RE: Gender neutrality and the multiple-personality third-person pronoun

Subject: RE: Gender neutrality and the multiple-personality third-person pronoun
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: "H. Christopher Christner" <cchris -at- toptechwriter -dot- us>, "TECHWR L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 2006 09:23:31 -0500

Chris Christner wrote...

> I was writing a blog entry about an unfortunate woman in Florida who
> 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
> authorities."
> Do police think the shooter has multiple personalities?
> Just for kicks, I checked Google for articles that include the terms
> person who" and "turn themselves in" and got nearly 700 hits. That's a
> of writers who don't care about being clearly understood, or maybe
> laboring under the iron boot of a style guide with no wiggle room when
> comes to violating gender neutrality.
> Rewriting the sentence (the usual workaround) isn't easy in this case.
> least I can't come up with one that doesn't have "himself", "herself"
> "him or herself" in it.
> Clear communications demand generic gender-neutral pronouns! Cecil
> has
> a Straight Dope article on previous failed attempts
> (, but maybe
> 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?

I don't know what the answer is, but I definitely think the time for a
gender-neutral single personality pronoun has come. Normally I would
argue for using the indefinite pronoun "one" or "oneself" but for that
to make sense in the sentence you quote would demand a serious re-write.

I know it has serious de-humanizing connotations, but maybe we
professional writers and the academics who train future generations
should just start advocating the use of "it" "its" and "itself" when
referring to a single person whose gender is unknown. After all, we use
the same when referring to non-human mammals of unknown gender, so why
not use it for people of unknown (or unpredictable) gender as well? If
we're going to discriminate against the gender of cats, dogs, mice,
dolphins, monkeys, platypii, hippotomii, giraffes, lions, tigers, and
bears (oh my), then we ought to use the same indefinite pronoun for a
person when we do not know the individual's gender. <g>

In the example of this story, however, I think I would go with the law
of averages and write it as "turn himself in." I say averages because it
is far more likely that a man would fire a gun of some kind up into the
air in celebration than it would be for a woman to do so. In fact, I
predict a 99.9% probability that when the truth is eventually uncovered
in this incident, the trigger-happy celebrant will be male.

I know there are a fair number of gun-totin' women of the "NASCAR
nation" demographic here in the Orlando area, but I doubt most of them
pull out a gun unless they have a definite target they're trying to hit
and a good reason to shoot it... <g>

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