Making writing gender-neutral (was: Pronouns and portfolios)

Subject: Making writing gender-neutral (was: Pronouns and portfolios)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 15:48:03 -0400

Janice Gelb took issue with my "...if the writer is blaming Word, sit down
with them and watch them write...", and proposed the following rewrite:
<<You may want to sit down and watch how a writer blaming Word is using the
product -- assuming that's acceptable. Perhaps the software is being used
incorrectly and you can explain the the problem and help solve it.>>

Or, for that matter: "Sit down and watch how the writer ["blaming Word' is
implicit from context] is using the product--if that's acceptable. If the
software's being used incorrectly, perhaps you can..." Pace Janice, as I
noted in my original response, this is a good example of how two experienced
editors can disagree about whether they/them is (are? <g>) acceptable and
both have good reasons for doing so. So if you're editing for Geoff the
Reader, by all means, promiscuously use them pronouns, but if you're editing
for Janice the reader, watch your thee's and thou's.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that
English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words;
on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them
unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."-- James D. Nicoll


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