Gender neutrality and the multiple-personality third-person pronoun

Subject: Gender neutrality and the multiple-personality third-person pronoun
From: "H. Christopher Christner" <cchris -at- toptechwriter -dot- us>
To: TECHWR L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 06 Jan 2006 17:29:32 -0500

Hi all,

I was writing a blog entry about an unfortunate woman in Florida who got hit
by "celebratory gunfire" on New Year's Eve when I saw this text in the
original article (

"Police hope the person who fired the shot will turn themselves in to

Do police think the shooter has multiple personalities?

Just for kicks, I checked Google for articles that include the terms "the
person who" and "turn themselves in" and got nearly 700 hits. That's a lot
of writers who don't care about being clearly understood, or maybe they're
laboring under the iron boot of a style guide with no wiggle room when it
comes to violating gender neutrality.

Rewriting the sentence (the usual workaround) isn't easy in this case. At
least I can't come up with one that doesn't have "himself", "herself" or
"him or herself" in it.

Clear communications demand generic gender-neutral pronouns! Cecil Adams has
a Straight Dope article on previous failed attempts
(, but maybe technical
writers can come up with a solution and start using it. The rest of society
might eventually follow our example.

What would you have written if it had been your story?

Happy Friday,


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