Re: his/her

Subject: Re: his/her
From: Gladys_We -at- SFU -dot- CA
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1993 18:06:38 -0800

>In my 12 years as a technical writer, I've never used the his/her form.
>I haven't seen this book but it has been referred to.

>"The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing" (Miller & Swift 1980).

Some excerpts from Miller & Swift: (without permission, of course!)

From pp. 35-36:
Present-day linguists, tracing the history of the so-called generic _he_,
have found that it was invented and prescribed by the grammarians
themselves in an attempt to change long-established English usage. The
object of the grammarians' intervention was the widespread acceptance of
_they_ as a singular pronoun, as in Lord Chesterfield's remark (1759), "If
a person is born of a gloomy temper ... they cannot help it."

Nearly three centuries earlier, England's first printer, William Caxton,
had written, "Each of them should ... make themself ready," and the
invocation "God send everyone their heart's desire" is from Shakespeare.

From page 41:
The trouble with the _he or she_ form is that it becomes awkward when
repeated. In order to avoid using the double-pronoun construction many
times in an extended context, the writing can often be recast in the
[stuff skipped to go to their example] "During their fourth year studies
... they assume responsibilities in keeping with their stage of learning."

From page 43:
Writing designed to give instructions or practical advice can avoid the
third-person pronoun by addressing the person directly. The financial
columnist Sylvia Porter often uses this form. For example:

"The warehouse store is another way for you to curb your soaring food bills
... You, the customer, do your own bagging and loading of groceries into
your car."

I prefer the pluralizing style, myself. See the book (The Handbook of
Nonsexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers, by Casey Miller & Kate
Swift, Harper & Row) for lots more suggestions on the question of gender
references, and a lot of funny examples. (ISBN 0-06-463542-2) It's been a
very popular book, and you should be able to find it almost everywhere.

Gladys We * we -at- sfu -dot- ca * Vancouver, Canada

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself."
- Walt Whitman, _Leaves of Grass_

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