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Old 01-16-2019, 08:54 PM   #31
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Perhaps it is because of the respect that Estraven is showing Genly in keeping control of that very strong sexual urge.

On the use of “they” for an individual, I’m one of those for whom it is definitely not acceptable, even though I know it is widely used these days. It was certainly not in use 50 years ago; nor was s/he!
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Old 01-16-2019, 08:59 PM   #32
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It was certainly not in use 50 years ago; nor was s/he!
That Wycliffe, Chaucer, Caxton, and Thackeray used it suggests its use predates the last 50 years, just.
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Old 01-16-2019, 11:24 PM   #33
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Ironically I just read this article last week, which I found most interesting. I was quite surprised by it because I thought it was a modern thing too!
https://www.dictionary.com/e/they-is...gular-pronoun/

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This chameleon word is also a singular pronoun, and it has been for centuries. Etymologists estimate that as far back as the 1300s, they has been used as a gender neutral pronoun, a word that was substituted in place of either he (a masculine singular pronoun) or she (a feminine singular pronoun)
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Old 01-16-2019, 11:56 PM   #34
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Thanks for that link, Bookworm-Girl. I can see the value of having a gender neutral pronoun.

I still suggest that it was not in use 50 years ago, even though it had been used in earlier times. The language keeps changing.
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Old 01-17-2019, 12:29 AM   #35
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Thanks for that link, Bookworm-Girl. I can see the value of having a gender neutral pronoun.

I still suggest that it was not in use 50 years ago, even though it had been used in earlier times. The language keeps changing.
Its use was proscribed by many 50 years ago, part of the same mindset that insisted that splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions is wrong. David Crystal has a really good section in his book The Fight For English on the challenge of helping English teachers who were brought up in that ill-informed prescriptivist system to adjust to the more descriptivist style of English grammar instruction being adopted in many places over the last couple of decades.

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Old 01-17-2019, 12:45 AM   #36
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I accept that it is possible to find examples of they/their/them in reference to singular, and in more than just recent works of explicit gender neutrality. This is sufficient to demonstrate that it is not wrong to use these words. But that isn't the same as saying it was right for a work of fiction to use the words - especially, as Bookpossum suggests, 50 years ago. The audience has to be considered.

I mentioned Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer earlier. This book uses they/their/them some of the time. I think it was probably the "some of the time" that annoyed me. I could probably have adapted to consistent use, but there was definitely a strong element of singular/plural confusion that slowed down my reading, and the self-conscious treatment of the pronouns just made it worse.

Because of experiences like that, I'm inclined to prefer "it" as the singular pronoun. The main problem with "it" is that something like "when he carries it" becomes "when it carries it", and so would need expansion to make sense. (We already see something like this in dialogue between two people. When male and female are talking "he said" and "she said" is sufficient, but when two males or two females are talking the attributions needs to be more explicit. The use of "they" will run into related difficulties.) Whatever. It is very much a matter of what we become accustomed to.

Wikipedia has a table of third person pronouns.
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Old 01-17-2019, 03:57 AM   #37
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I think whether a word was in common usage or not 50 years ago should not matter in a book where the author is already making up words for days, months etc.

FWIW - I can't remember in my school days 40+ years ago being proscribed (but then we were never really formally taught grammar), but equally I can't remember a time when I didn't think of they as an acceptable singular pronoun. Not in every circumstance but where the sex of the person is unknown, e.g. "a person walking on ice should take care so that they don't slip" or "I don't know who this Casey Smith is but they can certainly write". Anyway it doesn't feel like a modern innovation to me.
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Old 01-17-2019, 05:37 AM   #38
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latepaul, notice that in your first example "a person walking on ice should take care so that they don't slip" does not read as third person singular, it uses "they don't" rather than "they doesn't".

I leave it up to someone with better formal education in this area to offer the right words of technical explanation, but what I do know is that translating "he doesn't" into "they don't" is something that causes me to stumble while reading.

* George should take care so that he doesn't slip. (Reads okay)

* George should take care so that they doesn't slip. (Sounds like Gollum!)

* George should take care so that they don't slip. (Stumble: Huh? George and who?)


That dictionary.com article would seem to suggest that Gollum got it right (since that article doesn't discuss verb agreement), but the third example is what I've seen used in practice.
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Old 01-17-2019, 06:50 AM   #39
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It seems to me that The Left Hand of Darkness fits very well with the styling of sci-fi in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I think that including gender as a theme is really the main thing, perhaps the only thing, that makes this book stand out from the crowd. I always thought Le Guin wrote well, I liked her voice, and so I generally enjoyed reading her books, but her stories have failed to be memorable for me.
Thank you. When I was first reading this, I had to go back and check the date of publication as I was getting a distinct 50s/Cold War vibe from it and I was surprised in a way that it was as late as 1969, but then it made perfect sense. A book from the 50s wouldn't have raised the issues of gender, race or even indiscriminate sexual coupling, or at least it wouldn't have gone mainstream and won prizes. Society had caught up with the concepts and more than anything, this was a high concept book. Anyone remember The Harrad Experiment? That was published in 1967.

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Estraven does say early on, "I’m not anyone’s servant. A man must cast his own shadow....". Later we have the legend of Getheren who in the end says, "Tell them at Shath that I take back my name and my shadow." There is a very similar line during the foretelling chapter.

It's obviously all related to the creation legend in chapter 17: "Each of the children born to them had a piece of darkness that followed him about wherever he went by daylight."

Which is all very neat and tidy, I quite like it, but doesn't actually reveal much about how shifgrethor works as a system of honour.
I suppose it's heresy, but I was willing to accept shifgrethor as a thing without worrying too much about it. In part because it ties back to my sense of the book as having a 50s sensibility as well as a 60s one. I suspect I was trying too hard, but shifgrethor seemed to tie in with an analysis of post-war retributuion I read by Ian Buruma, which differentiated between guilt, which is internal, and shame, which is how one is perceived. Buruma, of course, was forced out of his position last fall as editor of the New York Review of Books after only a year, after publishing a piece seen at odds with the #MeToo movement. Everything comes around!
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Old 01-17-2019, 11:20 AM   #40
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latepaul, notice that in your first example "a person walking on ice should take care so that they don't slip" does not read as third person singular, it uses "they don't" rather than "they doesn't".

I leave it up to someone with better formal education in this area to offer the right words of technical explanation, but what I do know is that translating "he doesn't" into "they don't" is something that causes me to stumble while reading.

* George should take care so that he doesn't slip. (Reads okay)

* George should take care so that they doesn't slip. (Sounds like Gollum!)

* George should take care so that they don't slip. (Stumble: Huh? George and who?)


That dictionary.com article would seem to suggest that Gollum got it right (since that article doesn't discuss verb agreement), but the third example is what I've seen used in practice.
As noted, I haven't read this month's book, but I am a self-proclaimed member of the grammar police.

In most cases, gender-specific pronouns can be avoided with a simple alteration or workaround. For example, instead of latepaul's "a person walking on ice should take care so that they don't slip," one can substitute "persons" for "a person" or write "A person walking on ice should be careful not to slip."

Same thing with gmw's examples; one can simply write "George should be careful not to slip." No pronoun needed. Of course, in that example there's no special reason to avoid the male pronoun, unless one isn't sure if George is male or female (e.g., George Fayne in the Nancy Drew books).

I've read some suspense novels over the years that have deliberately concealed the gender of a character (usually the villain of the piece) by avoiding pronouns. Wendy Corsi Staub has done it more than once in her novels, and quite skillfully has led the reader to believe the villain is male and then sprung the surprise that the unsuspected female is actually the villain--or vice versa.

There's rarely a need to use "he or she" or "s/he"; there's no excuse to use "they" as a singular--that's just plain WRONG.
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Old 01-17-2019, 11:38 AM   #41
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As noted, I haven't read this month's book, but I am a self-proclaimed member of the grammar police.

In most cases, gender-specific pronouns can be avoided with a simple alteration or workaround. For example, instead of latepaul's "a person walking on ice should take care so that they don't slip," one can substitute "persons" for "a person" or write "A person walking on ice should be careful not to slip."

Same thing with gmw's examples; one can simply write "George should be careful not to slip." No pronoun needed. Of course, in that example there's no special reason to avoid the male pronoun, unless one isn't sure if George is male or female (e.g., George Fayne in the Nancy Drew books).

I've read some suspense novels over the years that have deliberately concealed the gender of a character (usually the villain of the piece) by avoiding pronouns. Wendy Corsi Staub has done it more than once in her novels, and quite skillfully has led the reader to believe the villain is male and then sprung the surprise that the unsuspected female is actually the villain--or vice versa.

There's rarely a need to use "he or she" or "s/he"; there's no excuse to use "they" as a singular--that's just plain WRONG.
Grammar Girl also did a nice article summarizing all the ways the various style manuals are dealing with this issue.

Having said that, the gender thing isn't what put me off at the end of the day. Rather, the pacing and the lack of character depth got me.
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Old 01-17-2019, 11:48 AM   #42
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For me it's not the pronouns per se except as representative of the dismissive attitude toward women conveyed throughout the book. It's not just Genly Ai. Even the title; women are commonly associated with the left-hand side as in the use of the word distaff,which is held in the left hand. So why is the feminine the gender of darkness? I think Le Guin is talking out of both sides of her mouth in this respect.
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Old 01-17-2019, 04:20 PM   #43
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If you consider yin and yang, yin is described as negative, dark, feminine, and yang as positive, bright, masculine. The one cannot exist without the other and they complement each other, as the symbol shows.

So I don’t read Le Guin as being dismissive of females at all - she was reflecting eastern philosophies, not the whole western distaff/sinister thing at all.
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Old 01-17-2019, 09:49 PM   #44
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I'm about halfway through and finding it a slog, not sure if I'm gonna fight through it.

EDIT: Fought through it, the second half of the book is a lot better than the first half. Literally, after I decided to fight through it, after I started reading I almost finished the book in one sitting.

EDIT #2: I'm glad I got this on sale in 2017 for $2, if I had paid the current $10, I'd feel kinda ripped off.

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Old 01-17-2019, 11:36 PM   #45
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Catlady, the difficulty is that singular "they" is only wrong in an ever narrowing set of circumstances - see the grammergirl link in astrangerhere's post. As you suggest, and as that article and referenced style guides recommend, rewriting to avoid the problem is a good idea when viable, but this becomes cumbersome and awkward in a novel (both writing and reading).

And to bring this back to The Left Hand of Darkness, I doubt if anything other than generic "he" was given serious consideration when the novel was written - Le Guin wasn't writing a feminist proclamation. In Le Guin's 1976 essay about the novel, she writes '"He" is the generic pronoun, damn it, in English.' She also goes on to say it was not very important, but in the 1988 redux of the essay says it is very important.


issybird, you can't have it both ways (left and dark). In the Yin-and-Yang symbol, and in "Tormer’s Lay" recited by Estraven, the left hand of darkness is light (and darkness the right hand of light). So either left-and-light or right-and-dark are our choices in duality in these examples.

Aside from duality, the book also rests on its own mythology which does not tie darkness to female but to death:
Quote:
Each of the children born to them had a piece of darkness that followed him about wherever he went by daylight. Edondurath said, “Why are my sons followed thus by darkness?” His kemmering said, “Because they were born in the house of flesh, therefore death follows at their heels. They are in the middle of time. In the beginning there was the sun and the ice, and there was no shadow. In the end when we are done, the sun will devour itself and shadow will eat light, and there will be nothing left but the ice and the darkness.”
I do think this bit of mythology is spoiled by "sons". I think that was careless and inappropriate. Although it was probably justified on the same grounds as "he" and "him" etc., I see it as a step too far.

Last edited by gmw; 01-17-2019 at 11:46 PM. Reason: Clarification
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