. You can't say he likes herself. This is because the reflexive and the antecedent must both have the same grammatical gender.

    Now, there is also a second sort of rule, which makes simultaneous reference to the grammatical genders and categories of meaning like "male" and "female". Some major rules of this sort for English are, very roughly (and not covering everything): to refer to a (specific entity that is known to be a) male, use a masculine pronoun; to refer to a female, use a feminine pronoun; to refer to an inanimate entity (or to which the male/female distinction just does not apply, e.g. a rock), use a neuter pronoun; to refer to an entity which has to be either male or female, but not known to be either, use a masculine pronoun.

    There are also minor, "quirky" rules. For example: to refer to a ship or a car, one may use a feminine pronoun.

    The key thing to appreciate: the system of grammatical genders is smaller than that of categories of meaning that it is used to encode; the relationship between grammatical gender and meaning is many-to-many; one pronoun can encode more than one notion (as "he" does), and one notion can be encoded by more than one pronoun (ships can be either "she" or "it").

    The same goes for number, too; one must be careful not to confuse the grammatical numbers "singular" and "plural" with the meaningful notions of "one" and "many", and the relationship between the pronouns and the meanings is also many-to-many. "Singular they" is a prime example here, but there are others: e.g. royal we; doctors referring to their patient by we (How are we doing today?); the fact that one says 1 gram, 2 grams, 0.5 grams but can't say 0.5 gram (the plural isn't used for "more than one", it's used for any quantity other than one). Best example: when the amount of countable entitities is not know, in English one uses the plural, and this does not rule out the meaning of "just one" (when a questionnaire requests the schools you have attended, they don't imply that it's more than one.) Now, if you've been patient enough to follow all that, here's some payoff for our case: the use of they in contexts where it is clear that it is a single entity that's being talked about is linked to this property of plurals. And it's been around for hundreds of years.

    If you thought all that was complicated enough already, it gets way worse. From the above, many people go on to defend the use of he as a gender-nonspecific pronoun. But the more subtle analyses of gender bias in language start from a descriptive framework like the one I've given above, but add one more concept: markedness. I don't have the time to explain this properly to you people, but the point is roughly the following: the pronoun used to refer to males is also the "unmarked" or "default" pronoun in English, and this is just one of many intricately subtle ways in which USian culture privileges males.

    Another example (from a paper at the last Linguistic Society of America conference, I can't recall the authors). In English, it is more common to say things like John and Mary than Mary and John. Why is this? It turns out that it happens because of a combination of factors, each of which can be shown to be significant independently:

    1. In phrases like X and Y in general, the shorter word tends to come first, and women's names in English tend to be longer than men's.
    2. More frequent words also tend to come first, and any give man's name tends to occur in text more frequently than a woman's name. This has been shown by use of Social Security name lists, and lists of most popular names per decade; USian society's norms for naming boys are more conservative than for girls.
    3. Even controlling for word length and frequency, there is still a preference for putting the man's name first.
    The point of all this is not to say that people are being "chauvinist" by using nonspecific he or by saying Tom and Stephanie. The point is that these norms for languages use are not accidental at all, and are intertwined with cultural practices in ways that can be astonishingly subtle. After all, who would have imagined that naming girls more creatively than boys contributes to making their names come second in doublets?

    --em

    Names (3.50 / 4) (#168)
    by Sciamachy on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:21:14 AM EST

    Not all girls get named "more creatively" - I have a couple of friends, Ruth, who is married to Reagan, and my wife and I almost always refer to them collectively as "Ruth and Reagan". It bounces of the tongue nicely. I find myself and my wife are collectively known equally as either Matt and Sue or Sue and Matt, or Matt and Susan, or Sue and Matthew, depending on who's referring to us.
    --
    Fides Non Timet
    [ Parent ]
    those are not counterexamples (5.00 / 2) (#232)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:28:44 AM EST

    I'm talking about a statistical generalization about women in the US compared to men as a group, and one that's been statistically established with data spanning from at least the 1920's. As such, not only are you trying to counter a statistical generalization by citing hand-picked single examples; you are also trying to deny a statement about a group of people by using statements about individual members.

    Even if many girls get named "conservatively", the fact that many are named more creatively still means that the more "conservative" names will be less frequent in the population than they would be otherwise. For example, the top 10 most frequent (and most "conservative") female names will tend to be less frequently than the top 10 male names.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Hey Loser (2.23 / 13) (#169)
    by zeufii on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:31:54 AM EST

    I believe you mean American when you write "USian".

    Mexico of America? Incorrect.

    Argentina of America? Incorrect.

    Canada of America? Incorrect.

    Panama of America? Incorrect.

    Brazil of America? Incorrect.

    United States of America? Correct. Hence American.

    Understand that concept moronic EUian? Shall I have to write a diary or story explaining the ways in which I could compare the different models of society we each live in? Maybe then I would follow up with the actual comparison. Do you see what I'm driving at? There is one superior country. We all know which one that is...

    thug
    "...the Meta, Op-Ed, Politics, and Culture sections are hereby declared alien abductions and the property of Glickal." - rusty
    [ Parent ]

    United States of where? (3.14 / 7) (#188)
    by am3nhot3p on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:56:49 AM EST

    - Where are you from?
    - The States.
    - Which "states?"
    - The United States.
    - Oh, the United States of Mexico?
    - No, the United States of America.

    And by the way, the United States of Mexico are located in America. As is Canada, and all those Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking places down south. Hawaii and Guam aren't in America except in name. You can call your country the "United States of America," but you can't take away the fact that there are plenty of other countries in America besides your own.



    [ Parent ]
    Pathetic (2.28 / 7) (#192)
    by zeufii on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:09:40 AM EST

    Beautiful obfuscation of the issue. But are you a 'tard or something? America is specifically in the full title of the country. Is it used in such a manner in any other country in the Americas? No.

    Let's get something straight. George W. Bush did not name this country. Does that help? I noticed you didn't name the inferior country you are from...

    thug
    "...the Meta, Op-Ed, Politics, and Culture sections are hereby declared alien abductions and the property of Glickal." - rusty
    [ Parent ]

    I'd like to think I'm not a "'tard" (2.50 / 2) (#445)
    by am3nhot3p on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 10:23:52 AM EST

    Beautiful obfuscation of the issue.
    Thank you.

    But are you a 'tard or something?
    I'd like to think not, which is why I rated your comment as low as I could, out of sheer spite!

    Let's get something straight. George W. Bush did not name this country.
    You can tell because the name is spelled correctly and grammatically sound.

    I noticed you didn't name the inferior country you are from...
    Do you want the disputed territory I was born in, the country whose passport I hold, the one in which I currently live, or the one to which I'll be moving in a few months?



    [ Parent ]
    Fine (4.66 / 3) (#464)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:53:40 PM EST

    Then you're a vagabond.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    Yup (5.00 / 1) (#490)
    by am3nhot3p on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 10:26:50 PM EST

    Damn straight.



    [ Parent ]
    No. (3.66 / 3) (#511)
    by tkatchev on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 06:16:17 AM EST

    He's probably Jewish.

    That would explain his hate of America.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    The Americas (4.00 / 5) (#238)
    by Arcadio on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:43:23 AM EST

    "...the United States of Mexico are located in America"

    No, the United States of Mexico are located in North America. As is Canada.

    "...and all those Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking places down south."

    No, those would be located in South America.

    There is a continent called "North America." There is another one called "South America." There is no continent called "America." Sometimes these two continents are referred to together as "the Americas." Sure, maybe it's unfortunate that our country has such a long name and the shortened version confuses some people. But the majority of the world seems to understand what "America" means. And it's too late to change now anyway.

    And since you bring it up, when people use the made-up word, "USian," would you claim that they are referring to people from the United States of America as well as the United States of Mexico?

    [ Parent ]
    The Americas (4.00 / 3) (#299)
    by arbofnot on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:42:47 PM EST

    It used to be that the United States of America were the several states collected as a nation. Somewhere along the line (circa Civil War), the United States of America turned into a nation.

    Jean-Luc Godard's film In Praise of Love (Eloge de l'Amour) contains dialogue in the spirit of lines in the parent posts. It reveals the truth that Americans have no proper name to describe a national identity. In the case of the character in that film, however, that truth is expressed with disdain. It is not the truth but rather the disdain that grates on this American. (I write as a first-generation Hyphenated-American.)



    [ Parent ]
    You're right (5.00 / 2) (#444)
    by am3nhot3p on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 10:16:11 AM EST

    There is a continent called "North America." There is another one called "South America." There is no continent called "America."

    I humbly submit that you've got me there. However, I'd point out that, just as America is used as shorthand for the USA, so it is used - incorrectly - as shorthand for the two continents of North and South America.

    As for USian, well, it's a bit of a silly word, really. I call them Americans...



    [ Parent ]
    You are SO DUMB (2.33 / 3) (#301)
    by TRASG0 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:50:23 PM EST

    so dumb i cant even bring myself to make fun of you.  or argue.  youre just dumb.  
    sorry no sig now
    [ Parent ]
    HAND (nt) (1.00 / 2) (#312)
    by zeufii on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:39:02 PM EST


    thug
    "...the Meta, Op-Ed, Politics, and Culture sections are hereby declared alien abductions and the property of Glickal." - rusty
    [ Parent ]

    Hey dingbat (3.66 / 3) (#303)
    by kjb on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:56:37 PM EST

    The sooner you realize that people use the term "USian" to annoy stuck-up twits like yourself, the lower your blood pressure will be, and the better off you will be.

    --
    Now watch this drive.
    [ Parent ]

    HAND (nt) (1.00 / 2) (#313)
    by zeufii on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:39:26 PM EST


    thug
    "...the Meta, Op-Ed, Politics, and Culture sections are hereby declared alien abductions and the property of Glickal." - rusty
    [ Parent ]

    The proper term is EUnuch (5.00 / 2) (#364)
    by KilljoyAZ on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:10:26 PM EST

    HAND

    ===
    Creativitiy cannot be SPELT by over 98% of all American troops. - psychologist
    [ Parent ]
    Nice troll, congrats (1.00 / 1) (#570)
    by LocalH on Fri Jun 27, 2003 at 05:36:32 AM EST

    Even though it beats on the old American-USian issue again, props to you for getting people riled up over it =P YHBT. HAND. AFYT. =P

    [ Parent ]
    Erm (4.50 / 2) (#194)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:11:43 AM EST

    I don't have the time to explain this properly to you people

    My, we are a pompous ass, aren't we?

    You must mentally disconnect the notions "masculine" and "male", and think of the first as nothing more than a slot in a table of pronouns, the second as a property of a person.

    [...]

    this is just one of many intricately subtle ways in which USian culture privileges males.

    So which, exactly, is your point? Are you agreeing that if we want to avoid our patriarchal pitfalls we need a genderless pronoun, or are you claiming that one already exists?

    Incidentally, associating English solely with USian culture weakens, if not your actual position, your credibility.


    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    Eh? (5.00 / 2) (#284)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:02:53 PM EST

    Are you talking to me? Or are you chewing a brick?

    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]
    Please just admit it. (3.00 / 1) (#371)
    by it certainly is on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:59:37 PM EST

    When people name a couple, they place the man's name first out of tradition. I too agree that this is not chauvinist in itself, it's a subtle reminder of the patriarchy that has dominated mankind's (there we go again! mankind, not womankind) culture.

    Unless there is a compelling reason, the phrasing is "X and his wife, Y", not "Y and her husband, X".

    Your first two reasons, while accurate in the general sense, they are not honest reasons. Almost all names can be shortened or lengthened, e.g. Stef and Thomas, Tom and Stephanie, Pat and Joanne, Jo and Patrick, Liz and Nicholas, Nick and Elizabeth.

    The reason that putting the woman's name first looks weird is because you are subconsciously expecting the man's name to come first. It's your tradition, your legacy, your fate. A cultural norm. There's no need to overcome it, it's just how life is.

    kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

    Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
    [ Parent ]

    do your homework, then (none / 0) (#381)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:44:08 PM EST

    Design an experiment that tests your claim that the two factors I cite, which predict the placement of nouns in doublets in general (not just for proper names), are not a factor in the more circumscribed case of proper names.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    I tend to refer to couples... (4.00 / 2) (#392)
    by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:16:55 PM EST

    ... with the name of the person I know better listed first. It just comes out naturally for me that way.



    [ Parent ]

    +1 (1.80 / 5) (#145)
    by SanSeveroPrince on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:27:49 AM EST

    I've voted this up just to see the reactions of the racist nuts on the net when they read it. And the reactions from the minorities are going to be even funnier!

    ----

    Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


    It seems like "they" is just not (3.00 / 2) (#148)
    by gr00vey on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:55:32 AM EST

    explicit enough, as it could mean more than one. If the whole purpose of this proposal is to make it clearer, perhaps a new word should be created. Any word will sound clunky if it is not used in the context and with the connotaions we are used to. What about bringing back the old-english "ye", as most of us alreay have some contextual connotations for that?

    it's made clear by context (5.00 / 1) (#154)
    by Rot 26 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:37:37 AM EST

    It's not implicitly clear, you're right. In a single sentence such as "After they missed the bus they didn't know what to do." it's not clear whether "they" is referring to one person or a group of people. However, most of the time it will be made clear whether the sentence is about a group or an individual.

    This type of thing happens in plenty of other languages too, for instance in German the pronoun "sie" can mean a single female, the plural form of "you" or the formal form of "you" (in this last case the word is actually capitalized, but that doesn't help when you're listening to somebody speak). Right off you can tell whether the sentence is about a single female by the way the verbs are conjugated, but for the other two forms you have to be able to tell through the context.
    1: OPERATION: HAMMERTIME!
    2: A website affiliate program that doesn't suck!
    [ Parent ]
    i see your point (none / 0) (#159)
    by gr00vey on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:13:46 AM EST

    but it still seems to me, if attempting to artifically change a language (as opposed to natural progression) one should try to make the change as specific and clear as possible.

    [ Parent ]
    mmm... (none / 0) (#166)
    by Rot 26 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:56:42 AM EST

    Yeah, but like the article said, using "they" seems to be the best solution available. You're right about it not being explicit enough, but in practice it seems to me that it's a much smaller problem than the other solutions have.
    1: OPERATION: HAMMERTIME!
    2: A website affiliate program that doesn't suck!
    [ Parent ]
    but he isn't (none / 0) (#186)
    by werner on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:51:11 AM EST

    changing it artificially: as the author says, this is a usage dating back to the 13th century. this is a feature the language already has, the author just wants us to accept it as "standard".

    now artificially changing the language is what Germans do. every so often, their eggheads get together and rewrite the spelling and grammar rules.

    indeed, a few years back, some bright spark realized that although German has an adjective indicating that you have had enough food, "satt", they didn't have a corresponding word for drink. so, they invented one: "sitt"

    [ Parent ]

    One can't use 'ye'... (none / 0) (#174)
    by gidds on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:37:23 AM EST

    ...because it simply means 'you' (plural).  Back in the days when English could distinguish between second person singular and plural, we had 'thou' for the former and 'ye' for the latter.  Then the latter became 'you', and now we have 'you' for both forms.  (Unless you count 'y'all'...)

    So any use as a third-person pronoun would contradict everything we know about it already.  Plus it would be hard to distinguish from 'you' in speech, leading to All Sorts Of Trouble.

    Andy/
    [ Parent ]

    No (none / 0) (#291)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:25:26 PM EST

    "Ye" means (and is pronounced) "The" (as in, "Ye Olde Shoppe"). It's simply an archaic spelling.

    The plural of "you" is "you": when English still differentiated, as with French, the polite form was the plural; but the singular became so personal it fell out of use altogether. Thou canst still find a lot of it in old literature and in particular love poetry (please excuse my language, no disrespect intended).


    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    That's 'the'. (5.00 / 1) (#375)
    by gidds on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:57:05 PM EST

    Long ago, the word 'the' was spelled 'þe', using the Old English and Old Norse letter thorn.  This letter was pronounced much as our 'th', and so when it died out, the word became 'the'.

    However, early printers didn't have a thorn in their founts, and substituted 'y' for it (which also came to be used elsewhere too).  So in 'Ye Olde Shoppe', the extra 'e' and 'pe' are simply spellings which have changed, but the 'Y' stands for the thorn character, and should be read 'Th', making the first word 'The' in modern spelling.

    However, there existed a completely separate word which was spelled 'ye'; as I said before, this was the second-person plural pronoun.  It seems that 'ye' was originally the nominative (subject case) version, and 'you' the accusative (object case) and dative version (which is how they appear in the Authorised Version of the Bible), but after that the two became confused, with 'you' eventually winning.

    Fascinating, huh?

    Andy/
    [ Parent ]

    Excellent. (none / 0) (#428)
    by synaesthesia on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:36:22 AM EST

    Fascinating, indeed. Thank you for filling in the gaps in my knowledge.

    How slightly annoying that 'Ye' versus 'Thee' and 'You' versus 'Thou' are different cases. I guess the isomorphism is less obvious in the Old English spelling.

    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    Don't you just love political correctness? (4.23 / 13) (#153)
    by Quila on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:26:20 AM EST

    Instead of say, doing something to eliminate the enforced inequalities in this world, we do cutesy-pretty things like try to change the language so we don't insult anyone.

    Follow the prophets Sapir and Whorf! (2.00 / 1) (#178)
    by Viliam Bur on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:43:49 AM EST

    Then you can cure every evil of society by reforming grammar. Make declinations not war.

    News from the other side of Earth:
    New grammar reform by Bielorusian president Lukashenko. From these days, Bielorusians will have to write the word "president" with capital letter ("President"). Also the word will be exclusively used for the head of the state; so there will be no more "presidents of the company" etc.

    The age of information is over. The age of grammar is coming!

    [ Parent ]

    I don't get what's wrong with it (3.50 / 6) (#180)
    by seb on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:44:16 AM EST

    Why can't we eliminate the enforced inequalities in this world and take care of how we use language?  Who said these goals were mutually exclusive?

    Anyway, language is important.  If you were named "Ugly Fuckhead Slimeball" by your parents, do you not think it might have had an effect on you?  Do you call Hamas terrorists or freedom fighters?  Do you ever use the words "coon", "yid" or "paki" in everyday conversation?  If not, why not?  These words have not been eliminated from the language, but they have effectively been eliminated from acceptable political discourse.  Isn't that a good thing?  If so, what's so different about gender pronouns?

    OK, so it's not the most pressing problem in the world.  It's just that I get annoyed when people spend their time complaining about other people trying to improve the lot of minorities in small ways, instead of, say, doing something themselves to eliminate the enforced inequalities in this world.

    Enough babbling.  I'm off back to Brazil now, to continue saving the indigenous peoples of the Amazon from extinction.

    [ Parent ]

    Minorities? (4.25 / 4) (#206)
    by starsky on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:01:47 AM EST

    improve the lot of minorities in small ways

    Minorities like women?

    [ Parent ]

    I want to go to California (5.00 / 1) (#566)
    by Quila on Mon Jun 23, 2003 at 10:28:29 AM EST

    Caucasians are already a minority there, then I can claim all the bennies and bitch about being oppressed!  Actually, aren't male caucasians a small minority worldwide?

    [ Parent ]
    Saving? (5.00 / 5) (#207)
    by Quila on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:05:46 AM EST

    Why can't we eliminate the enforced inequalities in this world and take care of how we use language?

    I don't see that it needs a change. I don't think hurricanes should have been named after men, too, and I don't see a need to start calling ships "he" to attain some kind of perceived equality in the other direction. It's just stupid, useless mucking about with the language. See George Carlin for examples of PC-speak (newspeak?) gone awry.

    I also don't think Ebonics should be pushed as proper just because a large percentage of a politically-correct group uses it.

    I'm off back to Brazil now, to continue saving the indigenous peoples of the Amazon from extinction.

    Good for you. Are you going to prevent the tree huggers from stopping the indigenous people from surviving the way they have for thousands of years, like in cutting down the rain forest to build shelter and make fire?

    [ Parent ]

    Problems (4.00 / 1) (#443)
    by godspeed on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:44:04 AM EST

    Mmmmm, theres nothing like a good straw man to get an argument going.

    Problem the first: using an emotionally laden label to describe people that try and prevent environmental destruction.

    Problem the second: you take an easy and patently untrue stereotype (environmentalists object to damage to any tree) and use it as the basis of your argument that they will destory the indigenous peoples way of life. Does it seem a little mroe ludicrous now, or is your world defined in strictly dichotomised stereotypes.

    Problem the third: You assume that issues surrounding gender only explore masculine pronouns. People propounding non-gender specific language are doing just that: striving for non-gender specific language. That includes no longer labelling hurricanes/ships/countries as female. For the actual purpose see my other reply.
    "This is the most exciting thing to happen since Halley's Comet hit the moon" - Homer J. Simpson
    [ Parent ]

    The ironic thing is... (4.50 / 2) (#467)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:06:02 PM EST

    English is probably one of the least "gender-specific" languages to come out of Europe.


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    No problem (3.50 / 2) (#544)
    by Quila on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 04:45:24 AM EST

    you take an easy and patently untrue stereotype (environmentalists object to damage to any tree)

    They do exist. They believe a tree is more important than a person, and in the case of spiking, will set up a situation to maim or kill a person just to save a tree.

    My point was that the usual view is that only big bad industry is cutting down the rain forests, when it is subsistence farmers doing a lot of the damage. But we relatively rich people in America don't really care about "them dark-skinned people," the forests are more important.

    That includes no longer labelling hurricanes/ships/countries as female.

    That is very sad. In our quest for perfect equality, we are going to eliminate everything that makes us as humans and our cultures interesting.

    [ Parent ]

    Only on the first day of class (3.00 / 2) (#465)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:03:51 PM EST

    f you were named "Ugly Fuckhead Slimeball" by your parents, do you not think it might have had an effect on you?
    I would just go by "Uggs" or "Slim".


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    Missing the Point (3.50 / 2) (#442)
    by godspeed on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:34:47 AM EST

    I can't help but feel that you've somewhat missed the point of arguments regarding non-gender specific language. Its purpose is not so much to avoid insulting women as they are in the world at the moment (although that is there), its more designed to prevent the linguistic indoctrination of children growing up in such a masculinist system, who are immersed in an environment where men are automatically assumed to possess and attributed with agency and ownership in virtually all areas of social function. Although its hard to quantify the effect of such indoctrination upon a developing personality, the intended purpose of removing gendered pronouns from our language is to try and strip the language we speak of such ingrained power inequalities in the hope that these will not be passed on and so continue to shape gendered interactions.
    "This is the most exciting thing to happen since Halley's Comet hit the moon" - Homer J. Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    Orwell rides again (4.00 / 1) (#521)
    by pyro9 on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 12:03:44 PM EST

    In other words, they wish to control societies attitudes by controlling it's language, just like Big Brother (though admittedly, with better intentions).

    What the PC crowd misses is that it isn't the feeling surrounding the word that forms the opinion of the subject, it's the other way around.

    One does not properly eliminate gender bias by forcefully adding a genderless personal pronoun to the language. Instead, a genderless personal pronoun develops in response to the elimination of gender bias. I suspect that the only reason we don't have one now is backlash against the attempts to foist one off on the people before.

    It's much like the situation of substituting 'person' for the compound ending 'man' Most assume d that a chairwoman was a woman, a chairperson was a woman with a bad attitude and a chairman was a man. As gender bias has begun to fade away, fewer are surprised to learn that a the non-personal title of chairman refers to a woman in a particular instance.

    It would seem that it was only the PC linguists who mentally saw chair-MAN rather than chairman until they made a big stink about it.

    For an example of a more natural evolution of the language, consider that Mrs. is still used, but no longer carrys any sense of the wife's identity subsumed by the husband's. (Hint, in it's original usage, Mrs. <woman's first and last name> was INCORRECT). Meanwhile, children ceased to attach any meaning at all to Miss or Mrs. other than female gender and Ms. was ridiculed for years. The only reason (IMHO) Ms. has come into common usage is that it is shorter than either Miss or Mrs. (And in the south, comes closer to phonetically spelling the was Mrs. was pronounced anyway :-).

    </soapbox>


    The future isn't what it used to be
    [ Parent ]
    ...from the trenches (4.85 / 7) (#157)
    by rvcx on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:07:19 AM EST

    I was once involved with a paper on X-ray imaging which was submitted to a journal. It was sent back with the suggestion to change the radiologist in the hypothetical scenario outlined to "she" instead of "he". (i.e "The radiologist noticed a problem with the images, and she complained to an imaging technician.") A somewhat strident approach to political correctness, but the author happily made the change.

    However, he also changed the mammography technician from a "she" to a "he". That change was rejected outright (not just an editorial suggestion, but a refusal to publish).

    The article was published with a scenario consisting of nothing but women.

    Political correctness can have confusing rules...

    Simple Rules (5.00 / 5) (#189)
    by OneEyedApe on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:02:24 AM EST

    As far as I can see, political correctness is easy, so long as you do not make any reference to white men.

    [ Parent ]
    Are "minority" men allowed? (5.00 / 9) (#240)
    by rvcx on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:44:36 AM EST

    Unacceptable:
    When the mammography tech recalibrated the machine he changed the exposure settings.

    Acceptable:
    When the black mammography tech recalibrated the machine he changed the exposure settings.

    Best:
    After finishing his prayers to Allah, the mammography tech got back into his wheelchair and recalibrated the machine while dreaming of tenderly holding another man in his ebony arms.

    You know, maybe political correctness can spice up the typical journal paper...

    [ Parent ]
    Funny language (5.00 / 1) (#158)
    by MSBob on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:12:50 AM EST

    English is the funniest of languages. No genders exist per se yet there is no neutral form for a person. There are bolt-ons such as spokesperson but it still sounds awkward. Besides it's funny that people insist on saying 'spokesperson' nowadays but nobody ever objects to me saying 'garbage man'...
    I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

    indeed it is! (5.00 / 5) (#160)
    by gr00vey on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:14:54 AM EST

    We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes; but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes. One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese, yet the plural of moose should never be meese. You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice; yet the plural of house is houses, not hice. If the plural of man is always called men, why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen? If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet, and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet? If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth? Then one may be that, and three would be those, yet hat in the plural would never be hose, and the plural of cat is cats, not cose. We speak of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren. Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim. If home rhymes with comb, should bomb rhyme with tomb or tome with boom? Some reasons to be grateful if you grew up speaking English 1) The bandage was wound around the wound. 2) The farm was used to produce produce. 3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. 4) We must polish the Polish furniture. 5) He could lead if he would get the lead out. 6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. 7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. 8) At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum. 9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. 10) I did not object to the object. 11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid. 12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row. 13) They were too close to the door to close it. 14) The buck does funny things when the does are present. 15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line. 16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow. 17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail. 18) After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number. 19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear. 20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests. 21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend? 22) I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

    [ Parent ]
    you mean "sanitation engineer" (nt) (5.00 / 2) (#245)
    by Sleepy In Seattle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:50:35 AM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Ambiguity (2.00 / 1) (#161)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:28:30 AM EST

    When a person writes an article like this for kuro5hin readers, should they be wary?

    Substituting plurality confusion for gender confusion is not a good solution.

    Conversely:

    If a person meets the king on a Tuesday, is he likely to be wearing a crown?

    If somebody were selected at random to arm-wrestle Winona Ryder, would she be likely to lose?

    If somebody breaks wind before the queen, who can tell if one is not amused?

    If I show you a photo of the female lead character in a James Bond movie, can you tell me if it's Christmas?

    etc.

    I like to use the Spivak pronouns, but often use "he", "she" or "s/he" instead, depending on my target audience.


    Sausages or cheese?

    they (2.00 / 2) (#165)
    by relief on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:51:43 AM EST

    then i guess you can't gender-nonspecific pronoun as a subject. unless you say something like

    "they came to town wearing what the locals would describe as a pinata. they are apparent foreigners."

    oh wait, its singular.

    "they is apparent foreigners."

    dude, how about ebonics for PC?

    ----------------------------
    If you're afraid of eating chicken wings with my dick cheese as a condiment, you're a wuss.

    Grammar nazism ;-) (4.33 / 3) (#201)
    by trixx on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:47:48 AM EST

    It should be "they is apparently a foreigner". [wow, as a non-native English speaker, I never thought I would be doing this].

    [ Parent ]
    Just to be even more pedantic... (1.00 / 1) (#376)
    by hprotagonist on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:06:33 PM EST

    In spite of the fact that it's singular, the neutral "they" in English takes the plural form of the verb: it really comes out, "they're apparently a foreigner."  

    However, it sounds very odd if you don't use the contracted form:  

    *"they are apparently a foreigner"

    [for those non-linguists out there, the asterisk marks a phrase that isn't acceptable in a language].  

    This can actually allow one [them?] to distinguish a singular "they".  Unfortuantely, it only works with the present and future tenses of the copula (i.e. "they're" and "they'll"), because nothing else will form contratctions with "they".
    -- "A witty saying proves nothing" -Voltaire
    [ Parent ]

    Yet another possibility... (2.00 / 1) (#167)
    by lowca on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:00:12 AM EST

    I've seen some writings that swap the gender-neutral pronoun back and forth. One paragraph will use "he," the next will use "she," and so on. It's definitely not one of the least annoying alternatives out there.

    ---

    "Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us." - P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores

    That's like the news (none / 0) (#170)
    by werner on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:32:12 AM EST

    in Northern Ireland: when they talk about Derry, they switch between Derry and Londonderry.

    [ Parent ]
    You gender biassed aglophones! :) (3.75 / 4) (#172)
    by joonasl on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:35:17 AM EST

    You all should learn to speak Finnish, the only language (which also happens to be my native tongue), that has non-gender specific pronomines. "Hän" in Finnish refers to both male and female 3rd person. Handly..


    Writing a poem / with just seventeen syllables / is very diffic.

    Ah! (none / 0) (#190)
    by squigly on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:04:38 AM EST

    So that's why Tolkein was so fond of it!

    [ Parent ]
    But what would he need it for? (4.00 / 1) (#293)
    by grzebo on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:37:57 PM EST

    Both of the female characters from his books?

    [ Parent ]
    Wrong -- not only. German also. (4.00 / 1) (#271)
    by whovian on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:05:34 PM EST

    'man' (pronounced mahn) is the German version.

    [ Parent ]
    Finnish pronouns are all genderless (4.00 / 1) (#336)
    by ivk on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:40:08 PM EST

    In addition to German, Scandinavian languages have gender-nonspecific 'man' too, but that's beside the point.

    Finnish does not have gender specific pronouns (such as 'er' and 'sie' in German) at all. Men and women are both referred to as 'hän', and there's no way to indicate the gender of the referred person by the pronoun. Spoken language simplifies the pronouns even further and rarely uses 'hän'. Instead, 'se' ('it') is often used for both humans and inanimate objects. It is also genderless.

    As for being the only language with this feature, that's not strictly true, other languages in the Uralic family also have only genderless pronouns. And surely there are other language groups too.

    [ Parent ]

    Hän borrowed from Swedish, should be Se or Tämä (none / 0) (#373)
    by Quietti on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:17:15 PM EST

    Interrestingly enough, the Tämä (shortened to Tää in common speech) heard in Eastern Finnish (a.k.a. Carelian) is also what's used in Finnish's most direct parent, Estonian, where the 3rd person singular is Tema (the "e" and "ä" sounds are mutually substituable), while See is strictly for non-humans.

    --
    The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
    [ Parent ]
    ..a more philosophical question (none / 0) (#416)
    by joonasl on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:16:12 AM EST

    As for being the only language with this feature, that's not strictly true, other languages in the Uralic family also have only genderless pronouns. And surely there are other language groups too.

    My original intent was to write only language that I know of, since I'm sure just as you mentioned that other languages with this feature exists, but accidentally left some words out of the post... :)

    I guess that the gender typed pronouns in English and other indoeuropean languages come from the latin influence (just like the die/das/der differences in German). But why should gender be the most defining charasteristic of a person? Does anyone know of languages that had pronouns typed after some other trait (e.g. age, social status etc)?


    Writing a poem / with just seventeen syllables / is very diffic.
    [ Parent ]

    You know, there is research on these things. (none / 0) (#533)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 08:50:13 PM EST

    I guess that the gender typed pronouns in English and other indoeuropean languages come from the latin influence (just like the die/das/der differences in German).

    No. Proto-Indoeuropean itself has to have had three genders. Nothing to do with Latin influence-- actually the reason Latin has gender is because of PIE.

    Does anyone know of languages that had pronouns typed after some other trait (e.g. age, social status etc)?

    You know, it's not like it's just not possible to look it up. (Not that that's a good textbook for nonlinguists, but it's fairly authoritative. Oh, and the same author has a book on grammatical number.)

    Ok, a quick and dirty example: noun classes in Bantu languages, e.g. in Swahili.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    I disagree (5.00 / 2) (#542)
    by Battle Troll on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 03:13:10 AM EST

    You know, it's not like it's just not possible to look it up.

    Everyone knows, or ought to, that only a few things are worth reading: your computer-science textbooks, the complete works of Tolkien, penny-arcade.com, localroger's revolutionary masterpiece, and mistranslations of Japanese works, such as samurai philosophy and tentacle porn.
    --
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]

    and... (3.00 / 1) (#543)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 04:05:02 AM EST

    pop science books by people like dawkins or pinker. remember, scientists are the good guys.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    true (none / 0) (#549)
    by Battle Troll on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 02:00:32 PM EST

    But it's not just the horrible slashbots who indulge in that last vice.
    --
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]
    I'm going to call you on this: (none / 0) (#551)
    by gzt on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 03:22:59 PM EST

    While some may actually read their computer-science books, I think most only read their programming books. How many g**ks actually know anything about computability?

    [ Parent ]
    I stand corrected. /nt (none / 0) (#553)
    by Battle Troll on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 03:28:10 PM EST

    ayn t
    --
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]
    wow. (none / 0) (#541)
    by Battle Troll on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 03:09:07 AM EST

    Finnish, the only language... that has non-gender specific pronomines. [sic]The only one, ever, anywhere???
    --
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]
    Depends on people/things (4.20 / 5) (#181)
    by Gully Foyle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:45:49 AM EST

    He is the genderless pronoun for people/animals, and she is the genderless pronoun for other things (vehicles/countries). You'd never call your yacht 'he' would you?

    If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh

    What about dying? (1.50 / 4) (#350)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:19:32 PM EST

    Can't communication gaps lead to death? So a clan that adopts the Spivak pronouns has a better chance at surviving, right?
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    they stick (3.00 / 2) (#191)
    by jettero on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:09:03 AM EST

    You'd never get they to stick. I kinda like it even. So I tried it on in front of some language nazis. Then I had them read this article. Then we discussed it.

    They hate they cuz it's "wrong." You'll never get they to stick, ever.

    a brief aside (3.25 / 4) (#195)
    by xs euriah on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:12:35 AM EST

    from the article: Words like "bling bling" get tossed in the dictionary after 5 or so years in rap videos, but "ain't" will never make its way out of the doghouse of misuse, no matter how common the term becomes.

    I believe "bling bling" is included not only to sell dictionaries, but because it communicates an idea that has no prior word associated with it.

    "Ain't" is a misuse of another, already existing word, "isn't". The meaning of "ain't" comes from a dialect of misuse alone.



    Indeed. No synonyms in our language! (nt) (none / 0) (#197)
    by nowan on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:19:34 AM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Ain't is the contraction of "am not" (4.60 / 5) (#214)
    by dr zeus on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:29:42 AM EST

    The "ain't" contraction developed in the 18th century, around the same time as "isn't" "won't" and others. Originally pronounced and spelled "am't", it migrated to "ain't" over the years and took on additional work as the the contraction for other verb forms.

    It is likely that these additional uses for ain't are what led to it's disuse among the literate, and it's subsequent association with lower class grammar.

    • I am not. == I ain't.
    • You are not. == You aren't.
    • He is not. == He isn't.
    • They are not. == They aren't.

    References:
    YourDictionary.com
    American Heritage Dictionary


    [ Parent ]

    Re: It's just a stupid slang word (3.33 / 3) (#220)
    by drsmithy on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:52:17 AM EST

    "real American English"

    Now there's an oxymoron if ever I saw one :D

    [ Parent ]

    I'll tell you what is bad slang. (4.00 / 3) (#227)
    by yet another coward on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:20:28 AM EST

    Many people now use "aren't" with "I." It sounds stupid. "Ain't" is clearly a better choice logically, but its marginal status prevents its wider use. "Aren't I a good speaker?" is something someone might say. I would reply, "I aren't so sure."

    [ Parent ]
    Amn't I? (4.33 / 3) (#263)
    by igor on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:29:25 PM EST


    Now your reply sounds more silly than the example. How is 'Are not I a good speaker' does sound clumsy but the flippant reply sounds a bit worse.

    So, the problem is this:
    • Isn't she a good speaker?
    • Aren't you a good speaker?
    • ___ I a good speaker?

    What fills in the blank?
    More formal usage suggests that one should say, "Am I not a good speaker?", which also works for "Is he not..." and "Are you not..."

    However, the lack of a non-"ain't" contraction of "am not" leads people to use "aren't", where this is as grammatically wrong as using "they" instead of "he".

    [ Parent ]

    Are you kidding? (3.00 / 1) (#380)
    by yet another coward on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:42:37 PM EST

    Now *your* reply sounds more silly than the example. How is 'Are not I a good speaker' *does* sound clumsy but the flippant reply sounds a bit worse.

    Do you really use "more silly?" Are you trying to be sillier than my response to the stupid "Aren't I?" construction? I are not sure whether you are kidding me.

    In the case that you are not kidding, my response is meant to point out the absurdity of using "are" with the singular "I." It is clearly incorrect to do so.

    [ Parent ]

    That ain't exactly right (2.66 / 3) (#574)
    by partykidd on Sun Jul 06, 2003 at 02:17:21 AM EST

    As my above example shows, "ain't" can also mean "is not" or the contraction of is not, "isn't".

    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle


    [ Parent ]

    Go ahead, sound like an uneducated idiot (4.00 / 3) (#198)
    by duffbeer703 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:23:22 AM EST

    The problem here isn't the language -- it's the people who want to re-invent language to suit their political agenda.

    In most languages words are assigned gender. In Spanish <i>pollo</i> or chicken is male while <i>cocina</i> or kitchen is female.

    Is a sexist conspiracy to hold women down? Only to "feminists" who make a living by making a big deal about such things.

    Noun gender is a different issue (4.00 / 3) (#209)
    by mwood on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:14:29 AM EST

    Yeah, many languages assign genders to nouns, but this is a different issue. Take a good look and you'll see that the "gender" of a noun frequently has nothing to do with the thing which the word denotes. In Latin, for example, the words for "sailor" and "lumber" are feminine. Why? I believe that the "noun gender" thing may have started out rationally but was hijacked because it gave a systematic way to make words fit together better when pronounced in sequence. For a good look at just how ridiculous the "noun gender" phenomenon is, read Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language". (Please note that many other languages could have served; the author just happened to pick German, probably because he knew it well enough to joke about it.)

    [ Parent ]
    What conspiracy? (4.00 / 2) (#353)
    by deggial on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:24:10 PM EST

    In French, at least, beauty and freedom are feminine, as are equality and fraternity. Women should be glad they're associated with these concepts, shouln't they?

    [ Parent ]
    E (2.83 / 6) (#200)
    by zyzzyva on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:46:58 AM EST

    Why not simply invent a new word as was done with "Ms."  We use "I" to refer to the singular "me"; we could use "E" to refer to a singular other person in a gender-neutral way.

    E went to the store today.
    I went to the store today.

    Nice and tidy.  Plus is almost comes naturally.

    but is sounds like (5.00 / 3) (#205)
    by starsky on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:59:06 AM EST

    a lazy 'he'.

    [ Parent ]
    or worse.... (5.00 / 3) (#237)
    by urdine on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:39:49 AM EST

    A Canadian saying "he."

    [ Parent ]
    So what else can you show me? (4.00 / 6) (#204)
    by djeaux on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:56:58 AM EST

    We rednecks have always honored the 2nd person plural "y'all" (which is NEVER to be used in the 1st person except by yankees). This allows English to have the expressiveness of Spanish or German.

    As far as needing a gender-neutral 3rd person, I thought the pronoun "it" was it. There are plenty of people that are accurately described as it. Consider the following example:

    The yankee tourist sliced badly off the tee & then went off in search of its golf ball.

    Works for me. YMMV.

    The high-tech redneck,

    djeaux
    "Obviously, I'm not an IBM computer any more than I'm an ashtray." (Bob Dylan)

    We need a plural "you", too (none / 0) (#287)
    by Godless Wonder on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:08:41 PM EST

    "You" doubles as both singular and plural in English. This results in inventions like: "you guys" "y'all" (and in backwoods Arkansas) "Yuns" There are probably others... What shall we use for a plural "you" ?

    [ Parent ]
    You Guys (none / 0) (#294)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:40:48 PM EST

    I read an article in "Bitch" magazine recently that discussed the implications of using "you guys" as a plural term for people of both genders, or even groups consisting of only women. I would guess that the same people that object to the use of "he" as a pronoun of indeterminate gender will also object to "you guys" for the same reason. FWIW, and I know I'll get flamed for saying this, I think the author had a good point. I certainly think using "you guys" to refer to a group of women is more objectionable than the genderless "he", and I'm trying to expunge both uses from my vocabulary. These aren't changes I'm currently pushing on others, though.

    "Bitch" is an excellent magazine, BTW, and I highly recommend it for people who are interested in a feminist view of pop culture. I generally find it to be infinitely more reasonable than the kinds of views that are commonly (and often incorrectly) attributed to feminists.

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]

    Mary saw himself in the mirror (3.00 / 4) (#208)
    by rujith on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:06:04 AM EST

    Rather than trying to invent a new genderless pronoun, solve the problem at its root by eliminating the gender-specific pronouns. I choose to eliminate 'she,' because it's longer. Then 'he,' 'him,' 'himself,' etc. would merely refer to a person, without implying a gender. - Rujith.

    "Mary saw himself in the mirror".. (5.00 / 3) (#213)
    by ulrich on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:26:09 AM EST

    ..is just too bloody spooky.

    [ Parent ]
    not any "longer" (4.33 / 3) (#321)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:57:26 PM EST

    At least not by any linguistically meaningful standard: the masculine and feminine pronouns pairs all have the same number of phonological segments ("sounds"), same number of syllables, same syllable weight, etc. The only way "she" is longer is by having more letters, and that's because English uses the two letter combination "sh" to represent a single phoneme (the voiceless palatal fricative, to be precise). We might as well reform English orthography to "fix" that.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Phonetics (5.00 / 2) (#340)
    by Womack on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:04:19 PM EST

    The English "sh" is the voiceless postalveolar fricative. As I understand it, the voiceless palatal fricative is a sound called the "ichlaut" in German and found in some German dialects, among other places.

    [ Parent ]
    whatever (none / 0) (#344)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:08:49 PM EST

    you're being really picky. I'm a morphosyntactician, dammit, anything behind the alveolar ridge is palatal enough for me ;).

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    It may be enough for you... (none / 0) (#347)
    by Womack on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:14:14 PM EST

    ...but it's not enough for the Germans. :)

    [ Parent ]
    There are languages that do this. (1.00 / 1) (#365)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:14:36 PM EST

    For example, most modern Persian speakers use u/un/ishun.
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    No, thank you; we already have one of those (4.70 / 10) (#211)
    by mwood on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:22:24 AM EST

    The third-person singular genderless pronoun is "he" and its siblings.  They look just like the masculine pronouns, but they are *different words*.  The two families are easily distinguished by context:

    "If my father would go to that store, he would find a keychain that he will like." -- masculine, because the antecedent is known to be masculine.

    "If a bricklayer would go to that store, he would find a keychain that he will like." -- genderless, because the antecedent is unknown to the speaker and might be either masculine or feminine.

    See?  It's easy (at least w.r.t. some of the *really* weird things in English) and you can still be accepting of human diversity (as opposed to PC).

    Same word, different meanings. (4.50 / 2) (#334)
    by cburke on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:35:37 PM EST

    "If a bricklayer would go to that store, he would find a keychain that he will like."

    While the "he" in that sentence is intended to be the neuter form, it is also possible to interpret as being the masculine form.  Since "he" is probably most often used as the masculine pronoun, that could easily be the first interpretation.  Regardless, someone listening is going to be predisposed to think of the bricklayer as male, simply because that is the sex implied by the alternate meaning of the pronoun.

    Distinguishing between the two forms of the pronoun is easy; avoiding entirely the other meanings of the word is not.  That's how puns work, after all.  You can't ignore the effects of language, and referring to any arbitrary actor as "he" has an effect on how the message is received whether it is gramatically intended to or not.  

    Which is why I like "they".  It is simple to use, and is actually neuter as opposed to being neuter except for when it isn't (which is most of the time in the case of "he").  I don't see a big problem with it being both singular and plural; sentence structure strongly implies cardinality, while the best you can do with sex is to be ambiguous.  We've done pretty well without a plural second person pronoun, after all.

    I've been using "they" without a great deal of thought for a long time.  I've also never really been able to get behind "he" as neuter.  Maybe because "he" has so often been used as neuter but with a wink and a nod that what is really being talked about is a man.  Like bricklayers, who'd I wager are predominately male.
     

    [ Parent ]

    Sometimes it breaks down. (none / 0) (#407)
    by cola on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:10:26 AM EST

    Even if a man uses a condom, he may still get pregnant. I mean, HIS GIRLFRIEND may still get pregnant, since obviously the above sentence is ludicrous. Of course, this example doesn't work unless "man" is also a gender-neutral synonym for "person", but nobody could disagree with that unless he were a feminazi. (Whatever those are.)

    [ Parent ]
    It wouldn't be the first time (4.28 / 7) (#212)
    by kingk0ng on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:22:36 AM EST

    As I understand it, there's a precedent for a plural English pronoun coming to be used as a singular for reasons of politeness: Thou/You. "You" in English is originally the second person plural, which gradually supplanted the singular "thou" after the Normans came to England. (Wikipedia states that this change followed the French etiquette of "tu" and "vous").

    This goes some way to explaining our apparent lack of the 2nd person plural in English, and why in some places, imported replacements like "y'all" or "una" have been used.

    All of this suggests to me that the proposal is perfectly sensible, and describes the kind of natural evolution that languages make as political and social needs change. That can be hard to accept for people who think there's a big dictionary somewhere in the sky which holds the One Correct Usage. Surprisingly, they do seem to exist.

    "If English was good enough for the prophets and the apostles, it's plenty good enough for me."



    Big Dictionary in the Sky (4.00 / 1) (#217)
    by Robin Hood on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:45:01 AM EST

    All of this suggests to me that the proposal is perfectly sensible, and describes the kind of natural evolution that languages make as political and social needs change. That can be hard to accept for people who think there's a big dictionary somewhere in the sky which holds the One Correct Usage. Surprisingly, they do seem to exist.

    In France, they're called the Académie Française.

    [ Parent ]

    Here's something funny (5.00 / 4) (#218)
    by Cro Magnon on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:48:40 AM EST

    I once read a tongue in cheek article that said the word "person" shouldn't be allowed, since it includes a sexist word. It should be replaced with the "gender-neutral" word "perit"! This was years ago, and I don't remember all the fun they had with it, but it ended with "mailman" changing to "perit-perit"!
    Information wants to be beer.
    That's almost as dumb as (5.00 / 3) (#472)
    by baron samedi on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:48:03 PM EST

    The abomination known as 'herstory'. I had thought that this stupid little word had died once and for all, until I saw it used recently at a conference, by an 18 year old woman who thought she was being clever.
    "Hands that help are better by far than lips that pray."- Robert G. Ingersoll
    [ Parent ]
    Especially considering... (5.00 / 2) (#534)
    by vyruss on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 09:20:54 PM EST

    ...that History is derived from the Greek word Historia, which means the same.

    • PRINT CHR$(147)

    [ Parent ]
    Using They in the Singular (4.57 / 7) (#222)
    by Speare on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:04:58 AM EST

    From a usage note in the American Heritage dictionary:

      The use of the third-person plural pronoun they to refer to a singular noun or pronoun is attested as early as 1300, and many admired writers have used they, them, themselves, and their to refer to singular nouns such as one, a person, an individual, and each. W.M. Thackeray, for example, wrote in Vanity Fair in 1848, "A person can't help their birth," and more recent writers such as George Bernard Shaw and Anne Morrow Lindbergh have also used this construction, in sentences such as "To do a person in means to kill them," and "When you love someone you do not love them all the time."

      The practice is widespread and can be found in such mainstream publications as the Christian Science Monitor, Discover, and the Washington Post. The usage is so common in speech that it generally passes unnoticed.

      However, despite the convenience of third-person plural forms as substitutes for generic he and for structurally awkward coordinate forms like his/her, many people avoid using they to refer to a singular antecedent out of respect for the traditional grammatical rule concerning pronoun agreement.


    [ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
    No need for reform. (4.75 / 4) (#223)
    by olethros on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:07:08 AM EST

    Your example with 'one' is overly complicated. Here it is how it would've sounded with 'he' or with 'they'

    He would have liked to join the group, but he wasn't sure if he really belonged with them.

    It does not sound very general. It sounds like there is this specific guy that is thinking about the group. This is because you are not using the right phrasing in the first place. This is a case where you should use a plural, as there are some people that would have liked to joined. The concept of an abstract someone does not hold. This is a case where you can do it properly::

    One might want to join the group would one be certain that one would fit in.

    Note that this sentence does not work with 'he', but just with the plural version:

    Some people may want to join the group would they be certain that they would fit in.

    This is because in this case the plural version is more honest. You are talking about people in general that might want to join the group, not an abstract singular entity.

    This is because the abstract 'one' or 'he' only exists in hypothetical cases.

    Also, your magician example is incorrect. It should have read magicians, in plural and it would have been correct without modifying any current rules, right? And it would still mean the same thing.

    Examples:

    • One driving through boston would never get to one's destination.
    • Whe one crosses the street, one has to watch for cars.
    • When one dances, one has fun.

    Lastly, but most importantly, language is defined by its use. Grammatical and syntactical rules are created from the language, not vice-versa.
    -- Homepage| Music
    I miss my rubber keyboard.

    But where'd your noun go? (4.50 / 2) (#235)
    by urdine on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:37:59 AM EST

    In all of your examples, you don't have a proper noun being "pronouned" by "one." What exactly does "one" refer to? For example, you simply can't say:

    A person driving through Boston would never get to one's destination.

    See why? "A person" refers to a generic person while "one" refers to a specific person. When you see "a person" your mind immediately thinks, algebraically, "given some person, X." I see "one" more of as a third-person alternative to "you"--

    Driving though Boston, you would never get to your destination.



    [ Parent ]
    Other way round (4.00 / 2) (#288)
    by synaesthesia on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:16:45 PM EST

    "A person" refers to a generic person while "one" refers to a specific person.

    No, "a person" refers to a specific person (of undetermined gender) wheras "one" refers to the generic person ("one should eat up one's greens" <-> "people should eat up their greens") (which is presumably the formation from which "their" as a gender-indeterminate pronoun is derived: "people should eat up their greens" <-> "a person should eat up their greens").

    Sausages or cheese?
    [ Parent ]

    Fuck the Feminazis (3.77 / 9) (#225)
    by Kasreyn on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:13:03 AM EST

    I use "he" and plan to continue to use it until they make it a crime, and then they'll have to just convict me. Most people without chips on their shoulders treat "he" as gender-neutral, and will continue to. In fact, no one would actually *care* about this issue if certain extreme feminists didn't make such an inflated bloody big deal out of it.

    Face it, ladies (and gents, for that matter): English is riddled with holdovers from male chauvinism. Male chauvinism is built into the language so deeply, it's impossible to root out without totally ruining the language. English has been, and will always be, fundamentally biased; this is a problem with all natural languages, they all have a bias of some sort, and if we went around trying to eliminate it all, we'd have to unlearn them all.

    That said, I have no problem with feminists creating their own language, but if it doesn't allow me freedom of thought and the ability to express any damn thought I want to express, I will simply refuse to use it. I'm in favor of true gender liberation, not the whacko plans of extremist women trying to swing the pendulum the other way in an attempt to punish me and my generation's males for the chauvinism of our forefathers.

    Besides, there already IS a gender-neutral language, which may be the wave of the future, and it is called lojban. Feminists should preach a switch to lojban, rather than gutting a chauvinist language which can never truly be "fixed".


    -Kasreyn


    "Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
    We never asked to be born in the first place."

    R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
    And also, fuck the Invisible Pink Unicorn (2.33 / 3) (#319)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:52:29 PM EST

    If you're shagging imaginary beings, well, there's a long list of those...

    Oh, and Lojban is a completely ridiculous juxtaposition of mathematical logic and natural language by people who understand neither. You'd do well not to waste your time on such crap.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    What is ridiculous about it? (4.00 / 1) (#333)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:34:44 PM EST

    I just heard about it recently, and although I haven't had time to look into it, the general idea seemed interesting. In what ways do you find Lojban to be ridiculous, and in what ways is it apparent that its creators don't understand natural languages or mathematical logic?

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]
    Don't expect a valid reply (5.00 / 2) (#372)
    by Kasreyn on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:04:19 PM EST

    from an adequoid. (like, say, em)

    Good advice for anyone trying to engage in intelligent discussion on k5.


    -Kasreyn


    "Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
    We never asked to be born in the first place."

    R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
    [ Parent ]
    Except that I do know WTF I'm saying. (2.66 / 3) (#391)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:09:26 PM EST

    Given that I'm an expert in grammatical theory and have studied mathematical logic at the graduate level; both things I've studied with some of the world's top people on these topics. Does not mean I'm always right, but it means that my even my mistakes are not to be dismissed lightly.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Hmmm... (2.50 / 2) (#398)
    by Kasreyn on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:22:56 PM EST

    ::sniff::

    ::sniff::

    Nope, your shit stinks like mine.


    -Kasreyn


    "Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
    We never asked to be born in the first place."

    R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
    [ Parent ]
    Translation: (4.00 / 1) (#437)
    by tkatchev on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:15:54 AM EST

    "I lose".

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    Great idea. (3.00 / 1) (#323)
    by tkatchev on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:59:01 PM EST

    I think all the wackos should learn lojban and sail away to Mars, leaving us normal people in peace.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    Choosing what to break (none / 0) (#233)
    by gmuslera on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:30:53 AM EST

    ... the use of he as either male/female/unknown instead of simply male, or the use of they as singular/plural instead of the plural. I suppose that the best choice will be keep using he as by now instead of fixing this breaking more things (and risk to have another k5 article about having theys for plural and they for singular :)

    Best alternative is Spivak. (1.71 / 7) (#243)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:48:35 AM EST

    Just remove the "th" from the plural. So they/them/their/themself becomes ey/em/eir/emself.
    --Self.
    Won't work (5.00 / 1) (#259)
    by davidmb on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:26:18 PM EST

    Because it requires the re-education of a huge number of people. Just because it's easy to learn it doesn't mean that people will like it!
    ־‮־
    [ Parent ]
    a tired subject (1.14 / 7) (#268)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:38:07 PM EST

    Do you think this is an insightful and original comment? I doubt you could be re-educated to pick your nose with your other hand.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    Some good ideas (3.00 / 2) (#244)
    by UltraNurd on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:49:21 AM EST

    I think I lean towards making up a new gender-less pronoun, because I know Klingon :oP. Well, that's exaggerating, but I guess that using "they" would be an excellent interim solution.

    I generally don't mind people trying to remain gender neutral in their day to day speech, although some people do do it excessively. I am bothered, however, when people intentionally modify old songs or other writings to remove specific gender references, often disastrously. One of the choir teachers at my school was big on this, and I found the whole concept frustrating, obnoxious, and even a little offensive. It probably didn't help that her rewrites were laughably bad, but I just didn't like modifying old hymns, that I had learned a certain way.

    --
    "Your Mint Mountain Dew idea is hideous and wrong."
    -Hide The Hamster

    The dinosaurs here are funny... (1.22 / 9) (#247)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:50:56 AM EST

    How's it feel to know that you are going extinct? It's not about feminism or anything like that, but about a better tool for the job. But at least we can let you all rant on to show your lack of brain power--makes it easier to pick you out.
    --Self.
    A Question for Entymologists .. (5.00 / 1) (#248)
    by Peat on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 11:58:29 AM EST

    In modern German, I think the word for "one" (ie, a singular, neuter pronoun) is "Mann."  Since English is a derivative of German (amongst other things), is it more than a coincidence that English singular neuter pronouns are masculine?

    Probably not, but hey .. it can't hurt to ask!

    bigbluebang internet services - hosting, consulting, tools, and more.

    Huh? (3.33 / 3) (#255)
    by k5untrusteduser on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:18:59 PM EST

    Why would bug specialists care?

    [ Parent ]
    Bug Specialists (4.50 / 4) (#281)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:51:32 PM EST

    Bug specialists are "entomologists". Specialists in word origins are "etymologists". "Entymologists" are possibly specialists in the origins of bug names.

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]
    I think it was a joke...(nt) (none / 0) (#405)
    by Francis on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:45:46 AM EST


    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown
    [ Parent ]

    I got a laugh out of it, at least...(nt) (none / 0) (#370)
    by Francis on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:54:47 PM EST


    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown
    [ Parent ]

    Yes... (none / 0) (#260)
    by skyknight on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:27:39 PM EST

    My German has a coating of ferrous oxide upon it, so take anything herein with a grain of sodium chloride, but to my knowledge...

    The German word 'Mann' can in fact be used as you suggest. It is often a good way to mix things up in your prose by using active sentence construction in lieu of passive. Instead of passive (e.g. "it cannot be done") you could use active (e.g. "one cannot do such and such") by starting the sentence with "Mann kann nicht..."

    That being said, I'm not sure how to answer your interesting question. English does indeed borrow heavily from German, but English and German forked so long ago, and my knowledge of how durable linguistic traits are is so tenuous, that it would be hard to venture an educated guess.



    It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
    [ Parent ]
    Nitpick. (none / 0) (#267)
    by reklaw on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:37:57 PM EST

    It's "man kann nicht" (one n, small m) to mean "one can't". What you said ("Mann kann nicht") means "man can't".

    That said, their "man" is still obviously closely related to their "Mann" and our "man". I've no idea what the history of its usage is, though.
    -
    [ Parent ]

    This is the case in Norwegian, at least. (5.00 / 1) (#286)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:04:26 PM EST

    Norwegian is also very closely related to English. The word "man" in Norwegian is used as a generic pronoun of non-specific gender and number, e.g. "Man sier at..." for "One says that...". "Mann" is the Norwegian word for the English "man" or "husband".

    You could have a point there, that our use of the masculine is inherited from the Germanic proto-language. It could also be that it's just usually been the case that the masculine pronoun stands in for everyone--in other words, that this might be a cultural inheritance, not a linguistic one.

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]

    Not quite (none / 0) (#309)
    by epepke on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:22:31 PM EST

    In German, the singular for one is "man." The singular for a male human is "Mann." They sound different, but this difference is generally lost on speakers of English.

    This can cause problems. "Man ist man" can be a statement about the commonality of people. On the other hand, "Mann isst mann" is likely to be found in the porn section.

    Similarly, calling a Spanish or otherwise Hispanic woman a "pera" versus calling her a "perra" has a dramatically different effect.


    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


    [ Parent ]
    "man" in German (none / 0) (#561)
    by EffJot on Sat Jun 21, 2003 at 08:47:27 PM EST

    As was pointed out already, it's "man", not "Mann".  ("Mann" means "man" (male human being) in English.)
    "Man" looks and sounds quite similar to "Mann", which is regarded sexist by the PC crowd, and gave rise to those IMO awful "man/frau" or "mensch" expressions. ("Frau" = woman, "Mensch" = human, note the capitalisation).
    However, "man" (and also its "relatives" like "jemand" (someone) or "niemand" (nobody)) doesn't stem from "Mann", but more like the other way round.  A long time ago (in "Althochdeutsch" (old high german)), "Man" would mean human in general, whereas a male human was called "Wer" (which lives on only in some rather obscure words like "Werwolf" (werewolf) and "Wergeld" (wergild)), and a female "Wib" (later "Weib").  Later on, "Wer" was replaced by "Mann", "Wib" by "Frau" ("Weib" now being rather derogatory) and "Man" by "Mensch".  However, the pronoun "man" didn't change.  Confusing, isn't it?
    (I read about that some time ago on the net, but can't recall where.)

    [ Parent ]
    Just looking at the sheer volume... (4.00 / 3) (#254)
    by skyknight on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:10:09 PM EST

    of the comments that this article has generated, having been posted not seven hours ago, it becomes evident to me that combining the topics of grammar and gender is something akin to mixing equal parts frozen orange juice concentrate and gasoline. Trolls, sit up and pay due attention! That being said... Poor English is something up with which I will not put, bitch!

    It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
    I didn´t know this was a problem.... (3.00 / 3) (#257)
    by Niha on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:23:01 PM EST

      When I was at English class, we used the singular They without any problem, and I always have found it a reasonable solution...
      Another option could be using different endings for verbs depending on the person, as in Spanish, French,...But singular They is easier.

    In french (none / 0) (#278)
    by deggial on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:40:40 PM EST

    We do not have different verb forms for masculine / femine / neutral. We do not even have a neutral gender. Generally speaking, masculine may be pure masculine , or gender inclusive. However, when we use "a person", "personne" is feminine, so the pronouns refering to 'personne' will all be feminine. What did you say it's a mess?!

    [ Parent ]
    I´m afraid I haven´t explain myself well... (none / 0) (#458)
    by Niha on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:57:10 PM EST

     I was trying to tell that some languages have different verb forms for each person (first, second or third), not for each gender (that wouldn´t help, I guess).

    [ Parent ]
    I think using African-American rather than black (3.00 / 2) (#258)
    by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:23:11 PM EST

    I think that it is just silly. I agree with the author. How do you define a person of african decent?....their skin color!!!!

    so african american is just as bad as black.

    why not just not use skin color as a primary source of describing a person but use it as the last item?

    you want to make skin color less prevelent for what ever reason, so make it the last thing you say rather than the first....

    don't say "black man", say "a man who has a black skin tone" or "a man who has a very dark brown skin tone"

    that makes the skin color as prevelent as hair color and I think is less divisive.

    a man who has a very dark brown skin tone (4.25 / 4) (#277)
    by Cro Magnon on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:31:46 PM EST

    Way too wordy! Besides, I don't talk about a woman with a light yellow hair tone, I just say "that blonde".
    Information wants to be beer.
    [ Parent ]
    I was stating that (1.00 / 1) (#322)
    by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:58:20 PM EST

    the people who use the term african american, if they realy wanted to use something other than skin tone as the primary identifier would use my examples.

    [ Parent ]
    have you stopped to consider... (none / 0) (#316)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:47:53 PM EST

    that the two terms are not synonymous, after all? (Was e.g. Amadou Diallo an African-USian?)

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    your from canada aren't you. (none / 0) (#324)
    by modmans2ndcoming on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:00:02 PM EST

    becasue Canadians always talk about how they are Americans to....not saying they aren't though, just that is what they always say.

    [ Parent ]
    Singular They (1.50 / 2) (#262)
    by ecopoesis on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 12:28:53 PM EST

    I thought you were going to write an article about this Singular They.

    --
    "Yachting isn't just for the wealthy. :-)" - rusty

    I ain't impressed. (4.28 / 7) (#272)
    by ScotC on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:10:54 PM EST

    If we're going to wish for changes in the language, lets bring back ain't, the perfectly good contraction for am not. Ain't has a bad reputation not because it's inherently wrong, but because it is so often misused as a contraction for is not or are not.

    The absence of a good contraction for am not causes people to use the abomination aren't I?. Think about it. No literate person would say, "I are driving", yet people say things like "I'm driving, aren't I?" all the time. The other alternative, "I'm driving, am I not?" sounds too formal. There is nothing wrong with "I'm driving, ain't I?" except that generations of English teachers, trying to eradicate truly bad constructs like "You ain't driving" and "He ain't driving" have convinced us that ain't should never be used.

    I see a similar thing happening with x and I vs. x and me. In trying to get students to not say things like, "Steve and me went to the store", we overcorrect, and end up with educated people saying things like "The storekeeper gave candy to Steve and I."

    Not quite... (3.33 / 3) (#308)
    by ibsulon on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:21:29 PM EST

    "I'm driving, am not I?" is incorrect. It would be: I'm driving, am I not?

    the bigger issue is that ain't should always be preceeded by an I. As such, I'm not is as short as I ain't, and ain't is unnecessary.

    Furthermore, I'm is not rife with potential misuse such as "you ain't."

    There's no valid reason to use ain't as a contraction.

    [ Parent ]

    Are you sure? (4.33 / 3) (#326)
    by roystgnr on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:05:04 PM EST

    The word "isn't" is often used in a way that you would call incorrect, is not it?

    I also don't see why "you ain't" should be a reason to drop "ain't" any more than "you isn't" should be a reason to drop "isn't".

    [ Parent ]

    Not not quite (none / 0) (#361)
    by ScotC on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:54:40 PM EST

    If your theory is true, then I can say that "You're driving, aren't you?" is wrong, since "You're driving, are not you?" is wrong.

    If ain't should always be preceeded by an I, then shoudn't aren't always be preceeded by a you (or a they or a we)?

    It looks like either there is a flaw in your logic, or else there is "no valid reason" to use aren't as a contraction, since we have the alternative of you're.

    Which is it?

    [ Parent ]

    Granted... (none / 0) (#409)
    by ibsulon on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:30:42 AM EST

    and by the extention, "Isn't that something?" would be improper.

    However, the only condition that you would have to use ain't would be the present negative interrogative. That's pretty rare.

    I'm driving, ain't I? would have to be the only suggestion I can think of.

    [ Parent ]

    present negative interrogative (none / 0) (#451)
    by ScotC on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:42:08 PM EST

    I agree, that is the only condition where you couldn't use I'm not instead of I ain't, but even if it is a pretty rare condition, that's no excuse for using the completely wrong (but very common) aren't I.

    And again, the same argument can be made for you're not vs. you aren't or she's not vs. she isn't. Ain't, aren't and isn't are all the same kind of contraction. How can one be wrong if the other two are OK?



    [ Parent ]

    This reminds me of a signature I saw... (3.00 / 7) (#275)
    by gjetost on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:28:17 PM EST

    The term "woman" is no longer politically correct. You should the term "Female-American" instead.

    Woman does not imply American. NFM (5.00 / 2) (#279)
    by f00z on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:47:44 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    nor does black imply african ... nt (5.00 / 4) (#282)
    by drgonzo on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 01:51:42 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Get whacked with a clue stick, please. (3.00 / 4) (#320)
    by tkatchev on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:53:52 PM EST

    The correct term is Vaginal-American.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    Ah yes, political correctness... (3.85 / 7) (#285)
    by Eric Green on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:03:43 PM EST

    Funny, it is now political correct to denounce political correctness. And the people who are being politically correct by denouncing political correctness don't even catch the irony in their politically correct posturing.

    We live in a strange world, filled with people who are about as self-reflective as the average canine.

    As for me, I shall continue using English the way she was meant to be used. And if someone doesn't like that, well, he can just go jump in a lake. (Even if "he" is a "she").
    --
    You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...

    Really? (4.50 / 2) (#332)
    by LittleZephyr on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:31:24 PM EST

    I don't see this at all. If a politician says "The term African-American is inane and should be brought out of use.", he/she/per/they/whatever will be scolded, if not attacked.

    [ Parent ]
    As self-reflective as ... (3.00 / 1) (#510)
    by kingk0ng on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 06:01:53 AM EST

    As for me, I shall continue using English the way she was meant to be used.

    You're right about it being PC to condemn being PC, but what is the quote above supposed to mean? Who meant English to be used any way, besides the people who speak it?

    This is what I meant before when I mentioned "dictionaries in the sky". It's just nonsense. Even in Perl "There's more than one way to do it" - and unless you know otherwise, there's no Larry Wall of the English language.



    [ Parent ]
    Logically Inconsistent? (5.00 / 1) (#526)
    by goatsmilk on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:49:40 PM EST

    Are you sure you don't meant that it's fashionable to denounce political correctness?

    [ Parent ]
    'He' is just fine (3.83 / 6) (#289)
    by calimehtar on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:17:37 PM EST

    Am I the only one who thinks this? I'm actually sick of political correctness already, and I don't think using 'he' to mean people is really sexist anyway. Most languages do this or something like it. French for example has to assign a gender to every thing, person and group of people -- when it comes to a group they use masculine unless it is 100% female. I mean we were all female at conception, why not give the men a little help? It's just a little flattery so that we feel like we're useful or desirable somehow.

    Ready for death? (1.55 / 9) (#346)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:13:36 PM EST

    Consider that communication gaps lead to death in wartime. We sure seem near to war. Anyway, be sure to write your will. Or learn the Spivak pronouns.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    when the war of the sexes (none / 0) (#481)
    by calimehtar on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:42:55 PM EST

    comes to blows.

    [ Parent ]
    Never! (3.00 / 2) (#362)
    by Eater on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:08:38 PM EST

    He is at the root of the sexist persecution of poor, liberty-deprived women and the prevention of said women from using their pronoun as a generic and genderless one. Its very existence is a symbolic shaking of the penis at every femenist in the world.

    Keep it.

    Eater.

    [ Parent ]
    I agree! (2.00 / 1) (#390)
    by vlad123 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:06:17 PM EST

    Finally a voice of common sense.

    [ Parent ]
    Research has demonstrated... (3.66 / 6) (#292)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:25:30 PM EST

    Research has demonstrated that, regardless of the intent of the original scribe, when people read sentences where "he" is used as a pronoun of indeterminate gender, people actually visualize a male performing the action. We know that language very strongly affects the way we think. If this research is an accurate reflection of the way people think about this world, it's not surprising that some feminists want people to change their speech patterns to describe their intent more precisely. As I stated before (no, that was not supposed to be an editorial post, but I'm new here and so screwed up), it's going to be extremely difficult to add a new pronoun, since pronouns are "closed" class words. The fact that it's a pronoun we're talking about, and not an "open" class word, really complicates the issue. This is not the same as trying to get people to use "African-American" instead of "black". (BTW, I would very much like to hear from black people, or really anyone, about how they refer to their ethnicity, and why.)

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    gender-neutral language and complex systems theory (4.33 / 6) (#315)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:45:27 PM EST

    Research has demonstrated that, regardless of the intent of the original scribe, when people read sentences where "he" is used as a pronoun of indeterminate gender, people actually visualize a male performing the action.

    I worry about the implication of causality here, like it's the use of the pronoun that causes it. In fact, I would say there is a general tendency for generic persons to be represented as male in our culture, that goes way beyond just grammar in the narrow sense (e.g. it manifests itself in rhetoric and discourse in general), and that the use of "he" is just one of many manifestations of this; consider stock phrases like "the man on the street"; profession names like "fireman," "policeman"; and all sorts of conventional narrative or textual devices which represent e.g. the average citizen of a nation as a male.

    There is a problem in discussing the whole issue of gender-neutral language, that one can easily convey this ridiculously simple causal model, whereby use of masculine words for generic reference causes sexism; some people would retort that we could just as easily propose it to be the other way around (it's sexism that causes the use of the pronoun), or just ridicule the whole notion by pointing out that no causal mechanism has been shown.

    The model that one needs to think about these issues is I think far more complex, involving: (a) closer integration of facts about language use with the cultural milieu, (b) circular feedback mechanisms where language use and the culture mutually influence each other; the tendency to conceive of a generic person as a male feeds the tendency to use masculine pronouns as generic, which in turn feeds back into the original tendency. That is, instead of a simple causal model where we make either the culture or the language the culprit, we need a complex systems model.

    Of course this is not nearly developed enough to be a *theory* of sexism in language, but rather is a proposal of how such a theory ought to look like, intended to defuse common criticisms as misplaced.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    How would such a system not be complex? (5.00 / 1) (#338)
    by cburke on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:03:09 PM EST

    The model that one needs to think about these issues is I think far more complex, involving: (a) closer integration of facts about language use with the cultural milieu, (b) circular feedback mechanisms where language use and the culture mutually influence each other; the tendency to conceive of a generic person as a male feeds the tendency to use masculine pronouns as generic, which in turn feeds back into the original tendency. That is, instead of a simple causal model where we make either the culture or the language the culprit, we need a complex systems model.

    I agree completely.  It seems obvious that the interaction of language and culture would be complex and involve feedback.  Language affects thinking, thinking affects language.  Both affect and are affected by culture.  You can't put one in front of the other, because language and culture develop side by side.

    Yet that is exactly why "he" is unsuitable as a neuter pronoun.  The tendency to think of generic persons as male exists, and using "he" as a generic pronoun will reinforce that thinking, and the thinking will guide a person toward thinking of "he" as meaning male, defeating the purpose of having a neutral pronoun in the first place.  If the cultural bias did not exist, there would likely be no problem with "he".  

    It's not a matter of a culprit.  It's not that "he" is an evil tool of the patriachy, it's that "he" is part of this detrimental feedback loop.  Its function is compromised, and it should be changed for that reason alone.

    [ Parent ]

    careful... (none / 0) (#352)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:22:13 PM EST

    If the cultural bias did not exist, there would likely be no problem with "he".

    But with this statement you're giving the culture that surrounds a language a primary causal role. It is conceivable that in your hypothetical situation, the use of "he" as a generic could be a factor in developing a more general gender bias.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    due care... (4.00 / 1) (#374)
    by cburke on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 08:23:06 PM EST

    But with this statement you're giving the culture that surrounds a language a primary causal role. It is conceivable that in your hypothetical situation, the use of "he" as a generic could be a factor in developing a more general gender bias.

    I wasn't trying to give culture a causal role.  It is part of the feedback loop, and if you break any part of the loop then the loop is broken.  I therefore speculate that without the cultural bias the use of "he" would be benign, as it would not have a bias to reinforce.  That's hard to say for sure, but it seems unlikely to me that the current situation arose or could arise simply as a side effect of language.  I think the very complexity of the system is such that you can't find simple causes.  Which I suppose also makes the hypothetical situation irrelevent -- you can't say anything about what would happen without knowing more about how such a culture/language combination arose.  So nevermind. :)

    [ Parent ]

    So (4.66 / 3) (#363)
    by jjayson on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:09:00 PM EST

    Did they also do the test with a genderless pronoun? When a genderless pronoun was used, did people visualize a female?
    --
    "Fuck off, preferably with a bullet, if you can find one that's willing to defile itself by being in your head for a split second." - Parent ]
    Not sure. (none / 0) (#366)
    by sjbrodwall on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:24:02 PM EST

    This is stuff I've read about in linguistics textbooks and feminist literature; I haven't read the original research. I do know that when "she" was used instead of "he", that ended up just highlighting the pointed use of language, to the detriment of actually communicating the point of the sentence. The research was done by Wendy Martyna, if you want to look into it further. I'd dig up the citation for you, but I'm already procrastinating waaay too much for my damned logic exam on Thursday. Bleh. (If anyone knows of a good web tutorial for natural deduction, please e-mail me!)

    --
    Time you enjoy wasting is not
    wasted time.
        ~T. S. Elliot


    [ Parent ]
    Fear of change. . . (4.66 / 9) (#296)
    by Fantastic Lad on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 02:59:10 PM EST

    While I certainly did find that the whole period of knee-jerk Political Correct-Speak was irritating in the extreme, there was actually some good thinking going on beneath all of the thoughtless garbage being spewed by people more terrified by the shifting rules by which the flock was governed than they were in making language better.

    I think you are deliberately over-stating your case with some poor examples. In regard to "she or he" to demonstrate its clumsiness, you give us. . .

    Example: When a user comes to our site, she or he will see our product and she or he will want to buy it.
    Why not just say, "Users who come to our site will see our product and want to buy it."?

    English is a remarkably agile language in this regard. Sentences nearly always become awkward when you try to directly replace 'He' with an alternative. --So just say it a different way. It's dead easy. I've never found any difficulty or awkwardness in being gender inclusive.

    Another you gave was,

    Example: One would have liked to join the group, but one wasn't sure if one really belonged with them.
    I don't understand your example here. Since 'One' is the subject of the sentence, it obviously has both a name and a gender, which means it would have been perfectly fine to use either 'he' or 'she'. Or 'Jack' or 'Jill', for that matter.

    If you aimed, (as I suspect you did), for this sentence to be more global in terms of gender inclusion so as to demonstrate just how awkward 'One' is to use instead of the preferred, 'He', then frankly, it's still a poor example since the sentence wouldn't have created the desired global result if you had used the subject, 'He'.

    Continuing. . .

    Example: If a magician showed you how their tricks worked, they wouldn't have a job.
    This is not a good argument for the incorrect use of 'They', which will forever be poor grammar. If people want to talk in the plural, then use the plural!

    "If magicians showed you how their tricks worked, they wouldn't have jobs."

    No problem. There really isn't much of an issue here.

    -FL

    exactly. (3.50 / 2) (#306)
    by robert mcmeekin on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:15:26 PM EST

    `It' makes perfect sense.  That guy on the discovery channel uses `it' all the time when talking about the gazelles.  But seriously, there really is not problem at all.
    /Rob
    [ Parent ]
    How about (5.00 / 1) (#485)
    by autopr0n on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:00:58 PM EST

    I was making a post on metafilter and thought of this comment, when I used a singular 'they'.  How would you change the following:


    Honestly, I think that the jornalist was trying to be even-handed but they came across as being more 'pro blair'. The jornalist glossed over a few of the major complaints, and neglected the fact that all of the validctorians had practicaly-perfict GPAs.


    I suppose you could simply replace the 'they' with a comma, but two commas in one sentace like that fucks up the flow.


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    my this is a contrerversial suggestion. (5.00 / 1) (#297)
    by noogie on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 03:28:33 PM EST

    im sure no-ones thought of this.

    gnu.org uses per instead. i guess its a shortening of person. it looks stupid though - 'perself' etc.


    *** ANONYMIZED BY THE EVIL KUROFIVEHIN MILITARY JUNTA ***
    Of course it looks stupid. (2.00 / 6) (#318)
    by tkatchev on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:51:50 PM EST

    It's on gnu.org.

    These guys are clowns.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    origin of PER (none / 0) (#473)
    by loudici on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:53:53 PM EST

    per is used by the character who lives in the future in the Marge Piercy novel 'Woman on the Edge of Time'.

    Which is a nice novel. btw.  
    gnothi seauton
    [ Parent ]

    It's not just about political correctness. (2.00 / 3) (#311)
    by artsygeek on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:35:22 PM EST

    For some of us, it's about trying to express a situation we're in, and the parties we're interacting with can be either gender.

    Take those of us who are bisexual, when speaking generically about any person we have dated or may date, "they" is absolutely necessary, as "him or her" gets wordy, and using one and simply alternating sounds rather inconsistent and that's just one example.

    Oh ghod... (1.60 / 10) (#317)
    by tkatchev on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 04:51:02 PM EST

    ...I cannot believe I am reading this.

    You, Sir, are an official pure-bred retard.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    Descriptive vs. Prescriptive grammar (3.66 / 3) (#327)
    by Gregoyle on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:07:29 PM EST

    Singular "they" has become a plain fact of life, and although language purists might bemoan its emergence they will most likely lose in the long run.

    English is rife with examples of words and usages that were "incorrect" or "slang" that have become so commonly used as to be included in all but the most conservative purists' concept of proper grammar. e.g.

    If I was a race car driver, I would be able to eat fifty eggs.

    In American English this is a perfectly acceptable sentence, yet at one time the speaker would have been corrected for using "was" and "would" in improper ways. The correct way used to be to say

    If I were a race car driver, I should be able to eat fifty eggs

    Now, stylistically someone might use "were" rather than "was"; I know I do. But it is now perfectly acceptable to use "was".

    English is a rapidly changing and evolving language. If speakers find a need for a term for a single person of anonymous gender then they will address that need whether or not it is considered correct. These changes are usually adopted by the main body years later. The only way to really know what a language is like, and to truly learn the language like a native, is to study a descriptive grammar of the language that tells it like it is rather than a prescriptive one that tells it like some people think it should be.
    -------

    He's more machine now than man, twisted and evil.

    No, they'll die in the long run. (1.16 / 6) (#354)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:24:52 PM EST

    Anyone afraid of change dies. Simple fact. Death.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    so what? (5.00 / 2) (#385)
    by autopr0n on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:46:21 PM EST

    The same thing happens to people who are not afraid of change


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    but who lives longer? (1.00 / 1) (#408)
    by Fen on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:21:21 AM EST

    The ones with the laser guns, the ones not afraid of change.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    But most people are losing something here... (4.00 / 2) (#440)
    by jackyb on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 07:48:57 AM EST

    You're making a slight simplification here: both the sentences you quote ("If I was...", "If I were...") are correct. The difference between the first and the second construction is the mood.

    The first sentence is in the indicative mood, and expresses a possibility which might be actualised. It implies that I might have been a race car driver (which is true) and says, moreover, that if that possibility had eventuated, that I would (actually) be able to eat fifty eggs.

    The second sentence is in the subjunctive mood, and expresses a hypothetical possibility. It does not assume that the subject of the "if" clause could actually happen, and the consequent of the "if" clause is a hypothetical statement, not a description of a possible reality.

    In this example, both sentences are possible and correct (well, the first one implies that race car drivers can all eat fifty eggs, but I'm prepared not to argue about that). If you'd used an example like:

    If I were a fish, then I should (or would) be able to breathe under water

    then the indicative construction is incorrect, as I can't actually be a fish.

    Because, as you correctly point out, most people aren't aware of this distinction, a subtlety in language is gradually being lost.



    [ Parent ]

    Bah (3.16 / 6) (#330)
    by trhurler on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 05:22:59 PM EST

    First of all, I readily accept that there is nothing I can do about the use of "they" in the singular. It is not a proposal - it is a fact. I avoid it if I can, but that is not relevant. General usage is all that really matters here.

    That said, it is a pathetic fact, and the idiot leftists who have mutilated English in this way in order to accomplish a goal nobody except neurotic losers devoid of self esteem ever felt needed accomplishing should be ashamed of themselves. English is now a truly ugly language. Thank you very much, assholes. (I'd call them bitches, since they're almost uniformly female, but I'm sure they'd start a campus crusade against me.)

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    Bitches is a gender neutral term... (5.00 / 1) (#339)
    by israfil on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:04:04 PM EST

    ... in the modern epithetic style.

    As in: "Yo, bitch!  Nigga' be dope trippin'!"

    i.
    i. - this sig provided by /dev/arandom and an infinite number of monkeys with keyboards.
    [ Parent ]

    what the hell is dope trippin'? (none / 0) (#382)
    by autopr0n on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:44:08 PM EST

    That doesn't make any sense at all.  Dope is an abjective, not an adverb.  Not only that, it's meaning is totally opposite that


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    Hint (none / 0) (#420)
    by kraant on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:57:19 AM EST

    Dope is also a noun.
    --
    "kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
    Never In Our Names...
    [ Parent ]
    Dude! (5.00 / 1) (#474)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:54:45 PM EST

    That post was #420!  Awesome!


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    Dude!! (none / 0) (#540)
    by freality on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 01:08:22 AM EST

    No doubt!

    [ Parent ]
    clue... I'm white... (none / 0) (#578)
    by israfil on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 11:22:16 PM EST

    and therefore don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to gangsta vernacular.  I was being a smart-ass.  Specificity was not the order of the day, except in jest.

    i.

    i. - this sig provided by /dev/arandom and an infinite number of monkeys with keyboards.
    [ Parent ]

    unless of course... (none / 0) (#505)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:29:42 AM EST

    you happen to be talking about dogs

    [ Parent ]
    your joke hides a serious fact (3.00 / 1) (#532)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 08:17:33 PM EST

    That, in the history of English, words for females tend to evolve despective senses, while words for males do otherwise. Compare "master" with "mistress", "husband" with "hussy" (originally huswif "housewife"), etc.

    That is, your jocular attempt at presenting a "gender neutral" term in fact points out how the historical evolution of despective terms very often follows a sexist logic.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    true true... (none / 0) (#577)
    by israfil on Fri Jul 18, 2003 at 11:20:33 PM EST

    That is a quite sage observation.  The same is true of simpler words, where power-relationships occur.  Note we prefer to eat beef, rather than cow.  As english was forming, the dominant culture was Norman, which had a form of french as its language.  The nobility then said "boeuf" (or something like it) and the peasantry said "coo".  The "polite" word then becomes the form used in the dominant culture.

    i.
    i. - this sig provided by /dev/arandom and an infinite number of monkeys with keyboards.
    [ Parent ]

    What do you think about death? (1.22 / 9) (#351)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:21:33 PM EST

    If you don't upgrade your language, aren't you prone to dying from a communication mistake? Groups who stay with the old are groups that die.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    No (5.00 / 3) (#360)
    by trhurler on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:47:00 PM EST

    Honestly, the three things that are most likely to kill me are a heart problem, a liver or kidney problem, and one of your mom's jealous man-harem. If not any of those things, I'll probably live a long time.

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    Ugly? (5.00 / 1) (#383)
    by autopr0n on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:45:11 PM EST

    yeah, one single change can make a language 'ugly'.  Whatever.


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    *yawn* (4.75 / 4) (#386)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:48:12 PM EST

    That said, it is a pathetic fact, and the idiot leftists who have mutilated English in this way in order to accomplish a goal nobody except neurotic losers devoid of self esteem ever felt needed accomplishing should be ashamed of themselves.

    Except that singular "they" antedates the "idiot leftists" you complain about, by something like 700 years. (You didn't read the article, didn't you?)

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Heh (3.00 / 1) (#452)
    by trhurler on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:45:09 PM EST

    It was in use? Yes. It was a dominant form? Not among people who considered themselves civilized. It is a vastly different thing when Bob the vagrant says something a certain way than when Bill the charity ball organizer says it that way, because the latter, to some extent, speaks as he believes he should, whereas the former merely apes what he hears around him. These days, we're teaching people to talk and write this way. It is pathetic. And it is SOLELY the fault of a bunch of idiot feminazis who were absolutely convinced that if the word "he" has two meanings, then women are property or something stupid like that.

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    making shit up is not kosher (none / 0) (#506)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 04:16:17 AM EST

    It was in use? Yes. It was a dominant form? Not among people who considered themselves civilized.

    The fallacy you are exhibiting here, I think deserves to be called "argument from total fantasy." How exactly do you claim to know any of this?

    Let's introduce an elementary methodological consideration that arises in almost any study of the history of a language which bases itself in old texts. As a general rule, text does not accurately represent the language of everybody in its society, but rather, of those who are literate. Literacy, in turn, correlates with power and prestige.

    There are exceptions, in which authors try to represent the speech of illiterate people, but one must be very careful not to take the representations at face value. In simpler words, it's "Bill the charity ball organizer" whose language is preserved in writing, not that of "Bob the vagrant," except in cases where Bill is deliberatyly trying to sound like Bob, at which he, most likely, utterly sucks, but it's not like he cares to get it right to start with.

    Now, singular "they" is repeatedly attested in written English for the past 700 years or so. This means that you find it in written text. From examining the examples in the Oxford English Dictionary, there is no evidence of these sentences being attributed to Bobs; it's Bills who are using it.

    Your scenario is thus prima facie unlikely, and you have to do some real work if you want to overcome this sort of standard objection. (Not that I'm holding my breath; remember, "argument from total fantasy.")

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    idiot leftists who have mutilated English ... (4.50 / 2) (#447)
    by tdismukes on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:34:47 AM EST

    "...idiot leftists who have mutilated English in this way in order to accomplish a goal nobody except neurotic losers devoid of self esteem ever felt needed accomplishing..."

    I presume you're referring to Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, the authors of the King James Bible and their kin, who have done so much to uglify the English language? Of course, they don't seem to be uniformly female, unless you know something you're not telling us.

    [ Parent ]
    Hrm (none / 0) (#484)
    by autopr0n on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 08:59:02 PM EST

    PCism has been a huge problem since the 1400s, when people started using the singular 'they'.


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    Speaking and writing are not the same. (4.00 / 2) (#343)
    by Francis on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:08:46 PM EST

    Sorry, but I didn't bother reading all the comments to see if this has already been mentioned.

    I have always distinguished written English from spoken English. I do not demand of myself (nor others) the same sort of grammatical and syntactical standards in speech that I do in writing. That is not to say that I condone sloppiness of speech, but rather that I can acquiesce to the necessity of taking occasional short cuts in speech. Hence, I've no problem with "they" as a singular pronoun in speech. But as it is, in fact, incorrect, I could not abide it in writing. In writing, I almost universally use "s/he," as it is as concise and intelligible as any alternative. I simply don't understand why you are insistent upon determining a solution that must fit both writing and speaking?
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown

    Do you think you'll die soon? (1.16 / 6) (#348)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:15:00 PM EST

    Well if war is upon is, communication gaps lead to death, right? Learn the Spivak pronouns and be among the few who'll live.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    Is it a joke? (none / 0) (#369)
    by Francis on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:37:26 PM EST

    If so, I don't get it.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown
    [ Parent ]

    Are you a troll? (none / 0) (#378)
    by autopr0n on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:41:48 PM EST

    I mean seriously.  When did '/' become an appropriate punctuation for, I donno 'set-building contraction' or whatever you want to call it.  s/he looks ugly as hell on paper and it's idiotic.


    [autopr0n] got pr0n?
    autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
    [ Parent ]
    No... (4.00 / 1) (#404)
    by Francis on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:42:11 AM EST

    But perhaps I should qualify my statement. First, I was not implying that my usage was correct, in a technical sense. It is just how I have jumped that linguistic hurdle.

    Also, I should say that by "writing" I didn't necessarily mean expository writing or literature. For literature (specifically fiction) I don't really think it matters in what style one writes--there is room for colloquialisms, and it is entirely at the discretion of the author how s/he wants to symbolize a non-gender-specific 3rd-person singular pronoun.

    In expository writing it is much more important, generally speaking, to write with a mind towards grammatical propriety, as this writing is typically to be judged against a standard. So, for this medium, I certainly wouldn't suggest the "s/he" fix. Since I haven't written in either of these mediums for years, they were not really what I had in mind. I was thinking more along the lines of formal personal communications. I use the "s/he" for professional communications, letters, on occasion, semi-formal emails, posts to sites like this, etc.

    The point of my post was to suggest that different mediums require different solutions to linguistic problems. If you think my usage is idiotic, oh well. I will only say that it seems much less idiotic to me than substituting "donno" for "don't know."


    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown
    [ Parent ]

    The problem (none / 0) (#414)
    by kesuari on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:05:46 AM EST

    The problem with your solutions is that 's/he' is ungrammatical. Whenever I come across something like 'she or he' or 's/he' or 'he' or 'she' as a generic pronoun, I have to stop and reread the sentence using the correct pronoun for this: 'they'.

    [ Parent ]
    Right and Wrong... (none / 0) (#424)
    by Francis on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:19:52 AM EST

    "S/he" is not accepted as a grammatically correct pronoun; you are right about that. I wasn't claiming a grammatical fix, but was simply stating how I approach the linguistic problem.

    However, "they" as a singular, generic pronoun is also incorrect. It is, by linguistic definition, plural. The only sense in which it is correct is that it simply sounds more reasonable in common speech. It is, in point of fact, more incorrect, grammatically speaking, than "s/he," as "they" takes a plural conjugate, while "s/he" does not.

    The point is: why does it really matter? There are so many different mediums for language. Why is it crucial to have one universal, 3rd person, non-gender-specific pronoun? Has this ambiguity really caused so much trouble for us in communicating?
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Insults are the first and last arguments of fools. -- Unknown
    [ Parent ]

    Those who don't change die (1.00 / 6) (#345)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:12:00 PM EST

    The tool is needed. Those who don't upgrade their language will die in war, as communication gaps lead to DEATH. Dead people don't say stupid things like "political correctness". Everyone who mentioned "political correctness" and refuses to use the Spivak pronouns will die very soon likely.
    --Self.
    Hey, THEY is what we are... (none / 0) (#355)
    by knott art on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:36:56 PM EST

    Singularity is an outdated concept. If you don't believe it google your name/idea/dream/belief--  whatever you think makes you unique -- into the machine in front of you.  You are a fraction of that collection of hits that appears on your screen in 1.7 seconds.  Then, consider that only a small fraction of human consciousness is recorded on the internet.  

    There is nothing new under the sun.

    Still, I (or should that be we) don't like "they."  Could it be language that gives us the hope of being unique?
    Knott Art

    There was never anything new under the sun. (2.00 / 3) (#357)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:45:49 PM EST

    Ideas exist outside of time, you idiot.
    --Self.
    [ Parent ]
    "they" is not meant to be a unique (none / 0) (#504)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:27:16 AM EST

    no pronoun uniquely identifies anyone, replacing "John" with "He" effectively removes John's identity from any sentence. it's not just confined to the use of "they".

    [ Parent ]
    Would you use Spivak if alternative was death? (1.00 / 4) (#358)
    by Fen on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:46:21 PM EST

    Doesn't that make the choice clearer?
    --Self.
    They like You (5.00 / 3) (#359)
    by Nurgled on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 06:46:47 PM EST

    After much consideration a few years ago I decided to buy this. We don't mind using you as both singular and plural, so I don't see really why we can't use they as singular and plural too. However, I have one qualm.

    People often distort the sentence to suggest purality when they use singular they, I guess because otherwise they think it sounds wrong. Consider:

    The customer will find that they are dead.

    They are? That's grammatically plural, but there's only one customer! What's going on?

    However, we do this with "you" as well, which I never noticed until I thought about "they":

    You will find that you are dead.

    Therefore I don't see why we can't use "they" like this, if it works for "you".

    One quirk remains, though: Yourself and yourselves. It just doesn't sound right to say "themself"... but maybe that'll come with time.



    Yall (none / 0) (#396)
    by lpret on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:36:12 PM EST

    We don't mind using you as both singular and plural

    Might I add that in the South we have a great word for you plural: yall. I'm not from the South, but when I moved here, I started saying yall, and now it just makes sense. For instance:

    Yall need to make sure yall's stuff is OK.

    vs.

    You need to make sure your stuff is OK.

    Yall fits the bill for plural non-gender specific. Perhaps in other "dialects" of English there is already a fix for the singular non-gender specific?

    A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. - Greek proverb
    [ Parent ]

    Y'all as singular (2.00 / 1) (#433)
    by Nurgled on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:57:21 AM EST

    I've heard "Y'all" used as singular too, so this doesn't really help.



    [ Parent ]
    Correct pluralization for y'all (4.00 / 1) (#555)
    by lorcha on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 05:36:45 PM EST

    is all'y'all.

    Found that out the hard way when I moved to the south. I tried to use this y'all thing by saying to a group of people, "I'm going out to dinner now. Y'all should come with." Only one fuckin' person showed up 'cuz they all thought I was only talking to him.

    Better luck next time, I guess.

    --
    צדק--אין ערבים, אין פיגועים
    [ Parent ]

    y'all (5.00 / 1) (#503)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:24:00 AM EST

    Y'all is a contraction of "you all", which technically does resolve the you singular/plural problem, it does so very clumsilly, and tends to also be used just as singularly as "you" half the time.

    [ Parent ]
    "Themself" (none / 0) (#435)
    by tkatchev on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:09:48 AM EST

    Sounds like perfectly normal vernacular English, at least to my ear.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    themself (none / 0) (#529)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 07:46:50 PM EST

    i know a guy who just did a B.A. thesis on "themself", and finds it to be far more widespread than previously believed.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    why not (4.25 / 4) (#367)
    by the77x42 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:32:15 PM EST

    The word 'them' just sounds stupid. Don't use it.

    You can always use 'fucker' or 'bastard' or just do it the cockney way and use 'cunt'.


    "We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
    "You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

    We have no masculine pronoun (4.50 / 4) (#368)
    by parafil on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 07:34:46 PM EST

    What's missing here is an unambiguously male pronoun.  We have no masculine equivalent for "she."

    In English, we can use a pronoun to indicate the gender of a female person.  We cannot use a pronoun to indicate the gender of a male person.  "He" does not accomplish this, because our audience doesn't know whether we intend to specify gender.

    Creating ANOTHER gender-ambiguous pronoun will not resolve this ambiguity.  What we need is an unambiguously MALE pronoun.

    'He' is perfectly gendered. (3.66 / 3) (#413)
    by kesuari on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:58:48 AM EST

    What's missing here is an unambiguously male pronoun.  We have no masculine equivalent for "she."

    What is the sex of the person in the following sentence?

    'Chris took his cat to the vet.'

    Chris could be short for either Christopher (m.) or Christina (f.), or others besides.

    According to you we therefore have no way to work it out. But every other person who knows English would probably say that Chris was male. When asked why, they would probably point to the masculine pronoun 'his'.

    'He' is male enough to most people. That is the problem. Many people use 'they' as an indeterminate pronoun, which may or may not refer to a plural entity, all the time. You can't stop that just by willing it gone.

    [ Parent ]

    That's fantastic. (5.00 / 1) (#497)
    by traphicone on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 02:37:51 AM EST

    Your example is absurd. An English speaker would interpret Chris to be male because of the noun-pronoun gender agreement. Chris could be male or female. He could be masculine or feminine. She could only be feminine, so he must have been used for a reason, because Chris is male.

    So what do you want?

    Chris took their cat to the vet.

    Great. Now Chris of indeterminate gender is taking someone else's cat to the vet. That was sure nice of them. They didn't have to do that. I'm certain that they will thank them for it when they come home from their trip.

    "Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
    [ Parent ]

    yugga (none / 0) (#502)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:19:56 AM EST

    while the only way to make this gender indeterminant, without changing the intent would be

    Chris took the cat to the vet.

    [ Parent ]
    which cat? lets all learn a new language (none / 0) (#513)
    by makohill on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 06:58:24 AM EST

    Great. Now Chris of indeterminate gender is taking someone else's cat to the vet.

    And if don't buy into this articles suggestions, we'll assume the cat belongs to more than one other person.

    This is a mess. Lets all decide on a new language with superior pronouns and move forward.


    Creativity can be a social contribution, but only in so far as society is free to use the results. --RMS
    [ Parent ]
    you're missing specificity (5.00 / 1) (#528)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 07:45:40 PM EST

    Your example is absurd.

    No, it's not, but your reply is still interesting.

    An English speaker would interpret Chris to be male because of the noun-pronoun gender agreement. Chris could be male or female.

    But the point is that the information that Chris is a male is furnished by the use of "he" as an anaphor. If Chris was known to be a female, it would be a speech error.

    He could be masculine or feminine. She could only be feminine, so he must have been used for a reason, because Chris is male.

    You're missing an important thing here. Singular "they" and generic "he" are generic. In the example in question, the pronouns are being used anaphorically to resume a specific referent. This means that generic uses of a pronoun are incompatible with the context, and the only interpretation available for "he" is the masculine one.

    As for the following example:

    Chris took their cat to the vet.
    I agree with your reading that "their" in this sentence can't be used to refer back to Chris; it must refer to some other person or group of persons. This because Chris is a specific referent, and can't be referred back to generically.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    ¡One Should Use One! (1.00 / 1) (#377)
    by Walabio on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:14:36 PM EST

    The use of the pronoun "he" for both men and women always seemed illogical to me. The use of the pronoun "they" in the singular is also illogical. The pronoun "one" is perfect.

    Given that pronoun "one" is singular, in generalizations one should recast in plural:

    "If magicians showed one how their tricks worked, they would not have a job"

    Basically, one should use the pronoun "one" for specific singular instances and the pronoun "they" in the plural for generalizations. It is simple.

    Do not listen to politically correct people; or for that matter, the right-wingers from Clearchannel either (They, right-wingers and politically rorrect alike, are all stupid brain-dead me-too AOLers).


    --

    ¡Sign For Bodily Integrity, With Nobel Laureate Biologists And The Rest Of Us!

    ¡Impeach Dubya!

    Or better still (none / 0) (#488)
    by am3nhot3p on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 10:25:49 PM EST

    "If magicians showed one how their tricks worked, they would not have a job"

    The "one" is ungainly and not really necessary, while "they have" begs a plural. Far better, in my opinion, would be the following:

    "If magicians showed how their tricks worked, they would not have jobs."



    [ Parent ]
    yugga (none / 0) (#501)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:15:40 AM EST

    "If magicians showed one how their tricks worked, they would not have a job"
    of course if you're going to switch between plural and singular, then there's definitely going to be confusion. plus this sentance doesn't even call from the use of "one"/"they" to replace the object

    "If magicians showed people how their tricks worked, they would not have jobs."

    [ Parent ]
    Finno-Ugric languages as an example (4.00 / 1) (#384)
    by eLoco on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:46:07 PM EST

    I never thought much about this until I studied Finnish, and later Hungarian. In these languages there is only one, genderless pronoun.

    Finnish: hän (like "hand" minus the 'd')
    Hungarian: o'' (o with two acute accents above, similar to German ö but longer)

    Of course, these have their own problem in that gender is sometimes useful information to include. I would guess this is a relatively minor issue and one that is easily worked around, although I don't know what the common solution would be.

    I would mostly agree with the author, that the singular "they" is the best available solution, but it is somewhat awkward, and it would be nice if a word existed in English that were truly genderless and always singular. I propose the word "heshe", pronounced like "heesh". To be more politically correct I could propose "shehe" but this would either end up being two syllables ("heeshee") or sound identical to "she" since our he is usually silent at the end of words.



    Re: Finno-Ugric languages as an example (none / 0) (#389)
    by eLoco on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:05:09 PM EST

    I thought I proofread the previous message before posting, but I guess my mind was elsewhere. The last line should say:

    ...To be more politically correct I could propose "shehe" but this would either end up being two syllables ("sheehee") or sound identical to "she" since our 'h' is usually silent at the end of words.



    [ Parent ]
    Thai (5.00 / 1) (#525)
    by goatsmilk on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:24:26 PM EST

    Thai also has no "he" or "she", just "khao" which is used for both genders (unless it is pronounced in the wrong tone. Then it means "rice", "news", "old", ...). Interestingly, though, Thai does have an equivalent to "it", which is used for non-humans.

    [ Parent ]
    I don't think it will work (none / 0) (#387)
    by blisspix on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 09:49:40 PM EST

    It seems logical, but I don't think it would happen in practice. Thinking about this from the POV of other languages, we can see that 'they' is not usually used in the singular sense anywhere, at least from my experience with Italian and French.

    In Italian, we have -

    I
    You (singular)
    He/She/You singular polite
    You plural
    We
    They

    'They' singular would probably work ok in using the present tense but might get complex in other tenses. Same in English.

    I think it's a good idea to define something neutral (doesn't German have a neutral gender?) and 'they' is probably as good a suggestion as any, though it complicate translation!

    Why not? (none / 0) (#394)
    by jeh on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:35:07 PM EST

    The french use the plural you, vous, in the singular form to refer to someone formally or someone you don't know. The singular form, tu, is only used to someone you are familiar with.
    --jeh
    [ Parent ]
    you need to think about more languages (none / 0) (#411)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:39:31 AM EST

    Thinking about this from the POV of other languages, we can see that 'they' is not usually used in the singular sense anywhere, at least from my experience with Italian and French.

    Not exactly a wide-ranging sample, isn't it?

    Anyway, for generic pronouns, there are several common choices in the world's languages: second singular, third singular and third plural. Hell, English has all of these, and also "one" to boot:

    1. If a person goes to that school, they end up hating it.
    2. If a person goes to that school, he ends up hating it.
    3. If you go to that school, you end up hating it.
    4. If one goes to that school, one ends up hating it.
    These all mean essentially the same thing.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Actually, it works perfectly well. (none / 0) (#412)
    by kesuari on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 01:42:24 AM EST

    It seems logical,

    That's debatable but irrelevant.
    but I don't think it would happen in practice.

    Try telling it to the millions using it daily over the past seven hundred—if not more—years.
    Thinking about this from the POV of other languages, we can see that 'they' is not usually used in the singular sense anywhere, at least from my experience with Italian and French.

    English is not other languages.

    English uses 'they' perfectly happily to refer to people whose gender is unknown. English has for a long time. English will continue to do so. Just about any other formation are overly-long or sexist. The ones that aren't have little currency. Don't stop a good thing.

    [ Parent ]

    We can't use they!!! (none / 0) (#395)
    by cs668 on Tue Jun 17, 2003 at 10:35:28 PM EST

    Because "they" are the ones who drive the conspiracy that controls the world :-)

    Suddenly every other sentence would contain a reference to they and then I would really freak out.  Because they have been putting things in my milk to control me.

    The choice is clear. (none / 0) (#401)
    by For Whom The Bells Troll on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:01:21 AM EST

    Strike me a purist, but "they" is not singular, and we likes it that way.

    Instead, I propose that we use David Nelson as our singular genderless pronoun, to show our support for all the David Nelsons in the world who are stopped and strip-searched.

    ---
    The Big F Word.

    Singular they? (4.00 / 1) (#402)
    by jejones3141 on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:23:20 AM EST

    If it's singular, why do people using "they" as if it were singular use plural verb forms? The utterance "If anyone lost a glove, they is going to have to look for it themselves" will be laughed at by all who speak English, even those who would say "If anyone lost a glove, they are going to have to look for it themselves."

    (BTW, about "you": English succumbed to the same brown-nosing pronoun usage as German, Dutch, some Romance languages, etc. Once it was straightforward: "thou" is singular, "ye" or "you" plural. Then upper class types of the "We are not amused" sort took to wanting to be referred to in the plural, so they wanted the plural pronoun used when talking about them. Thank goodness "thou" is archaic in modern English. (Spanish is a little different, with "usted" starting out in life as "vuestra merced" (your (plural!) grace); the circumlocution takes third person singular verb form, and hence the shortened "usted" does too.)

    "One never knows—do one?" --Fats Waller


    Singular They... (none / 0) (#429)
    by cymantic on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:02:51 AM EST

    In spoken english: "If anyone lost a glove, they'll have to find it themselves.", same meaning, no laughter.

    [ Parent ]
    bleargh (none / 0) (#527)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 07:32:55 PM EST

    If it's singular, why do people using "they" as if it were singular use plural verb forms?

    Because subject-verb agreement is sensitive to inflectional form and not to semantics. And if you don't understand this statement, then why should we take seriously your self-righteous denunciations of common usage? Leave grammar to grammarians (and real ones, not the dweebs that write "usage" guides).

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    Longwinded shorthand (none / 0) (#403)
    by mysta on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:24:25 AM EST

    A pronoun is linguistic shorthand--who ever heard of long-winded shorthand?
    While the abbreviation 'WWW' for World Wide Web is a great shorthand in written text it doubles the number of syllables required in speech.
    ---
    Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
    Solution (specific to WWW) (5.00 / 1) (#417)
    by bignose on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:16:56 AM EST

    > While the abbreviation 'WWW' for World Wide Web is
    > a great shorthand in written text it doubles the
    > number of syllables required in speech.

    I'm attempting to spread the meme of pronouncing "WWW" as "Wub wub wub".

    Silly as it sounds when you speak it aloud, no-one has needed to ask "what does that mean?" when I say it, and it nicely solves the ridiculous "doubleyew doubleyew doubleyew" problem.

    (Similar drives to pronounce it as "Dub dub dub" fail, since "dub" is already a common English word and thus the phrase is ambiguous enough that you'll need to spell it out anyway.)


    [ Parent ]

    Works ok in Polish (none / 0) (#436)
    by Meatbomb on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:14:31 AM EST

    Where WWW = "voo voo voo"...

    Now if only I could use that in English, without getting strange looks.

    _______________

    Good News for Liberal Democracy!

    [ Parent ]

    ..or in Dutch (none / 0) (#453)
    by basj on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:58:03 PM EST

    Where WWW = "way way way" Now if only I could use that in English, without getting strange looks.
    --
    Complete the Three Year Plan in five years!
    [ Parent ]
    German is golden too (none / 0) (#475)
    by Dephex Twin on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:01:41 PM EST

    Vay vay vay in the house!


    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    WubWubwub (none / 0) (#450)
    by cluke on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 12:37:56 PM EST

    I like that! Certainly a lot better than the horrible suggestion I once heard suggesting it be referred to as a 'treble-yew'.

    [ Parent ]
    I always say (none / 0) (#496)
    by President Saddam on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 01:34:25 AM EST

    'wuh wuh wuh'. It seems perfectly natural...

    ---
    What part of "No, I didn't gas my own people" don't you understand?[ Parent ]
    World Wide Web (none / 0) (#523)
    by goatsmilk on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:13:57 PM EST

    How about pronouncing "WWW" as "World Wide Web"? Of course this doesn't really work when spelling out a URL, but for most web sites these days you'll end up at the right place if you drop the "www." anyway, so why not forget about it?

    [ Parent ]
    "dub dub dub" or simply "dub" (5.00 / 1) (#539)
    by freality on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 12:45:27 AM EST

    And actually, i do this:

    "dub cnn com", i.e.: dub [pause] C-N-N [pause] com

    it's fast and clear.

    And dub is a cool word in-and-of-itself.  It's "dub" from dubbing music, and it's like "dubya", for my esteemed prez.

    [ Parent ]

    Re: Longwinded shorthand (5.00 / 1) (#449)
    by MadDreamer on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:54:13 AM EST

    While the abbreviation 'WWW' for World Wide Web is a great shorthand in written text it doubles the number of syllables required in speech.

    Triples the number of syllables actually, unless you're using the presidential pronunciation of W, 'dub-ya'.


    [ Parent ]
    Three forks. (n/t) (none / 0) (#573)
    by artis on Wed Jul 02, 2003 at 10:24:08 PM EST


    --
    Can you know that you are omniscient?
    [ Parent ]
    Avoid the issue entirely (5.00 / 3) (#418)
    by bigbigbison on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 02:39:11 AM EST

    In writing my thesis, I wanted to talk about a hypothetical person that could in fact be female or male, thus, at least for me, he wouldn't really do as to more and more people (those on my thesis commitee, as well as myself) it does imply a male subjectivity.  My solution? I avioided the issue.  I didn't use pronouns.  I uses synonyms and phrased my sentences in ways that didn't require pronouns.  It was a pain in the ass, but in the end, I am glad I did it.  I can only recall one situation where I had to resort to the old "he or she"

    ADD confusion as a laziness fix??? (4.58 / 12) (#430)
    by swezwho on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 05:05:56 AM EST

    No.  No, no, no.   Consciously sanction _more_ ambiguity in our communication with each other?  Ridiculous.

    We already have enough structural confusion from the use of "you" for both singular and plural.  Does anyone really want to sanction that nonsense for what would become two thirds of our pronoun table, by validating the wide-spread mis-use of "they"?

    There is NO problem here, except one of perspective.  We already have the "fix" to the (mis)perceived problem right in front of our faces:
       I
       you
       he, she, it

    Is some part of that _not_ crystal clear?  "He" specifies a male other than you or me, "she" a female, and "it"... of course refers to anyone whose gender is either unknown or irrelevant.  Period.

    The really fascinating part of all this is people's reluctance to universally use "it" in its specified role.  People do (habitually) use "it" appropriately every day, without a second thought.  Three example situations come immediately to mind.

    1)  Phone call answered by someone else
    "Hello?  Hang on a sec...  It's for you!"
    "Who is it?"

    The person answering the phone uses "it" to refer to the call itself.  The second uses "it" to refer to the caller, whose gender is about to be learned.  Thereafter, "he" or "she" becomes available.   Note that we would never say "Who is they?"  (or "he", or "she")   Also note that neither person experiences any confusion or discomfort from correctly using "it" to refer to a person.

    2)  Same basic scene at the front door.
    Ding-dong.
    "Hello?  Oh, hi... come on in."
    (off-stage)  "Who is it?"

    3)  Someone has a new child.  
    "Hey!  Fred and Wilma had their kid this morning!"
    "Oh yeah?  Was it a boy or a girl?"
    "A girl."
    "What'd they named her?"
    "Pebbles."

    Not "Was he a boy or a girl?", or "she", or "they".  "It".  Until we know, of course, after which her gender can be articulated.

    Again...  There is NO problem to solve here, except for an attitude adjustment.  (Well... that, and curing laziness.)  I'm not sure why, but those who object to "it" seem to gloss over the fact that the only real problems with using "it" also apply to (ludicrously) pressing "they" into service in the singular.  

    I contend that any time someone runs into a "problem" with using "it" in a situation where "it" (and only "it") fits, that person is looking at a sentence in need of re-phrasing anyway... and one in which "they" would sound every bit as grating to someone who is objectively hearing or reading the content.  

    Example:
    "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure they do so before Friday."  (ouch)

    "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure it does so before Friday."  (ewww...)

    _Both_ sound weird.  The first, because it's either ignorant or lazy, depending on the person delivering the statement.  We hear such phrasing all the time, so it doesn't sound _unusual_, but that doesn't stop it from sounding ignorant.

    The second sounds weird, mostly by virtue of not hearing it very often.  Such a sentence (mis)perceived as needing "they" is instead in need of re-phrasing, and doesn't get repaired by mis-using a plural pronoun.  The above could be comfortably re-phrased as:

    "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure to do so by Friday."

    Painless.  And... reflexive, when practiced.  Once the habit is established, it takes no more effort than the lazy habit of plugging in "they" all over the place.  *Poof*  Problem gone.  And properly... with no further abuse of the structure of our language.

    "They" is plural.  We don't need to make yet another pronoun schizophrenic, by putting a stamp of approval on mis-using it.  We don't lack a genderless pronoun, but rather the will to own up to "it".  There is still some hope for those who feel a twinge of guilt when using "they" in a singular context.  And those who do so unconsciously, well.... they're not paying attention anyway.  (See definition of "lazy".)

    Anyone comfortable with continuing to sound lazy (or ignorant) through either the inappropriate use of gender specificity, or the incorrect use of a plural pronoun, is of course free to do so.  As others have pointed out, this is hardly the most pressing issue facing us this election cycle.  But if we can't (or are unwilling to) get such a simple aspect of _basic_ communication right... what remote hope do we have for communicating abstractions?

    Permit me to request/suggest that we just deal with "it" and move on.  Please.  Use "he", "she", and "it" where they fit (and "they" in its defined role)... and  re-phrase where the _correct_ one doesn't "sound good".  

    And as for those annoying people who bounce back and forth from one gender to the other... can't we build some special... uh... "homes" for them or something... maybe with cell walls covered with looping videos of ping-pong games?  People who do that need therapy.

    =8-o

    Hunh? (none / 0) (#448)
    by jungleboogie on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:51:03 AM EST

    Says who?

    [ Parent ]
    What are you talking about? (3.50 / 2) (#478)
    by Klondike on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:01:26 PM EST

    You're wrong, dude.
    "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure they do so before Friday." sounds absolutely natural, and it's probably exactly how I would say it in normal speech.

    Using it is an *awful* way to go about it, it sounds repulsive, and is used only in the most impersonal circumstances. The ones you gave use it when either the person is only an unknown voice on the phone, or an unknown voice at the door, neither involving personal contact, and when the person is a newborn, when that person doesn't have much of a presence.

    Even if your examples weren't too specialized, they sounds perfectly fine, and I use it all the time. The fact that it's considered a grammatical error is stupid. Grammar should be modeled after what sounds good and is understandable, not the rules in a musty tome.

    [ Parent ]
    Who *are* they? (none / 0) (#482)
    by Foogle on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 07:39:14 PM EST

    Of course they wouldn't say "Who is they" -- that's absurd. But appropriately, they might say, "Who are they?", which even in proper English might be correct if you consider the fact that more than one person could concievably be waiting on the phone...

    -----------

    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."
    - They Might Be Giants
    [ Parent ]

    what? (none / 0) (#499)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:03:32 AM EST

    No. No, no, no. Consciously sanction _more_ ambiguity in our communication with each other? Ridiculous. Its no more ambiguous than me calling you a "he" and you turn out to be a "she" There is NO problem here, except one of perspective. We already have the "fix" to the (mis)perceived problem right in front of our faces: I you he, she, it Is some part of that _not_ crystal clear? "He" specifies a male other than you or me, "she" a female, and "it"... of course refers to anyone whose gender is either unknown or irrelevant. Period. Only if you REALLY REALLY want to insult them, that'd be you calling someone a thing. "It" should never be used to define a person. How would you like it if someone called yo an "it"? You'd probably be very insulted. The really fascinating part of all this is people's reluctance to universally use "it" in its specified role. People do (habitually) use "it" appropriately every day, without a second thought. Three example situations come immediately to mind. 1) Phone call answered by someone else "Hello? Hang on a sec... It's for you!"<which refers to the call being for you, not the caller. <i>"Who is it?"Again refering the call, not the caller. if you where asking who the caller was specifically, then it'd be an entirely different question, one not needing any pronouns: "Who's calling?" The person answering the phone uses "it" to refer to the call itself. The second uses "it" to refer to the caller, whose gender is about to be learned. Thereafter, "he" or "she" becomes available. Note that we would never say "Who is they?" (or "he", or "she") Also note that neither person experiences any confusion or discomfort from correctly using "it" to refer to a person. As I just said, you're still refering to the call, not the caller, the long form of the question being "Who is the call from?" 3) Someone has a new child. "Hey! Fred and Wilma had their kid this morning!" "Oh yeah? Was it a boy or a girl?" "A girl." "What'd they named her?" "Pebbles." in this case yes, it is used, because it tends to be the more comfortable phrasing, "Were they a boy or a girl" doesn't sound right (on multiple levels), and frankly, there's no one to offend. Example: "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure they do so before Friday." (ouch)sounds perfectly fine to me "Anyone wanting to sign up should make sure it does so before Friday." (ewww...)sounds like you're talking about a thing again

    [ Parent ]
    sorry for the lack of line spacing, fogot my HTML (none / 0) (#500)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:05:49 AM EST



    [ Parent ]
    cell walls looping... (none / 0) (#537)
    by freality on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 12:37:14 AM EST

    ... oh if only the world was so pretty.

    But seriously.  That is the funniest thing I have heard all day.

    Well, either that or the Finn's comment above:

    "For example, suppose I'm in the middle of a story involving my friend, his girlfriend, his dog and a vet. In Finnish I might very well blurt out something to the effect that "it told it to take it out to it". That's not communication. It's blind faith in the interpretative abilities of your audience."

    Nah, ping-pong balls're funnier.

    [ Parent ]

    Hmm. (4.00 / 1) (#434)
    by valeko on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:08:52 AM EST

    I'm no patriarch, but I tend to use "he", and, if it's a particularly "sensitive" situation, "one."

    I may be the only one in the world that routinely uses "one" in common speech and even more so in writing, but that's that.

    "Hey, what's sanity got going for it anyways?" -- infinitera, on matters of the heart

    Gender, things and persons (4.50 / 2) (#438)
    by ssyreeni on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:34:28 AM EST

    Reading the discussion, I'm really, really happy I've been blessed with a native tongue lacking gender sensitive pronouns. As somebody already pointed out, there's no such thing as "he" and "she" in Finnish. Furthermore, while there's a distinction between "hän" (a person) and "se" (a thing), even that distinction is routinely waved in spoken language -- most of the time everybody's a thing around these parts, and nobody thinks twice about it. Call it healthy materialism if you will...

    But of course the ease comes with a price attached. Gender is one of the many features of language with more than one function. It carries information ("man or woman" is about as basic as it gets), serves as useful redundancy ("[noise] and his dog"; languages have a lot in common with error correcting codes), and also underlies much of the topic structure of a discussion (see the "wa" particle in Japanese for a nice example of how to do this differently, and more explicitly).

    This last part then proves the most confusing when we ditch gender and the thing/person distinction -- discussions involving multiple topics become considerably hazier. For example, suppose I'm in the middle of a story involving my friend, his girlfriend, his dog and a vet. In Finnish I might very well blurt out something to the effect that "it told it to take it out to it". That's not communication. It's blind faith in the interpretative abilities of your audience.

    And no, this sort of thing is not the lunatic fringe. That you'll see when you're doing the same thing with actual gossip.

    So when discussing language, one might do well to remember that all those weird little exceptions, distinctions and vestiges are there for a reason. You might want to strip gender from your language, but it's also possible it's simply needed, for reasons far beyond patriarchal bias. In that case gender isn't going anywhere no matter how much you want it to.



    singular "they" has a long history (4.00 / 2) (#439)
    by danny on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 06:41:01 AM EST

    For the naysayers, singular they actually has a long history in English - it was quite common in the 18th century, and you can find examples in, for example, Jane Austen.

    Of course that only extends so far - it tends to sound normal in indefinite contexts, but odd in definite ones.

    Danny.
    [900 book reviews and other stuff]

    Personally.. (3.00 / 1) (#441)
    by hangareighteen on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:09:33 AM EST

    I like 'heo.' One other discussion on the subject.

    One & Spelling? (2.00 / 1) (#466)
    by devvincy on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:05:00 PM EST

    One is my personal favorite, partly because it does sound slightly stuff. It also lends itself well be being represented a genderless pronoun. It seem to embody the lack of gender, thats my own odd opion though. BTW, Transexual is correctly spelled Transsexual. Two SS's in the middle.
    /-------------------------------------------\
    | In a world with out walls or fences    |
    | Who needs Windows or Gates?  &
    Who cares about political correctness... (5.00 / 4) (#468)
    by joto on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 03:25:09 PM EST

    Has there ever been any case of research indicating that the use of "he" has ever made a measurable negative emotional impact on people not already indoctrinated to destroy the language for political reasons?

    Fuck you all!

    try it out yourself (1.00 / 1) (#486)
    by benxor on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 09:11:43 PM EST

    Simply superimpose your first name in all situations where someone uses the word 'shit'.

    'Wow, what a piece of <your name>'
    'That guy is such a <your name>'
    'Oh no, I've stepped in some <your name>'

    If this doesn't begin to subtley depress you after a while, then by all means maintain that the weighting of 'normality' towards something which doesn't represent you is not at all distressing on any level.

    --
    all generalisations are false - including this one
    [ Parent ]

    ahm .... (4.00 / 1) (#508)
    by drgonzo on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 04:30:54 AM EST

    if you ask me:

    you made exactly zero point in your comment ...

    shit is a noun
    he/she/it are not nouns so you can't make a point using differnt things ...

    [ Parent ]

    You are dead wrong, they are proper nouns. [n/t] (none / 0) (#538)
    by Dephex Twin on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 12:41:54 AM EST




    Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. -- Homer Simpson
    [ Parent ]
    No (5.00 / 2) (#564)
    by hershmire on Sun Jun 22, 2003 at 09:23:57 PM EST

    This analogy is completely incorrect. Using "he" as a non-gender specific pronoun is not the same as transforming someone's personal name into a vulgar expletive.

    These types of statements add no credibility to the argument against "sexist" grammatical structures.
    FIXME: Insert quote about procrastination
    [ Parent ]
    Epicene Pronouns (4.50 / 4) (#470)
    by shovelknife on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:09:46 PM EST

    Here you go (a partial list of proposed gender-indefinite third-person pronouns; proposals separated by semicolons, conjugations separated by commas):

    (S)he; A, Un, A's; Ae; Ala, Alum, Alis; Co, Cos; De/Deis; Den/Din; E, e, Es, Eself; E, E's, Emself, Em; E, Im, Ir(s); E, Ir; E, Ris, Rim; Em, Ems; En; En, Es, Ar; Et, Ets, Etself; Ey, Eir, Em; Fm; Ghach; H'orsh'it; Ha, Hez, Hem; Han; Han, Hans; Hann; He or she; He'er, Him'er, His'er, His'er's; Heesh, Heesh's, Heeshself; Heesh, Hiser(s), Herm, Hermself; Herm; Herorhis; Hes; Hes, Hir, Hem; Hesh, Himer, Hiser, Hermself; Hesh, Hizer, Hirm; Hesh, Hizzer, Himmer; Heshe, Hes, Hem; Heshe, Hisher, Himmer; Hey; Hey, Heir, Heirs; Hi, Hes, Hem; Hie, Hiez, Hie; Him/er; Him/herself; Himorher; Hir; Hir, Herim; Hir, Hires, Hirem, Hirself; His'n, Her'n; Hiser; Hiser, Himer; Hiser, Himer, Hyser, Hymer; Hisorher; His-or-her; Hisorher, Herorhis; Hizer; Ho, Hom, Hos, Homself; Hse; Ip, Ips; Ir, Iro, Im; It; Ith; J/e, M/a, M/e, M/es, M/oi; Jee, Jeue; Kin; Le, Lis, Lim; Mef; Na, Nan, Naself; Ne, Nis, Nim, Hiser; On; One; Ons; Ov Hie; Per, Pers; Po, Xe, Jhe; S/he; Sap; Se; Se, Hir; Se, Ser, Sim, Simself; Se, Sim, Sis; She; She, Heris, Herim; She, herm, hs; She, Shis, Shim; Sheehy; Shem; Shem, Hem, Hes; Sheme, Shis, Shem; Shey, Sheir, Sheirs; Shey, Shem, Sheir; Shis, Shim, Shims, Shimself; Ta, Ta-men; Tey, Term, Tem; Tey, Term, Ten; Tha, Thar, Then; Thir; Thon, Thons; U, u, Ur, Urs, Urself; Uh; Ve, Vis, Ver; Ve, Vis, Vim; Ws, Wself; Z; Ze, Zim, Zees, Zeeself; Ze, Zon;

    Compiled from these places:
    -Denis Baron, "The Epicene Pronouns: A Chronology of the Word That Failed," http://www2.english.uiuc.edu/baron/essays/epicene.htm, © 2003 Denis Baron
    -Ann Bodine, "Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: singular `they', sex-indefinite `he', and `he or she,'" Language in Society (Volume 4), © 1975 Cambridge University Press.
    -Peter H. Stauffer, "A Solution to the Gender-Neutral Pronoun Problem," Blueline (Vol. 29 Num. 3), © 1996 Association of Earth Science Editors.
    -Peter H. Stauffer, "A Solution to the Gender-Neutral Pronoun Problem," Blueline (Vol. 29 Num. 3), © 1996 Association of Earth Science Editors.

    For more info on singular "they," sex-indefinite "he," and the sex-indefinite singular third-person English pronoun in general, see my paper on the subject: http://www.mspaintporn.com/theypaper.htm
    I apologize for the shittiness of said paper; I had to write it in about three hours, so I never got a chance to revise. Also, sorry about the bulky ass Word HTML. Laziness is a virtue.

    It lacks my favorite (4.33 / 3) (#514)
    by epepke on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 09:04:06 AM EST

    She, he, and/or it, abbreviated "s/h/it."


    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


    [ Parent ]
    Sorry, no sh'it, but I do have h'orsh'it [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#535)
    by shovelknife on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 10:47:55 PM EST



    [ Parent ]
    Human (1.00 / 1) (#471)
    by romanpoet on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 04:38:22 PM EST

    I've always been fond of 'hu' as a genderless pronoun. Seems to work well enough, and seems to be the most sensible of any of the made-up pronouns I can think of I've been able to come across so far.

    Of interest, Douglas Hofstadter (of Godel, Escher, Bach fame) did a good number of essays on this subject (gender in language and subconscious images in his book Metamagical Themas.

    -Romanpoet
    -Romanpoet Romanpoet.org
    'she' sucks because we all do. (4.66 / 3) (#483)
    by somasonic on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 08:52:15 PM EST

    Everytime I hear "she" used in this fashion I feel an elbow in the ribs going, "Eh, eh? Pretty PC, eh?"

    That's because you're a product of the patriarchy. Don't think because you're on a high enough plane to think about genderless pronouns that you're above the grammatical conventions that subtly support The Man's masculine reign. You're still well within his grips, and just talking about changing your pronouns isn't going to do anything.

    The trouble isn't necessarily only about having a genderless pronoun, it's also about not being scared to use "she." As long as "she" still sticks out in a sentence, we still live in a masculonorminative (?) world - it isn't OK to let a generic woman into the generic man's world. When the day comes that "he" makes you stop and question the gender of the pronoun just as much as when "she" is used, we're on the right track. Or when neither fazes you. But i'm putting the money on the former coming first.

    It only sounds weird because you don't use it. Just as with your singular 'they' -

    The generic pronoun "she" can become an acceptable term if people begin to use it proudly and with authority.

    "critical nirvana "doesn't exist (3.00 / 1) (#512)
    by makohill on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 06:51:21 AM EST

    When the day comes that "he" makes you stop and question the gender of the pronoun just as much as when "she" is used, we're on the right track.

    I'm not as confident that it's possible or important to get past this point. You can work real hard to develop a critical capacity both in general or in regards to pronouns but you won't make the problem, or the culture of critique, go away.

    There's no "critical nirava" we're aiming for here and there doesn't need to be. Think about what you say and how you say it and what you're saying, creating, or reinforcing in the process. It's a process, not a destination.


    Creativity can be a social contribution, but only in so far as society is free to use the results. --RMS
    [ Parent ]
    "one" for he/she (1.00 / 1) (#489)
    by dammitallgoodnamesgone on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 10:26:15 PM EST

    Is this some sort of Americanism? Only in English, proper English I mean, "one" is another word for "I". So rather than "I went to public school" it would be "one went to public school" - "he went to public school" is always "he went to public school". If you're wondering why I use the term "public school" for a "posh" word such as "one" look up what a "public school" is in the UK. On a side note, why on earth did Americans have to mutilate English grammer so much. It's a constant problem for any non-American English speaker in Japan (of course, that's partly the fault of the way English is taught in Japan but I'm not going to get started on that, as I'm not a teacher.)

    Wrong (3.50 / 2) (#520)
    by Herring on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 11:31:05 AM EST

    "One" is not another word for I. It may be used as such in a parody of "posh speaking" in the UK but it is incorrect. Most people these days would say "to find the pub, you come out of the station and turn left". In this case "you" might also mean "I" or indeed any unspecified person. "To find the pub, one comes out of the station and turns left" is correct.

    For proper pretentious effect, it's best used with the subjunctive - e.g. "if one were to consume twelve pints of snakebite, one would probably vomit".

    Say lol what again motherfucker, say lol what again, I dare you, no I double dare you
    [ Parent ]
    When something has been part of the language... (4.00 / 3) (#492)
    by craigd on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:06:14 PM EST

    ...for seven centuries, it makes no sense from a linguistic standpoint to call it "incorrect." It is a part of English as it is spoken. Of course, I'm a Nomic player, so I find Spivak pronouns natural. I even once wrote a paper using them.


    A man who says little is a man who speaks two syllables.
    "Spivak pronouns". (2.50 / 2) (#509)
    by tkatchev on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 05:44:34 AM EST

    OK, Sir: I'm going to have to ask you to return to your wacko corner and leave us normal people alone.

       -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
    [ Parent ]

    It's still clumsy (1.66 / 3) (#493)
    by digitalmedievalist on Wed Jun 18, 2003 at 11:14:19 PM EST

    The singular "they" is not a new solution--it has been around since the 1300s.
    The fact that in incorrect grammatical structure is used for hundreds of years does not make it acceptable, nor does a plural used to refer to a singular become logical. English is a marvelous, flexible langauge; it is we writers who must change. We can alternate between "he" and "she," we can use a plural "they," we can use an adjectival phrase or a genderless noun instead of the singular pronoun.



    It's not incorrect (2.50 / 2) (#498)
    by Sarreq Teryx on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 02:42:23 AM EST

    how else are you going to say something about someone you don't know, and don't know the sex of? "It" is only and should only ever used be for things, and its very degrating for anyone to be called an it, how would you like to be called an it? calling someone a "he" or "she" and they turn out to be the opposite sex can be just as insultive. While it can never be used as a true singular pronoun ("they turn" [plural] as opposed to "they turns" [singular]), it's the best we've got.

    [ Parent ]
    Pronouns are substitutes for Nouns (1.00 / 1) (#515)
    by digitalmedievalist on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 09:51:50 AM EST

    Rather than use "they," use a noun. If you don't know the person's sex, use "the individual," "the person," or some other collocation. This sort of thing is covered, and very nicely, in any number of freshman composition texts and standard usage manuals.

    [ Parent ]
    Why? (2.50 / 2) (#517)
    by Golden Hawk on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 10:57:38 AM EST

    What's the point of using "The individual", or "The person" ... "they" is perfectly understandable by everyone who knows english.  Just like spelling 'thru' in the place of 'through'
    -- Daniel Benoy
    [ Parent ]
    Standards (4.00 / 1) (#548)
    by digitalmedievalist on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 01:48:38 PM EST

    Just as standards are important for exchanging data in the digital realm, linguistic standards are important for exchanging data. Language change is inevitable, and, frankly, I see it as a positive. But linguistic laziness, like a partially supported standard, produces poor data. They is plural; its referrants and antecedents need to be plural. I'm not fond of s/he, nor do I like "he or she" for every reference to an unknown. But more often than not, people are using a pronoun to substitute for a noun out of laziness. I don't object to "they" for an unknown singular in spoken English, or at least not so much. But I do in written English. Subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent references are linguistic pointers; if they don't agree in number you have a bad pointer, and ultimately, bad data, because the data doesn't conform to the standard.

    [ Parent ]
    The nice thing about standards... (2.50 / 2) (#558)
    by Golden Hawk on Sat Jun 21, 2003 at 05:33:25 AM EST

    "The nice thing about standards is there's so many to choose from" Just as standards are important for exchanging data in the digital realm, linguistic standards are important for exchanging data.

    Every standard which has ever been defeated, first started with rebelious free thinkers who decided to defy backwards-compatability in the name of improving the standard. Second, compatable entities learned to speak and write with BOTH standards at once, and then people moved on to selecting the better of the two standards, and phasing out the other.

    The english language is and always has been the same way as any other standard.

    The process has ALWAYS been slowed down by detractors who claim the instability caused by attempting to improve communication causes more harm than good.

    How about an example? Linux has its own standard for binary files, incompatable with windows or with mac or unix, yet it has WINE. This means neither that Linux is attempting to defy windows with incompatability, or embrace it with emulatiors. It is simply how humans move from one standard to another (Or branch standards). The windows standard was not written in stone. It was not an unmovable icon of the way that PC computers MUST operate, and the dictionaries and grammar books are not the unmovable icon of the way the english language MUST operate.

    Language change is inevitable, and, frankly, I see it as a positive. But linguistic laziness, like a partially supported standard, produces poor data. They is plural; its referrants and antecedents need to be plural. I'm not fond of s/he, nor do I like "he or she" for every reference to an unknown. But more often than not, people are using a pronoun to substitute for a noun out of laziness.

    I'm not going to lie and claim I am not doing this in the interests of lazyness. But I would protest at the notion that this is some kind of stigma! Clairity is not lost with this proposed change, only inefficiency. But even in that case, I don't intend to debate the merits of this paticular change. Only to debate the notion that altering speech and causing linguistic confusion is a bad thing.

    Long ago, I was prompted to neglect the study of memorizing dictionary spellings by my lazyness. I freely admit this, but my decision to continue neglecting it was not based on lazyness. I was prepared to fight, but I took a moment to consider what exactly it was I was willing to fight for.

    Linguistic improvement was inevitable precicely because we never (until recently) aquired a disgust for those who choose to tinker with it. (or if we have.. we've always managed to overcome it)

    To accept the dictionary and is restrictive bretheren as the gospel truth would be to betray my own language, and consign it to stagnation! I am not willing to resist my nature in order to achieve nothing but harm against the art of communication, which I love so dearly.

    I don't object to "they" for an unknown singular in spoken English, or at least not so much. But I do in written English. Subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent references are linguistic pointers; if they don't agree in number you have a bad pointer, and ultimately, bad data, because the data doesn't conform to the standard. Why the double standard? (No pun intended)
    -- Daniel Benoy
    [ Parent ]

    Why the "double" standard? (3.00 / 1) (#563)
    by digitalmedievalist on Sun Jun 22, 2003 at 07:51:20 PM EST

    Because spoken language, especially vive voce, carries information that text doesn't, so that the meaning of the words can be clearer than they would be in writing. Also, spoken language is "live," and by its nature more informal.

    [ Parent ]
    Re: Why the "double" standard (1.50 / 2) (#565)
    by Golden Hawk on Mon Jun 23, 2003 at 06:18:00 AM EST

    I was referring to the why you would want to have a standard for written language, but have spoken language be more informal.

    Personally I have found rigidity in either to counter my ability to communicate the best I can.  That is to say, informal written language works just fine to conduct communication.  Except when arguments erupt over "proper" spelling.  That is the only time the practice really impeded communication.
    -- Daniel Benoy
    [ Parent ]

    ``You'' used to be a plural-only pronoun too (3.00 / 1) (#516)
    by Quattri on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 10:34:23 AM EST

    In fact, there were originally four words for ``you''. We had thou, thee, you, and ye.

    Thou was the singular subjective pronoun, thee was the singular objective pronoun, you was the plural subjective pronoun, and ye was the plural objective pronoun.

    What happened? In a nutshell, people got tired of the complexity of having four second-person pronouns, so it was simplified down to one.

    The same thing is happening now with the third person. And sometime within the next couple of centuries, it'll happen with the first person (royal ``we'', anyone?).

    If you were to suddenly appear in the year...say...2303, the English language would be very different, not the least of which is the fact that there may very well be only three personal pronouns: we, you, and they.

    Languages change. ``They'' will become singular, other changes will happen, and neither you nor I can stop it.
    ////////////////////////////////////
    JGP, a.k.a. Quattro, a.k.a. Quattri

    To email me, delete the ``removeme'' phrases dispersed into both the username AND the domain. One letter of ``removeme'' is placed after each real character.
    [ Parent ]

    "Grammatical Correctness" (4.00 / 1) (#536)
    by shovelknife on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 12:30:36 AM EST

    Take a second to think about what makes something "grammatically correct." Is it grammarians who define this? If so, which of them do we follow? Is it a standard English that defines correctness? If so, which standard do you use in this case: the sex-indefinite "he" that was popular with early English grammarians and modern prescriptive grammarians or the singular "they" that was popular with writers from Shakespeare to Jane Austen?

    Language, ultimately, is defined by the way it's used. Our progressive tense ("He was swimming") went through a somewhat complicated evolution, including some points that would have been grammatically incorrect by some definitions. Yet still it has utility, and it is compact, so the language has taken it up of the collective will of the speakers and without the help or sanction of grammarians until relatively recently.

    As far as a "standard" goes, it seems to be right in front of you, clear as a brick wall, but when you try to grab it, it slips right through your fingers. There are dozens of varieties of English throughout the world, each with their own unique features and all with some working, internal grammatical system that serves the need for a standard though it may not coincide with your Strunk and White. Gullah, Jamaican English, AAVE, and many others have unique phonological, lexical, and grammatical structures that serve the needs of their speakers as well as the "standard" English that we speak. Some Pacific English dialects have even developed new verb tenses. Are these grammatically incorrect?

    You allude to the assumption that "they" is absolutely plural, which is simply untrue. When the first English grammars were being published, these grammarians made an attempt to synchronize English grammar with Latin grammar, trying to isolate pronouns with the same grammatical domain as their Latin counterparts. This doesn't work because English is fundamentally different than Latin. Just think of the English "you," which functions as both plural and singular, for an example of their failure. However, they held to their need for a separate plural "they" that could only function as plural, and so they analyzed Enlgish "they" as solely plural. This fell in contrast to the custom of usage of the time, in which writers used sex-indefinite "he" and singular "they" interchangably.

    Further than this, there were grammatical motivations for the adoption of a gender-neutral third person pronoun. Every English noun used to have a gender - masculine, feminine, or neuter - each with its own characteristic pronoun. As English came into contact with French and the familiar declensions by which speakers identified their nouns became nebulous, grammatical gender was gradually dropped. Now we have very little grammatical gender left (mostly in reference to people, pets, and ships/cars). So what pronoun to we use? English, rather than create a new one (see epicene pronouns), extended the reach of the grammatically closest pronoun - "they" - which shared the function of gender neutrality and third person reference.

    [ Parent ]
    They is plural (4.00 / 1) (#547)
    by digitalmedievalist on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 01:38:57 PM EST

    They, and its Old Norse ancestor, are both plural third persons; even the I.E. root is a plural third person. They is a plural.

    The argument on "historical usage" is not convincing since the examples are almost all non-standard, and the cited fourteenth century reference occurs in a single manuscript.  An attestation does not make a standard.

    I object to the illogical use of a plural pronoun to refer to a singular antecedent.

    Such ugly, clumsy patches aren't necessary with a language as rich and flexible as English.

    [ Parent ]

    Re: Plural They (2.00 / 1) (#552)
    by shovelknife on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 03:28:10 PM EST

    They, and its Old Norse ancestor, are both plural third persons; even the I.E. root is a plural third person. They is a plural.

    Granted, but you have to agree that IE pronouns have greatly changed since their original incarnations. The English pronoun is simply the result of another evolutionary track on which the speakers of the language chose to take it.

    The argument on "historical usage" is not convincing since the examples are almost all non-standard, and the cited fourteenth century reference occurs in a single manuscript. An attestation does not make a standard.

    I never meant to imply that singular they was the only standard. It is generally recognized that during the Middle English and Early Modern English periods, there were two standards: one where "they" is plural, and one where "they" is both plural and singular. As to the prevalence, the historical extent of a linguistic feature isn't the only factor that makes something "correct," especially in this case where only a few attestations can be found before the 1700s. However, it is used consistently by a considerable few writers, and this (at least in my view of language) makes the feature acceptable, as grammatically logical as any of our strange idioms, and only as "ugly" and "clumsy" as modern use creates for it.

    I object to the illogical use of a plural pronoun to refer to a singular antecedent.

    Grammatical logic of this sort is imposed, not natural in all cases. Also, by this logic, it can just as easily be argued that sex-indefinite "he" - which I am not saying that you are arguing for but which seems to be one of the few solutions short of restructuring sentences - is incorrect in that it is a masculine pronoun referring to a semantically neutral antecedent.

    Such ugly, clumsy patches aren't necessary with a language as rich and flexible as English.

    Wouldn't the singular "they" make English more universally flexible? Getting around PC and grammatical blocks to convey a meaning that is needed in the current state of the language is what anyone who uses the construction wants. Why shouldn't we want it?

    [ Parent ]
    what's "illogical" about it? (2.00 / 1) (#557)
    by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 09:56:27 PM EST

    The argument on "historical usage" is not convincing since the examples are almost all non-standard, and the cited fourteenth century reference occurs in a single manuscript. An attestation does not make a standard.

    But your problem is that there isn't a single attestation, and not all attestations are in non-standard sources. Hell, there's a Shakespeare quote with singular they.

    I object to the illogical use of a plural pronoun to refer to a singular antecedent.

    But you understand neither grammatical theory nor logic, so that is a pretty empty objection, and based on a presupposition you can't support, to boot. Or are you ready to argue what is it that's supposedly "illogical" about using "they" for a singular referent?

    As a suggestion, don't come out with an argument like this: "Because (a) it's a plural pronoun, and (b) plurals can only be used to refer to countable groups with more than one member," because (b) is false (as plenty of linguistic research shows), but more importantly, (a) begs the question as to how do you identify an infllectional form as "plural" in the first place, if not by appeal to usage.

    If we call "they" a plural form, this is not because of some edict from the heavens; we call it so because by pointing at a range of examples which illustrate the relevant sort of meaning. We call "they" a plural because when we examine language, we see that it is used to encode the notion of a countable group of an amount other than one member.

    However, the argument I sense you have in mind would have it the other way around: that we use "they" in the examples in question because it has, in some sense, the logically prior property of being plural. To which I must answer that this seems to me a completely back-ass-wards approach to grammar.

    --em
    [ Parent ]

    It's not about "correctness" (4.00 / 1) (#550)
    by digitalmedievalist on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 02:11:22 PM EST

    You're responding to me as if I were a grammarian; I'm not.

    I'm a philologist. I know what it's like to read something written by someone a thousand years ago, and to be puzzled and confused because the grammar doesn't make sense, (and by grammar I mean the logical structural underpinnings of the language).

    I'm opposed to vague or broad references in writing because they interfere with the validity of the data. "They" to refer to a singular is illogical; number agreement in all but a few instances (where the word is borrowed) is a standard in written English.

    I want to know that the words of today, even in fragmentary form, will still make sense in five thousand years, even though the spoken language has changed dramatically.

    I know what it's like to try to figure out what something written in 350 B.C., in an unfamiliar alphabet, and a forgotten language, when the text violates the basic logical data structures (the grammar) of the language.

    I see no point in introducing errors in our linguistic code. There are better, more appropriate ways, to produce sensible, non-sexist texts than a clumsy use of a pronoun. Honestly, non-sexist writing is routinely taught in college and high school composition classes. There are chapters in any number of style and usage manuals, not to mention the web. Look at non-sexist writing as a challenge, as a way to be inclusive and specific, rather than politically correct and unthinkingly vague, and grammatically illogical.

    [ Parent ]

    singular "they" (3.00 / 1) (#571)
    by tgibbs on Fri Jun 27, 2003 at 07:32:43 PM EST

    I agree completely, but it is not going to happen.

    Language snops would accept the ugliest neologism before they would allow a grammatical error to be made correct. If you let people use "they" as singlular, then what's next? Pretty soon people will be insisting that it is OK to say, "It's me," instead of "It is I." And after that, anarchy.

    After all, if we don't have rigid and inviolable rules of grammar, how do I demonstrate publicly that I am better educated (and therefore better) than you?

    [ Parent ]

    Sexist assumptions over the years (5.00 / 4) (#522)
    by epepke on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 03:43:17 PM EST

    I'm 42, which is ancient by k5 standards. I've been watching the perceptions of a particular puzzle or joke over the years. The puzzle/joke is this: A father and son are driving in a car and have an accident. The father is killed, and the son is taken to the hospital. The surgeon says, "I can't operate on this boy; he is my son." How can this be?

    Twenty-five years ago, an exchange might have gone something like this:

    Q: (tells the puzzle)
    A: (thinks a while) The surgeon is his mother.
    Q: But you had to think about it for a while, which shows the sexist assumptions that women aren't surgeons.
    A: You're right.

    Nowadays, the exchange is more likely to go like this:

    Q: (tells the puzzle)
    A: That's stupid. The surgeon is his mother, dude.
    Q: But you're not supposed to think of women as surgeons, due to sexism that permeates all culture!
    A: Come on, dude. My mom's an ER doc. She treats me all the time, so that's stupid, too. Besides, I only get to see my dad on weekends.
    Q: No, no! You aren't fully enlightened about the need to challenge hegemonic patriarchal sexist assumptions! Admit it: you had to think for a while! You're just a pawn of the world-raping capitalist system!
    A: Whatever, dude. Take an Ativan, OK?


    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


    ubiquity (3.00 / 1) (#531)
    by goosedaemon on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 08:06:16 PM EST

    it could be less due to a cultural shift than to a spread of the riddle all over the place. i have heard it more than once, myself. that said, you may well be right; i just don't think that one should jump to such an optimistic conclusion right away.

    [ Parent ]
    Sexist assumptions over the years (3.00 / 1) (#556)
    by malfunct on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 09:05:56 PM EST

    I don't know the conversation might go more like this given the light of recent events:

    Q: (tells the puzzle)
    A: The guy in the car was a priest that molesting !@#$%!

    Or maybe its just me becasue that was my first thought. I think the reason people have to think a while is less because they think women can't be doctors (I've thought of it as a genderless profession my entire short life) and more the fact that you set up the father/son relationship explicitly in the beginning of the joke and peoples minds often don't have the flexibility to look outside the context listed, they just fail to think of mothers because noone mentioned them in the joke, not because of any sexist tendancies.

    I think if you told the riddle starting with a mother and her daughter you would have the same short confusion.

    [ Parent ]

    Thanks! (none / 0) (#559)
    by epepke on Sat Jun 21, 2003 at 09:53:22 AM EST

    I'll add that one to the collection.


    The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


    [ Parent ]
    Creeping Euphemisms (3.00 / 1) (#530)
    by frankwork on Thu Jun 19, 2003 at 07:58:42 PM EST

    "African American" is an example of a creeping euphemism. Before "African American" came "black," preceded by "negro" and "colored" and finally a term that is now so socially unacceptable that newpapers refer to it as "The N Word."

    As a previously non-stigmatized word is attached to a stigmatized meaning (in this case tension attached to racial distinctions), the word becomes stigmatized, and a new one tends to take it's place.

    A lot of words that make people uncomfortable, or aren't "discussed in polite company" suffer the same fate. Consider how "going to the bathroom" really has very little to do with urinating or defecating. "Going to the toilet" (from what I understand, a perfectly polite phrase in Britain) is similar, in that toilet (think "toiletries") didn't start out as a term for what happens there (orignally it was a french term for a cloth used when shaving or hairdressing, says m-w.com).

    English is actually pretty good at this (3.50 / 2) (#545)
    by vadim on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 10:48:24 AM EST

    Some other languages have it harder. For example, in spanish you include gender in a word, so you have:

    "The doctor was tired", first male then female:
    "El doctor estaba cansado"
    "La doctora estaba cansada"

    Lots of gender references. Talking in a neuter form about yourself is very hard too. Of course you can write something like "doctor(a)", but it's ugly. I've seen a kind of solution to this, since gender is indicated by o/a, we replace it with a... "@"! Although it doesn't always work. It works for this:
    "All the boys are invited to the party":
    "Todos los chicos estan invitados a la fiesta".

    Neuter: "Tod@s l@s chic@s estan invitad@s a la fiesta". Pretty horrible, language teachers hate it, as well as the royal academy. It also doesn't work for the first example, due to "doctor", and "El"/"La"

    There's also Russian. AFAIK, there's no way of talking in a neuter form, even using something weird as the above. Something like "I'm tired", or "I went to the cinema" requires you to say your gender.
    --
    <@chani> I *cannot* remember names. but I did memorize 214 digits of pi once.

    where is academy of English Language ? (none / 0) (#554)
    by selfish gene on Fri Jun 20, 2003 at 04:05:04 PM EST

    Where is "Academy Of English Language" in the English-speaking countries, I ask you ? France, Russia, Israel have such Academies.

    Then you'd have yearly awards for best neologisms of the year ...


    Where "he*" means "he or she" (4.00 / 1) (#560)
    by selfish gene on Sat Jun 21, 2003 at 02:32:13 PM EST

    Isn't
    he*
    the best notation for this elusive gender-neutral pronoun -- in writing ? Yes, "he" and the asterisk. And a footnote at the end:
    Where he* means he or she.
    It's brief, it's understandable.

    How does this "he*" sound in speech ? Any way you want.

    You might pronouce "he*" as "they". He might pronouce "he*" as "it". She might pronounce "he*" as "he or she". He* might pronouce "he*" as "he" followed by this funny "in quotes" waving gesture ...

    -- Where "he*" means "he or she"

    nice idea... (none / 0) (#576)
    by uglyduckling on Thu Jul 10, 2003 at 07:18:20 PM EST

    ...but it's very time consuming to write a * by hand - it's impossible to write joined-up and looks a terrible mess if you try to do it too quickly.

    (yes people do still write by hand - I'm a med student and need to use pronouns in notes all the time!)

    [ Parent ]

    African-American and black mean 2 different things (4.50 / 2) (#562)
    by xigxag on Sat Jun 21, 2003 at 10:48:47 PM EST

    African-American and black mean two different things, as a moments reflection would tell you.

    Jesse Jackson is black.
    Jesse Jackson is African-American.

    So far, so good.

    Nelson Mandela is black.
    Nelson Mandela is African-American?  Don't think so.

    "African-Americans" are a subset of "blacks," in particular, the subset of blacks who currently live in the United States, who are descended from slaves imported from Africa, and who share a common culture.

    You could make the argument, perhaps that "African-American" isn't the most logical name for that particular ethnic group, but you could also argue e.g. that "American" ought to mean any resident of two continents instead of usually referring only to citizens of the USA.  Yet, oddly enough, nobody seems to be in a knot about that little inconsistency  The English language is stuck with all kinds of words that are logically suspect, but the important thing is that we all know what we're talking about.  With "Black" you could be talking about Nigerians, Jamaicans, even conceivably Indians.  
    With "African-American" you know you're referring to Jesse Jackson and his ethnic brethren.  Hence the expression persists because its actually useful in certain contexts.  Something it has in common with many of the other so-called PC expressions that have spread outside of academia.

    Use it all the time (3.00 / 1) (#572)
    by seeS on Wed Jul 02, 2003 at 08:05:51 PM EST

    At uni PC was all the rage. At work (public service back then) PC was either the rage or some-damn-hippie-lesbian-plot-dont-have-any-of-that-crap -here (depending where I was working).

    It all got too hard, I use them/they/their and have stuck to it for the last 13 years. I very rarely use him/he/his because it just causes problems.

    Sure, it's going to upset the grammar-freaks but I like upsetting them.
    --
    Where's a policeman when you need one to blame the World Wide Web?

    Passive vioce. (none / 0) (#575)
    by General Wesc on Wed Jul 09, 2003 at 01:05:16 PM EST

    A friend of mine suggested passive voice.

    "A street was walked down and a quarter was found."



    --
    General Wesc
    The Singular "They" | 562 comments (521 topical, 41 editorial, 0 hidden)
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