Saturday, April 2, 2016

Everyone should state his or her (or whatever) own Gender

It doesn't take a lot to annoy me and usually, that works to my advantage. When I am running low on things that annoy me, I pick up the New York Times. The paper of record has a real knack for printing something which riles me up. Today, I picked up the NYT Magazine section and couldn't make it past the table of contents. So here is the anger kicking in.

The article ( was about the evolution of English as a language and the specific concern for pronouns that are appropriate for each and every/any of the modern gender-choices. So far, while I am irked, I am not angry. The politics around the fluidity of self-identification as it relates to gender confuse me and do cause a knee jerk reactionary position, that isn't enough to get me worked into a lather. People want pronouns, give 'em pronouns! But the article's point was the discussion of the progression of the word "they" into a singular, gender-nonspecific pronouns.

This I found offensive.

The article went through many reasons why people might use "they" in this way -- some acknowledged as problematic and some seen as reasonable, but I want to stake my position as completely dinosaur-istic. Let me be blunt. This is NOT about gender and identity. This is about NUMBER. I was reassured that many people in the comments section agreed with my feelings on this. I was troubled that many others did not. Those people are wrong.

The word "they" is, simply put, a plural pronoun. You can't convince me otherwise. Whether as a plural it is useful in certain situations which call for the singular can be argued (though I will most probably deride you for making such an argument) but redefining the word to be singular simply because new pronouns haven't caught on and adapting an extant word is most convenient is a personal affront.

I repeat: "they" refers to more than one person or things, regardless of gender. It can refer to a bunch of men, a group of women, a cluster of transexuals, a pair of transgendered, a trio of puppies, a sack of oranges (heck, even a sack of puppies), a school of fish, a grove of trees and a lot of cars (get it? "Lot of cars", HA!). I am NOT against introducing a new word -- language evolves and that's great. But the solution isn't just changing words that have a particular meaning (and changing in a way which will introduce other grammatical nightmares) because we are too lazy to innovate something else.

Call me old fashioned. Say that I am being insensitive. Accuse me of not wanting to accommodate the needs of a certain population here, but as I see it, I'm the victim, and by "I" I mean me, champion of the English language and Easily Offended English Teacher.

Pronouns tell us gender so maybe we don't need a neutral one, but a whole slew of more precise singular ones (and plural extensions) so that we can speak more accurately, or understand meaning more properly by seeing the correct pronoun used. In the title of this entry, "Everyone" is singular and it requires a singular pronoun. The solution is not to retool what we have because it doesn't reflect reality, nor is it to deny reality. It is to expand what we say to more completely represent reality.

In this election year, I promise that, if elected, I will work to ensure that "they" remains a plural pronoun. And if not elected, I will do the same.

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