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NY Times piece on the search for an all-purpose genderless pronounIs it "he or she";"he/she";"s/he";"


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#1 bart

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 02:08 PM

"Every BT member thinks he is an balletomane." Or should it be "he or she"? Or is it, "he/she"? Or, "s/he"? Or "shhe"? Or ... the ungrammatical "they"?

Which do you prefer? I find myself using the awkward he/she, but hate it. I can't bring myself to use "they" as a singular
And how about "his," his/her," "hiser," or something else for the possessive?

If you need help in making up your mind, here's an article from today's NY Times Magazine:
All-purpose pronoun: The seach for an anybody who's everybody.

Among the information I learned from this article is that Byron, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, Trollope, and more "continued to use they and company as singulars, never mind the grammarians." Maybe I have to get over my fear that Mrs. Sullivan (a wonderful English teacher but very punctilious about grammar) will return to haunt me if I do this.

#2 papeetepatrick

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 03:23 PM

"Every BT member thinks he is an balletomane." Or should it be "he or she"? Or is it, "he/she"? Or, "s/he"? Or "shhe"? Or ... the ungrammatical "they"?


Article seems to have read more twitter than media studies or philosophy, in which 'she' and 'her' are often used INSTEAD of 'he' and 'his'. I don't know who started it, although it wouldn't be too hard to find out if I could still stand the people who know (with an exception here and there), but it was definitely a part of Gilles Deleuze's 'becomings', that is to say, the 'becoming-animal', the 'becoming-woman' of man; I can't rfemember what work, probably 'Mille Plateaux', written with Felix Gattari, where these 'becomings' are first introduced, I've read a fair amount of it, and it has been very important in my life. These philosophers and theorists often speak of 'the author and her work' even if it is a man. I don't tend to do it, but usually still say either 'he' or 'he or she', I don't care which. The 'her' will be all right if we get used to it, as we did with 'Ms.', which existed only in form of Southern pronunciation of 'Mizz' for Mrs.' But then we really did get used to 'Ms.' which did not exist as such 45 years ago. I grew up with that Southern 'Mizz', and we still used it informally in my family like that. Can't see how I'd be able to accept 'shhe', though. Although we'd all use any of them if they come into common usage.

Which do you prefer? I find myself using the awkward he/she, but hate it. I can't bring myself to use "they" as a singular
And how about "his," his/her," "hiser," or something else for the possessive?


'Hiser' I wouldn't care for. I believe Helene and others use s/he, I copied that after awhile. 'They' is wrong, but I don't mind using it, but prefer it for even more informal writing than we do here (and also absolutely indispensable in difficult situations in which one needs discretion in spoken English), which is a lot more restrained than on a lot of the blogs, of course (and good for me, or I wouldn't even still be half-fit for society, if this board didn't force me to mind my manners. I can't believe I've lasted 3 years and a half :P )

#3 sunday

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 03:37 PM

"Every BT member thinks he is an balletomane." Or should it be "he or she"? Or is it, "he/she"? Or, "s/he"? Or "shhe"? Or ... the ungrammatical "they"?
(...)


This is a problem that occurs often when translating. The quick-and-dirty solution would be to use a different construction, even is some meaning is lost in the process. For instance: All BT members think of themselves as balletomanes. If the adjective or else is predicated of a known individual, usually the sex of the aforementioned individual is known, I suppose.

#4 carbro

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Posted 26 July 2009 - 03:56 PM

The solution to using they is to make the subject plural.

Instead of "If someone would look around, they'd see ..." would be "If people would look around ..." but to expect people to monitor their pronouns in conversation is asking a bit much.

In this fast-as-light age of the internet, I'm all for s/he, his/her in electronic documents. I expect hard copy to be more elegant and more correct, but I fear the distinction is barely acknowledged by anyone of either gender under age 30. :P

#5 dirac

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 10:43 AM

Thank you for linking to the article, bart.

Article seems to have read more twitter than media studies or philosophy, in which 'she' and 'her' are often used INSTEAD of 'he' and 'his'.


I’ve seen “she” and “her” are used in general interest publications, as well..

This is a problem that occurs often when translating. The quick-and-dirty solution would be to use a different construction, even is some meaning is lost in the process. For instance: All BT members think of themselves as balletomanes. If the adjective or else is predicated of a known individual, usually the sex of the aforementioned individual is known, I suppose.


And it’s not always possible or desirable to make everything into a plural in every context.

I don’t have much use for s/he and suchlike, and ‘they’ might have been good enough for Chaucer but it just looks and sounds clumsy to me. These days I find that more and more people are using, in writing, “she/her” or “he/his” – sometimes the one, sometimes the other – and I like it fine, although years ago when I first saw the feminine pronoun used this way it took me aback.

It may also turn out that we who were taught not to use ‘they’ in the singular will die off and not be replaced, in which case ‘they’ will come full circle and be used interchangeably as singular and plural again. (I’m assuming the history as set forth in this article is accurate.) If forced to choose, I'd prefer such a development to inflicting some awkward neologism on the language.

#6 sunday

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 11:10 AM

Another solution would be extending the meaning of "it". However, that would be not only very un-PC but gross also.

For instance, the use of "she/her" when talking about a ship is quite usual in English, but that usage surprised me at first because in Spanish a ship is a "it". Some time afterwards I learned that German also treats ships as feminine, excepting the battleship KM Bismarck.

#7 bart

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Posted 27 July 2009 - 11:25 AM

These days I find that more and more people are using, in writing, “she/her” or “he/his” – sometimes the one, sometimes the other – and I like it fine, although years ago when I first saw the feminine pronoun used this way it took me aback.

I've noticed that a coule of advice columnists in our local paper alternate their usage. One day, it's "she" or "her": the next day. "he" or "his." And so forth.

Sunday made me realize that I often DO re-construct sentences simply to avoid this quandary. Being on the ... elderly ... side, I can get away with it. But I suspect, sometimes, that it makes me sound like a survivor of the Edwardian age.


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