Him, her, she, he, – or – they, their?

Browsing around WordPress.com, I happened upon The Daily Post. Which I might say, is not very easy to find, so note to WordPress, suggest you publicise it more obviously.

Now, being new to WP’s latest incarnation (ie since I first joined about five years ago), I’m still finding out what is going on with their main site – and their sidelines like the Post.

As far as I can work out, The Daily Post is a WP blog that was started a while ago to encourage people to blog every day. If you haven’t read it yet, I bored for Gibraltar on the concepts of blogging every day or needing inspiration, over at Roughseas – here.

But The Daily Post seems to have shifted its direction somewhat, as do all blogs, and now appears to be more generally focussed about blogging, rather than posing some quasi-imspirational questions for those of us who have nothing to write/post about. (In which case why blog ask I?)

So my eye was taken by a post about grammar and gender-neutral pronouns. Mmm.

They.

It was a reasonable-ish post, that stepped aside from courting controversy. Mildly lippy but no more. Probably interesting enough to generate discussion.

However, grammar and gender-neutral/gender-specific language excite passion, emotion, arguments, disrespect etc etc

At this point I should say, that without a doubt, the most popular post on this, my blog, ie Clouds, is about what to call someone who chairs a meeting.

You can read it here, if you haven’t read it before, but I was pretty surprised to see it coming up not just in the google top ten, but frequently number one. Hmm. I would have written it more carefully had I known.

In itself, though, that search rating says loads. People are actually aware of changing language, and how much it matters to many people.

Now, reading The Daily Post blog post, I figured you could divide language people into a few groups. (I’ve just been categorising every single post on this blog after importing it from blogger so I am up to this at the moment).

For those of you who can’t be bothered to link back to TDP – I’ll quote the relevant pars (yes, nice me, has got permission to do the linky stuffs and all that).

Consider the following sentence:
A person who does not read this blog regularly may find that ____ grammar suffers.
Now fill in the blank with the appropriate pronoun. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll unflinchingly fill the blank with “his.” If you lean leftish sociopolitically, you’re more likely to provide “her” (or to alternate between “his” and “her” when using such sentences). If the thought of filling in that blank fills you with uncertainty or even dread, maybe you’d supply “their,” which makes the grammar nerds squirm.

First up, I am probably of that certain age, or certainly approaching it. Secondly, well, anyone by now should know that I am nearly falling over on my left side let alone leaning – but I never use her as the main pronoun. And thirdly, nope, I have no worries about how to fill in the blank or even, change the sentence. Which is what the author goes on to recommend.

On reading this whole post it seemed to me there were a few groups, and not the ones outlined above.

Grammar people can get pride of place, because this sentence is about grammar, right? Maybe.

Well, first off, there are the people who put grammar first and live in the past. Simple as that really. ‘What I learned back then should still be correct now and that’s how I shall continue to think.’ I can empathise with that as I have been there, done that. Such people may be known as dinosaurs or fossils or something like that.

Next, you get the grammar group who obviously want to maintain grammatical accuracy but – accept there is a little bit of change around. However, they are not willing to bend to that wicked Marxist Infiltration Movement of Political Correctness.

No, these are the people who will finally accept, an And, and a But at the beginning of a sentence. They are flexible about the boring old comma syndrome.

They probably consider themselves modern grammaticists, moving with the times, still accurate, but not politicised.

And the third group consists of the ones who still want to stick with grammatical rules, but also accept that times and language change. They will accept use of gender-neutral language. They understand etymology and because of that they are flexible about adapting to new terms and new uses of words.

That’s the grammar people out of the way.

Now. How about the spelling fetishists, (because they are often friends with the grammar group). Nothing wrong with that. Or is there?

These are the ones who object to text speak on the internet (fair enough, I concede). The ones who criticise anyone and everyone who makes a spelling mistke. The ones who don’t appreciate someone with dyslexia making the effort to write on a forum – and then get mocked for their efforts. Most of us can read a post written by someone with dyslexia, or a post by anyone who hasn’t learned to spell correctly for whatever reason, so why give them grief?

Language is an immensely powerful way to communicate. Probably surpassed by graphic images, but otherwise, language shapes our ideas, sells us products, and damages or enhances our relationships.

To treat it as some dry as dust academic study is to make a huge mistake.

Which brings me onto yet another group of people interested in language. Those interested in making change, and influencing people through the use of words.

In this group you can include feminists (like me), who don’t want to read ‘him’ or ‘man’ as the default value. You can also include the very articulate and politicised health group lobbies for people who have – for example – mental illness, a disability, diabetes, autism, HIV/AIDs etc etc.

This group realises that by trying to make changes in language they may eventually even change the way people think.

I spent some years working with various health groups – and trying to get my language clear and inoffensive. Because really, what is the point of referring, for example, to a ‘Disabled Parking Space?’

Is the parking space disabled? No. That is a lazy and sloppy use of language. It is, a parking space for someone with a disability who has a vehicle – but who wants to write that? Neat get around – parking spaces for blue badge holders.

But back to the original post – about gender neutral pronouns.

Someone posted up on TDP about zie and hir. Actually they used a variation but zie and hir are what I am used to. Zie, stands for she or him, and hir equates to his or her. Easy really, take a couple of letters from each and put them together. Hasn’t really caught on as far as I can see though. And I always got confused with it. [ETA] In fact, I have totally got the above stuff wrong, so you can see why it doesn’t catch on. [Zie must be he or she? and hir is him or her? Who knows? not me.]

The discussion on TDP died though when someone came on to dismiss anyone who wanted to consider terminology and changing use –

Get this!!

Shoot.
He/she and all other out-of-place “they”-isms are not marks of politics or unnerdiness–they are marks of a collective illiteracy with which we feel forced to deal. Why, I shall never know, nor want to know; who cares why it is popular to be confused with the very simplest of concepts?
And, please, let’s not confuse correct usage with what some might call “acceptable” or even “recommendable”.
And “it” is for unnamed animals.

Actually s/he is more appropriate. Not he/she. Illiteracy? I don’t think I have been accused of that one before. And why dismiss what other people consider to be important?

And that penultimate sentence –
‘Correct usage’ v ‘Acceptable. Recommendable.’

I think that means – roughly speaking – ‘what I think is right and nothing else matters.’

I forgot the final group. Reactionaries.

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About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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11 Responses to Him, her, she, he, – or – they, their?

  1. pix & kardz says:

    A great take on TDP article.

    100 years ago, more or less, I remember a conversation with one of my favourite English teachers in high school about this very their/her/his/its issue. Being otherwise quite generous with his encouragement of students who were a bit outside the box, he did not like my use of ‘their’. So I held an impromptu poll with my classmates who were standing around, and everyone agreed that the use of ‘his’ was much less preferable than ‘their’.
     
    As terrific a teacher as he otherwise was, I will never forget him saying that grammar is not a democratic issue. Years later in a linguistics course at university I got a much better understanding of where he was coming from. In that respect he was old school. Language does evolve and change, with or without us, whether we like it or not.
     
    The only language which remains etched in stone are the words on tombstones, and a language no longer actively in use, such as Latin – although I am sure Latin scholars would beg to differ.
     
    While I often enjoy being intentionally politically incorrect because even that can become rediculous at the other end of the spectrum – there are some things which are simply passé. To which I say, let it go. Times have changed. Some things are constants. But language is not one of them.
     
    There will be those who disagree. Some will insist on the use of ‘his’ in a gender-neutral statement. But no worries. I am not offended. To each their own 🙂
     
    Thanks for a great post.

    Like

    • Thanks for that mini-blog post Chris. Given your linguistics expertise I shall say no more! Ironically one of my courses at university was Latin.

      But in amidst the flippancy above, I really wanted to make two simple points – that language is not just for dusty pedantic grammarians and, as you also said – that language continually changes. Simple really.

      Now I must go and take a hopeful photo…..

      Like

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful reaction to my post! Reactionaries indeed. (And insisting on the silly old preposition rule even when the usage in question is a phrasal verb that doesn’t need to follow that tired rule — probably the topic of my next post.)

    Like

    • Thanks Daryl. I did return to visit later on, and was pleased I had written a post on here. We all like to get discussion on our blogs, and thoughtful comments, but what one (!) doesn’t want, is a few commenters repeating their point ad nauseaum. I didn’t want to fall into that trap so thought it better to rant happily away on here. Look forward to your next post and will check out previous ones, as I said, I am still finding my way around TDP and wordpress.com. Interestingly, I used ‘one’ above without even thinking about it. It tripped off the fingers.

      Like

  3. alisonamazed says:

    Hi You,
    Not sure what your name is…RoughSeas?
    Glad to see there are some out there in the blogosphere and beyond who recognize the value in changing language to change our attitudes. When I saw this topic on LinkedIn Writers and Editors I was stunned to read the archaic thinking among a group of writers advanced enough to use technology to discuss the issue! That prompted me to post my essay written in 1987!!!!! those who haven’t read it and still need convincing can read it here: http://alisonamazed.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/time-for-21st-century-speak-use-they-as-a-singular-pronoun/ There comes a time however, when we must stop talking about it and Just Do It. Isn’t it time we moved on? I was however equally stunned when a friend suggested that I had better write about something other than feminist issues or people would think I have nothing new to say! So now I’m writing about food? I do avoid issues on my blog – preferring to reserve things I have to say about issue of importance for my poetry and songs. I find it easier – quite frankly – as I often feel so passionate about issues that my emotion blocks my ability to write rationally – a poem or song permits me to be emotional. Not sure if there’s a song in gender neutral language! 🙂 Thanks for keeping the fire blazing.

    Like

    • I get called loads of things including ‘You’ and ‘Roughseas.’ Happy with most if they aren’t abusive.

      1987 is pretty impressive. My language awareness came some years later (not a lot actually say three or four), but I do keep mentioning it because I think it is so important.

      I don’t blog about feminism all the time, because I guess I’m with your pal, there isn’t a lot new to say really. We live in a patriarchal society and some people (not many) realise that, and would like to see change.

      But I like to post occasionally about it. Food? I do write about food on my other blog, or rather I add recipes. On here, you just get the I-am-bored-with-the-anti-vegetarian-rhetoric sort of posts.

      As for issues, that’s why I have this blog. The civilised ones are elsewhere 🙂

      Thanks for the reply.

      Like

  4. Pingback: They (not the movie) | Monsta Productions

  5. Pingback: How The Meanings of Words Have Changed: Fresh and Swipe « newfoundlandtraveller

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