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"he or she" NOT politically correct!

What is it about the "he or she" formula that has writers comfortable about being politically correct?

If anything, it reinforces the statement that the male sex is superior by always putting "he" first.

I recommend a 50/50 mix of "he or she" and "she or he".

And a government/privately funded body to monitor this and issue fair warnings to offenders.

Equally incorrect is when the writer shortcuts to "(s)he" or, even worse, "she" alone, thus plainly stating that women are inferior and as a "concession" are used as a common denominator, so to speak. Women should speak up against this condescending abuse.

Alex
Monday, December 22, 2003

There is a little used word in the English language which means he/she. That word its "they".

“It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex” (Virginia Woolf)

Matthew Lock
Monday, December 22, 2003

> If anything, it reinforces the statement that the male sex is
> superior by always putting "he" first.

Just want to debunk this reasoning too. ;)

Does Monday coming before Friday imply that Monday is a superior day to Friday? Sometimes orders are just conventions rather than explicitly stating a ranking.

Matthew Lock
Monday, December 22, 2003

Glad to see a bit of humour this afternoon :-)

>I recommend a 50/50 mix of "he or she" and "she or he".

I've seen somewhere that when giving the names of their parents most guys name their mothers name first. Chicks named their fathers name first. You can ask around among your friends and see that this tends to be the case.

I vote for the "he she" just becasue of alphabetical order :-)

Patrik
Monday, December 22, 2003

> There is a little used word in the English language which
> means he/she. That word its "they".

This usage isn't approved of by all users as it gives rise to very clumsy constructions (e.g., "tell Chris I'll call them back at 5 o'clock").  It's certainly not standard usage.

No attempt to provide a gender-neutral pronoun has yet met with universal acceptance.

See the Gender-neutral pronoun FAQ for more interesting info

http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/faq.html

Jack
Monday, December 22, 2003

Is the term "douchebag" politically correct?

Example sentence:

What's the deal with the 'douchebag' who is worrying about gender pronouns on a software development message board?


Monday, December 22, 2003

All christian (oops, offended the atheists) first (oops sorry offended the positionists) given names should be neutral so as not to engender (oops sorry offended the feminists) create bias based on narrow minded (oops sorry offended the anthropologists) culturally restricted ideas of worth based on gender (oops sorry offended the grammar nurds) chromasomal distribution.

I propose a set of composite unspecific names. I shall start with Fiovaan which neatly encompases Ian, Ann, Fiona and Ivan thus encompassing Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Slavic cultures too. Sorry, couldn't get any others in there.

Fiovaan Sanders
Monday, December 22, 2003

Unless you are able to suggest a use for a douche bag somewhere about the male anatomy, then no it is not politically correct.

Fiovaan Sanders
Monday, December 22, 2003

after reading the FAQ on aetherlumina, I might start using ey, eir, & em.  (singular version of they, their, & them).  Too bad they aren't recognized in Word as valid words. 

When I read the sentence aloud in my head, I can't help but say it with a cockney accent.  "Someone called me on the phone, and I told em, 'don't call here!'  Then ey hung up on me.  Eir number was blocked on the caller id."

um, anyway.  back to your regularly scheduled programming.

nathan
Monday, December 22, 2003

"they"  is certainly in common use in spoken *English* English and I see no clear reason why it should be used in written English.  Whether or not it's correct in some other dialect  is another matter. 

I did follow the link you gave and I will agree  that where you're using a name to use "they" as a pronoun in the same sentence sounds odd -  "If you see Sally, tell them that i need to get in touch with them."  was the example.

However I was under the impression that the reason for a gender neutral pronoun was to be able to speak about a case where gender was unknown,  rather than cower from mentioning a gender that was already known.

A cynic writes
Monday, December 22, 2003

> "they"  is certainly in common use in spoken *English*
> English and I see no clear reason why it should be used
> in written English.  Whether or not it's correct in some
> other dialect  is another matter. 

I agree with you that it's in common use in spoken English (I'm English too).  However, there are plenty of grammatical constructions in common use that are not correct.  If we're discussing *correct* usage as opposed to *common* usage, then what I said is true.

> I did follow the link you gave and I will agree  that where
> you're using a name to use "they" as a pronoun in the
> same sentence sounds odd -  "If you see Sally, tell them
> that i need to get in touch with them."  was the example

> However I was under the impression that the reason for
> a gender neutral pronoun was to be able to speak about
> a case where gender was unknown,  rather than cower
> from mentioning a gender that was already known.

I do take your point - and a gender neutral pronoun would certainly be useful for the situation you describe.

However:

- Some people object to having to specify the sex of a person with a pronoun even when it's known - they believe that it's irrelevant and may cause you to jump to conclusions

- Using "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun is not formally correct grammar

- When using "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun, it's not always obvious when to use singular and when to use plural forms, and in some cases this leads to horrible/clumsy sentences

Some people aren't terribly concerned about using "correct" grammar, so these objections may not be relevant to them.  However, I personally find that communication is generally enhanced when you use correct grammar: after all, that's why rules were originally codified.

Jack
Monday, December 22, 2003

My reading of history was that formally *correct* grammar as you describe was codified around rules derived from Latin and had little to do with English as spoken.  I do feel that a grammatical standard is important but I've always been doubtful as to the worth of imposing it from outside.

We should also remember that English has no Academy requiring us  to keep to a *correct* language - English is what we make of it.  It follows that they is no one who can say "This usage is correct now". 

A cynic writes
Monday, December 22, 2003

I didn't have the attention span to read all the responses in detail.

"They" is gender neutral but, alas, plural.
The proper English, gender nuetral singular pronoun is, and has been for hundreds of years, "he".  If the subject of the sentence is singular and known to be male, or of unknown gender, it is proper to use "he".  If the gender is known to be female, use "she".

This is not to imply that men are any better than women, or more likely to participate in certain professions.  The following sentence is correct so far as I know:

"If one is concerned about the care a loved one is receiving, ask a nurse and he will set your mind at ease."

Name withheld out of cowardice
Monday, December 22, 2003

What is wrong with saying:
"I talked with Sally, and she said you're a boob."

Or:
"If you see Joe, tell him he's fired."

Why do I need to say:
"When talking with Bob, remember that ey is hung over most of the time, so speak softly."

Gender can be (reasonably) divined from the name itself -- so until we start mandating that newborns be named gender-neutral names I don’t see why it’s a problem to include the gender in the sentence.

MR
Monday, December 22, 2003

> My reading of history was that formally *correct*
> grammar as you describe was codified around rules
> derived from Latin and had little to do with English as
> spoken.  I do feel that a grammatical standard is
> important but I've always been doubtful as to the worth
> of imposing it from outside

Well, there's a lot in what you say.  In particular, there are some grammatical rules (for example, split infinitives) which it's easy to show were introduced in Victorian times.

However, I find it hard to believe that you don't respect grammatical rules at *all*.  Your sentences are correctly punctuated, for example, and you use apostrophes correctly.

It's a continuum: some sentences are clearly correct English, and some sentences are clearly incorrect English.  I'm drawing the line in a different place from you.  Where I draw the line is based on my knowledge of what great authors do, my personal tendency towards pedantry, and also my belief that being casual about what is and what isn't correct leads to miscommunication.  Thus I hold up high standards for my own written (less so spoken) English.

> We should also remember that English has no Academy
> requiring us  to keep to a *correct* language - English is
> what we make of it.  It follows that they is no one who
> can say "This usage is correct now"

Again, I don't want to argue that you're completely wrong here, but I do think you're mistaken in equating the lack of a formal Academy with the statement that there is no one who can say "This usage is correct now".

As an analogy - there's no written constitution in England, which is why we have judges to interpret and make law.  For the law, judges have the power to say "This usage is correct now".  For language, I'd argue that highbrow media and great writers are the authority that act as a check on changing usage in written English.  The written language evolves, but I think it evolves more by consensus of the (relatively speaking) few than by the casual usage of the many.

All of which is not to say that you can't write exactly what you want - of course you can, and great writing occurs when people express themselves in new ways.  But in so much as there *is* a standard (and I still maintain that there is), "they" is not a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

Jack
Monday, December 22, 2003

I think Jack we're both arguing from more or less the same perspective.  I do believe in taught grammar but not that it is fixed and I distrust authority on it.  Too often, "correctness" seems to be about class and regional distinctions rather than clear communication.

On the main point, my reading was that "they" was an older usage than the "correct" one.  If not it is certainly a convenient and clear usage. 

Btw I was born ~2 miles from West Ham football ground.  As you can imagine my spoken and written English differ.

A cynic writes
Monday, December 22, 2003

Of course 'programming' is not gender neutral because it contains the word 'ram' and almost the word 'ogre' and therefore carries a subliminal masculine load.

Fiovaan Sanders
Monday, December 22, 2003

Fiovaan,

The same goes for the word 'She', which contains the word 'He'.

Ged Byrne
Monday, December 22, 2003

If we're going to get silly then the girl's name Carol means "manly". 

A cynic writes
Monday, December 22, 2003

But "Carol" isn't (necessarily) a girl's name - think "Carol O'Connor", from the TV sit-com "All In The Family" (and others).

bpd
Monday, December 22, 2003

>>Is the term "douchebag" politically correct?

Yes

anon
Monday, December 22, 2003

Using she instead of he as a generic pronoun is actually sexist because it excludes men. Using he as a generic pronoun is understood, where appropriate, to include women, but the opposite doesn't apply for she.

That's why the usage is glaring when you see it. It's also why dopey PC types who use it reveal their own low intelligence.


Monday, December 22, 2003

Come on people, it was meant as a joke.

Or is it that people don't get humor any more if there are no smileys in it?

Alex
Monday, December 22, 2003

people are more apt to "get" the humor if the "joke" is funny.

for the love of god
Monday, December 22, 2003

"Some people object to having to specify the sex of a person with a pronoun even when it's known - they believe that it's irrelevant and may cause you to jump to conclusions"

Uh huh. There's always a fringe minority with crackpot ideas. Do we base our language on that?

"Using "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun is not formally correct grammar"

So the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare are not formally correct grammar, compared to the formally correct grammars of the first group you mention. Gotcha!

Dennis Atkins
Monday, December 22, 2003

Ever notice how a large majority of MS security bullitens refer to attackers as "she"?

SG
Monday, December 22, 2003

The rule against split infiintives dates from an eighteenth century "grammarian".

To use "they" in sentences such as "Everybody should bring their grammar books to tomorrow's lesson" is perfectly correct in written British English.

The question of what pronoun to use for one person of inderminate sex is moot because normally if you know its one person you know which sex they are. You still can't use "they" in either of these sentences.

"The postman called but I wasn't in. He left a message saying I had to pick up the parcel at the post office".

"The nurse changed the drip while I was sleeping. I'm sure she'll be back to change the dressing later"

In both cases you're still forced to use the gender stereoptype.

Now possibly the carry-over from "they" being accepted as gender neutral in cases of mixed gender will mean that in a few years time we will accept they in the cases above but it seems strange to me at present.

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 22, 2003

"What is it about the "he or she" formula that has writers comfortable about being politically correct?"

Don't know which country you're in, Jack, but in the good ol' USA we've got a conservative President, a conservative Congress, and a conservative Supreme Court.  So it seems to me that "he or she" is politically *incorrect,* no matter what the order.

Cognitive Dissonance
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

There is a little used word in the English language which means he/she. That word its "they"

Poor french and spaniards then. They don't even
have a gender neutral word for the plural 3rd
person. Ils vs Elles (fr) and Ellos vs Ellas (sp) (sp: I think)

rm -R /
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

<quote>
"The postman called but I wasn't in. He left a message saying I had to pick up the parcel at the post office".

"The nurse changed the drip while I was sleeping. I'm sure she'll be back to change the dressing later"

In both cases you're still forced to use the gender stereoptype.
</quote>

You are not forced to use the gender stereotype. In the second example you can refer to the nurse as "he" unless you know that he is a she.

Conversly, "she" is normally used as the second person subject pronoun for the anthropomorphism of an object. This does not cause me to think of my computer as a woman or of a woman as a computer.

John Ridout
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Alex

Come on, you given all us pedants a chance to have a really good scrap about grammar *and* be on topic.  Joke or no, it's just too good an opportunity to miss.

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

correction:

for "you" read "you've"

(tut..tut..7/10 must do better.)

A cynic writes
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

George Carlin said it best, that Political Correctness results in the "pussification of the USA"



-apw

"My Border Terrier Compainion Dog is Smarter Than Your Honor Student"

apw
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Dear John,
                  True I'm not forced to use "she" for the nurse; were it in a mental hospital the gender stereotype would probably be "he", but I must still make a choice. Choosing the less likely of two alternatives, as you suggest, doesn't get one off the hook.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

As a linguist, I see absolutely no reason to prohibit the use of "they" as a singular/impersonal pronoun.

I agree with the author of this article:

http://home.columbus.rr.com/sciences/singular_they.htm

In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the following:

"A singular *they* is not some vulgarism of recent coinage threatening to pollute proper diction. *Oxford English Dictionary* presents several citations that use *they* as a genderless third person singular, the oldest from 1526 (*OED Online*, entry 2). If English has long had a singular *they*, why is it now stigmatized?"

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Fernanda - interesting article that you cite.  Perhaps the singular "they" is one example of usage that I should be less pernickety about.

I was, however, amused to note that the author makes another common error:

"But none of us--students, teachers, or administrators--have to operate in ignorance or silence"

Of course, it should be

"But none of us--students, teachers, or administrators-- *has* to operate in ignorance or silence"

Jack
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Sorry Jack; none of us HAVE to. It's called notional agreement. It simply sounds horrible to have a singular verb after 'us' or 'them', let alone after the next three plurals Fernanda uses.

If you want to be a real stickler you can point at that none is not singular, it's zero, so doesn't need a singular verb :)

Fernanda is actuallly right about 'they'. The American Heritage book of English Usage gives examples going back to the 14th century. It has an interesting discussion on the various alternatives in
5. Gender: Sexist Language and Assumptions sec 12 (he) to 19 (epicine pronouns). It does say that most members of the usage commitee are prepared to accept "they" used after anyone, everyone or other indeterminate singular pronouns but most reject using it after a normal singular noun as in the examples I gave in the post above.

One thing is clear however; whatever alternative you choose is sure to offend one group or another, whether feminists, grammar nazis, male chauvinsits, simple English believers or whatever, so my advice is decide which of these groups you want to annoy today and choose the appropriate solution.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

"None of us has/have" is a matter of personal choice, too, if you ask me.

The meaning is perfectly clear whichever choice is made.

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

("They" is very emphatically word...'cause the "hey!" inside of it)

Ross
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Fernanda is right but let's give credit where it is due! Dennis Atkins is the one who has been pushing the historical reality of singular they long before any of you grammar experts caught on!

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

"Mom and dad" rolls of the tongue much easier than "dad and mom".  Likewise, "mother and father" is slightly easier ("and f--" is easier than "and m--").  I hypothesize that this is why statisticly people would say their mother's name first when naming both parents.

But that's just an unsupported theory...

Richard P
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Richard,

I like that theory. Makes sense to me.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Luckily 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' by Lynne Truss is this Christmas' bestseller on this side of the Atlantic - should lead to more informed comment on the topic of the final part fo this thread (or should that have been a colon instead of a dash!).

John
Sunday, December 28, 2003

I say that "he or she" etc. are INCORRECT because they are fake English. If you notice, NOBODY says "he or she" in everyday speech. The only place you find it is in print. That's because it's not real English, it's just something that the thought police invented. The only natural solution is "they". Someone has said that it's nonstandard, but I argue that it IS standard, because that's what people say in real life. I live in Los Angeles, and singular "they" is definitely standard here.

xxxxxxxx
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

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