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View Poll Results: Do you want English to have a genderless pronoun?
No. 37 48.68%
He works for me. 7 9.21%
She works for me. 0 0%
He/she works for me 0 0%
Alternating he and she in example works for me. 1 1.32%
Yes. 31 40.79%
Voters: 76. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 07-24-2012, 02:30 AM   #46
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Depending on the situation, one could use he or they or even you.
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Old 07-24-2012, 02:59 AM   #47
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The reason English speakers were satisfied with using he in the past is not always because it was assumed men alone were important, any more than words like mankind were meant to exclude women. (I sometimes find myself using humankind.)

As Graves and Hodge liked to point out, English grammar is a complex hybrid of several languages and is often arbitrary and inconsistent on the structural level. Simplifications and workarounds were tacked on later, just as programmers sometimes try to make overly elaborate code less cumbersome with workarounds instead of rewriting it from scratch.

One can never write perfect English in the sense one can Spanish, Italian and French. That grid doesn't exist in English, which is why usage and logic are especially important to clear expression.

One of the workarounds has always been synecdoche -- in this case, the use of a specific class to refer to the more general class. Thus, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is meant to imply he or she, with he actually taking the first seat in terms of pseudo-taxonomy.

Even if the practice wasn't understood to favor men until now, modern speakers hear a level of coded discrimination. The problem is that a neutral gendered pronoun has yet to be introduced or accepted.

In the 70s and 80s, certain feminist writers simply reversed the pronouns to read she and he; in the '90s, with typographical fun available to all, we saw the use of s/he in critical and experimental writing. One problem with that practice was that it excluded the forms him and her and the possessives his and hers. If you continued with the logic of s/he, you'd end up with unreadable formulations like h/e/i/r/m.

The current practice is to use the plural forms they, them and their, but the sound of subject-verb disagreement always makes me wince. Implementation becomes yet another annoying exception, another contextual ambiguity, to be memorized and excepted by those who must write and speak presentably.

The problem is that any forms we introduce now are going to sound weird and unacceptable to most people for at least twenty years, and the attempt to create neutral forms would become politicized rapidly, if only because cultural issues which are abstract are the easiest for opportunists and reactionaries to exploit.

My vote would be for three neutral forms which could either incorporate letters from both gendered forms or avoid them entirely by creating an entirely different derivation -- perhaps going back to the beginning of English to explore other choices. I'd love see what a group of linguists might come up with.

An example of gender combinations: hir (for her or him), hes (for hers or his) and hse (for she and he).

Easy to invent, but nearly impossible to standardize.

* * * *

Some would argue that trying to remove sexism from the structure of any kind of grammar is a pointless exercise unless you create a new language from the old. Their chief example of this might be someone's attempt to remove gendered articles from French.

* * * *

To respond to a few earlier suggestions:

Thou and other such archaisms aren't pertinent because they are previous forms of the second person pronoun you. The specific problem in English is third person singular: he, she and it.

Other doesn't work (or matter) for the same reason.

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 08-21-2012 at 01:59 AM.
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Old 07-24-2012, 03:26 AM   #48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
[...]The current practice is to use the plural forms they, them and their, but the sound of subject-verb disagreement always makes me wince.[...]
Just to highlight - as per the link that I had posted earlier - use of they (etc.) is not only current practice but has a very long history of such use. You cannot disregard this practice as a new or transient whim.
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Old 07-24-2012, 03:55 AM   #49
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Originally Posted by eskimo49 View Post
Why not just use 'it' for a genderless pronoun. To the best of my knowledge I have never met anyone who is genderless, so can't see why I would need a pronoun for one.

Probably some people are getting too political correct and just trying to protect themselves.
The real problem as I see it isn't so much genderless but rather someone that combines more than 1 gender.

We could have a name tag:
1. body type - parts A - natural male
. parts B - under transformation to female
. but stopped at 50%
. parts C - removed every 2 weeks
. hormonal treatment - xyz32

2. clothes - generally recognizable as male

3. name - no sex/gender indication

4. Attitude and actions - Generally female but seeks female partner

4. bathroom association - Female or special

Now what bathroom do we designate for this person to use.

They might like the Female one but that could be a problem in
a normal bathroom.
Of course if there were good tight stalls and the same in the showers the problem would be mostly alleviated. Essentially there would only be individual facilities.

If we wished to provide a special "larger" bathroom/locker room/shower, because of space considerations, besides male and female then what does the sign say.
"special" - that leads to more questions. Are we talking about disabled?
"common" or "all" or "neutral" are probably better.

Then there is the question of what sports this person can participate in and with what group.

Once the major (to keep screaming and outrage to a dull roar) are settled, then we can agonize on the pronouns.

You might laugh at some of this above, but believe me people are dealing with it right now and there are experts on it.

Then you have the people that might wake up one morning and feel "one way" and the next day "another way" and their bosses, coworkers and customers have to deal with it. All this is in our brave new world.
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Old 07-24-2012, 04:18 AM   #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Just to highlight - as per the link that I had posted earlier - use of they (etc.) is not only current practice but has a very long history of such use. You cannot disregard this practice as a new or transient whim.
No one intends to "disregard this practice as a new or transient whim" any more than I've dismissed the use of thou as the side-effect of a Tickle Me Elmo commercial. (I don't mean to sound edgy about your comment, BTW -- I'm just trying to have fun. I think I'm the only one to have played with third-person neologisms so far. Where are Anthony Burgess and Tolkien when you need them?)

The singular use of they has been around since the Middle Ages, but my specific mention of current practice refers to its use as the preferred and even overriding form for third-person pronouns -- i.e., to the utter exclusion of she and he in every instance not referring to a specific person or sex. You won't find that in Shakespeare, Chaucer or Sir Philip Sidney.

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 07-24-2012 at 04:37 AM.
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Old 07-24-2012, 08:29 AM   #51
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Originally Posted by Prestidigitweeze View Post
No one intends to "disregard this practice as a new or transient whim" any more than I've dismissed the use of thou as the side-effect of a Tickle Me Elmo commercial. (I don't mean to sound edgy about your comment, BTW -- I'm just trying to have fun. I think I'm the only one to have played with third-person neologisms so far. Where are Anthony Burgess and Tolkien when you need them?)

The singular use of they has been around since the Middle Ages, but my specific mention of current practice refers to its use as the preferred and even overriding form for third-person pronouns -- i.e., to the utter exclusion of she and he in every instance not referring to a specific person or sex. You won't find that in Shakespeare, Chaucer or Sir Philip Sidney.
Do you really think it's gone that far? Yes the academic aversions to the singular use of they (etc.) may be fading, but I think the existence of this thread shows how far there is still to go. There are lots of things you find now that you don't find in Shakespeare (etc.), and vise versa. The commonality and roots of our expressions are useful to our understanding, and to understanding how our language is understood, but that's not to say we necessarily want to return to Old English. It's like the discussions on this forum about localisation and so on: as writers we need to know what specific expressions mean to our readers so that we can avoid misunderstanding and ambiguity (or deliberately introduce them if that is our goal).
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Old 07-24-2012, 09:43 AM   #52
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Originally Posted by eskimo49 View Post
Why not just use 'it' for a genderless pronoun. To the best of my knowledge I have never met anyone who is genderless, so can't see why I would need a pronoun for one.
'It' is a neuter pronoun, it for something what we know does not have a gender.
What is under discussion is what pronoun should be used for something that we know does have a gender, but we do not know what that gender is, or are choosing not to specify a gender.
I think referring to people as 'it' would be even more likely to offend than using 'he'.
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Old 07-24-2012, 04:29 PM   #53
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Part of the reason this conversation has split off is because what is called for is not a genderless pronoun but rather, an inclusive one that can refer to all genders. I'm perfectly happy with "they".

The sub-convo going on is a different subject altogether - there is a difference between trying to refer to many possible subjects that may be any gender (as in the OP's writing) and trying to refer to a specific individual whose gender is unknown. The latter case is really not that complicated - it's often clear as to with which gender a person identifies.
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Old 07-24-2012, 09:54 PM   #54
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Originally Posted by SeaKing View Post
This was the standard aboard a US ship at least until early 2000s when I left. Yes there could be exceptions. You might say to the Captain (Navy) "Yes Ma'am" on some occasions or if that was what they required but formally it was "Yes Sir! even if they were a female dolphin dressed in the Uniform.

Admirals were likely to accept "Yes, God!" on a very casual occasion.
Interesting. It's been over 40 years since I was in the Army, but we always addressed female officers as 'Ma'am'.
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Old 07-24-2012, 10:37 PM   #55
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Wasn't there a push to standardize "thon" --- a contraction of "that one" --- as the genderless pronoun? I seem to remember it from years ago...
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Old 07-24-2012, 10:42 PM   #56
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Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
In the case when the gender is not known because the person that fits the pronoun is not known, then the choice of "they" appears to be what American English is adopting. For example:

If someone gets sick, they should see a doctor.

instead of

If someone gets sick, he should see a doctor.

which was the proper way not all that long ago.

It is generally easy to do a workaround without resorting to the clunky he or she or the sexist he. For example:
  • Someone who gets sick should see a doctor.
  • If you get sick, you should see a doctor.
It's OK to use they as singular in informal speech, but in writing? It's like nails on a chalkboard.
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Old 07-25-2012, 04:48 AM   #57
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It's OK to use they as singular in informal speech, but in writing? It's like nails on a chalkboard.
Been around for quite a while:
http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.co...y-its-correct/
Quote:
Historical usage:
Geoffrey Chaucer is widely credited as the father of English literature. He was one of the first well-known authors to write in Middle English instead of the prevailing literary tongue, Latin, bringing legitimacy to the language. And, what’s this? Why, it’s a line from The Canterbury Tales, ca. 1400:

“And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
They wol come up [...]“

It’s a little hard to tell in the Middle English, but whoso is a quantified expression, like whoever, that is syntactically singular, but then is paired to the syntactically plural they. So, since at least the beginnings of literary Middle English, 600 years ago, it’s been all right to use singular they. It’s been consistently attested since then; Henry Churchyard reports examples from the Oxford English Dictionary in 1434, 1535, 1643, 1749, 1848, and a wide variety of years in between. There has literally been no point since 1400 when singular they went unattested in contemporary English.

Usage by good writers:
Lest one counter the historical point by claiming that it was a mistake or an illiterate usage, it should be noted that singular they has been employed by revered writers throughout its history. A list of examples from some such authors (including Chaucer’s and C. S. Lewis’s quotes above) is available on Churchyard’s site. Among the luminaries: Lewis Carroll, Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Shakespeare, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage has still more examples for those who prefer their empirical data to be overwhelming. And, if you subscribe to Mark Liberman’s one-liner “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” you’ll be interested to see that the King James Version, along with the Tyndale, Bishop’s, and Geneva Bibles, along a range of other versions of the Christian Bible all employ singular theys. (I’m not sure of the stance of non-Christian religious texts. I imagine no religion has a commandment disavowing singular they, but I have not studied comparative religion.)

[...]
Some old style guides even saw the light a century ago. An English Grammar by Baskervill & Sewell, originally published in 1896, states that while he is preferred to singular they in general, they is “frequently found when the antecedent includes or implies both genders. The masculine does not really represent a feminine antecedent [...]” (Italics in original.) Further, as an exercise, they give examples of singular they, and tell the reader, “In the above sentences, unless both genders are implied, change the pronoun to agree with its antecedent.” (Again, italics in original.)
I'd add this quote:
Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3:

"There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend"

Purely as a excuse to say that I've just seen the current RSC production of Comedy of Errors, and it is magnificent. Anyone close to Stratford who has a chance to get tickets won't regret it.

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Old 07-25-2012, 05:15 AM   #58
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Originally Posted by murraypaul View Post
'It' is a neuter pronoun, it for something what we know does not have a gender.
What is under discussion is what pronoun should be used for something that we know does have a gender, but we do not know what that gender is, or are choosing not to specify a gender.
I think referring to people as 'it' would be even more likely to offend than using 'he'.
It doesn't matter what you choose, someone will be offended. 'It' is generally accepted as a genderless neuter pronoun. However in these days of 'Political Correctness' perhaps 'It' may be more acceptable to some rather than 'He',' She', 'You', 'they' etc. However that doesn't mean that I personally approve of it.
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Old 07-25-2012, 06:22 AM   #59
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This was the standard aboard a US ship at least until early 2000s when I left. Yes there could be exceptions. You might say to the Captain (Navy) "Yes Ma'am" on some occasions or if that was what they required but formally it was "Yes Sir! even if they were a female dolphin dressed in the Uniform.

Admirals were likely to accept "Yes, God!" on a very casual occasion.
(new bold above)

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Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
Interesting. It's been over 40 years since I was in the Army, but we always addressed female officers as 'Ma'am'.
I am sure that you did what was expected where you were.

I did the same where I was.

Aside. Yeah, there was arguments (back and forth in the ranks) in the old days about "Miss," "Ms," "Madam," or "Ma'am," or "Sir" and whether an Officer with the rank of Captain (that is Col in the Army) or Admiral should "always" be addressed as "Sir" and other female officers as "Ma'am." But the truth was I was aboard fighting ships and we didn't have a lot of females for a long time, and the ones that did pop up from time to time were generally crusty old salts or really hard nosed young barracudas who wanted you to see only the uniform and were more interested in blending in with the other ranking officers than doing a women's lib thing.

They liked the "Sir" and if they didn't we called them exactly what they wanted with a snappy salute and a quick jump to. That was the real discipline. I indicated as much up above.

I was born and raised in the South near the coast, and it was as natural as breathing to call ladies "Ma,am" but I learned to find out what was expected before I met a new female officer and if I couldn't I would say "Sir" and watch for the reaction.
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Old 07-26-2012, 02:25 AM   #60
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It doesn't matter what you choose, someone will be offended. 'It' is generally accepted as a genderless neuter pronoun. However in these days of 'Political Correctness' perhaps 'It' may be more acceptable to some rather than 'He',' She', 'You', 'they' etc. However that doesn't mean that I personally approve of it.
Ahh but is that neuter noun masculine or feminine (la/el or la/el)? - Sorry only teasing!
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