Re: Gender Reference

Subject: Re: Gender Reference
From: "George F. Hayhoe III" <gfhayhoe -at- SRS -dot- GOV>
Date: Thu, 26 May 1994 08:46:00 -0400

This is an interesting issue from several angles.

Mike Pope correctly observes that "they" is commonly used in conversation
as a non-gender-specific pronoun. Indeed, "they" and its linquistic
predecessors have been used in this sense since the Angles and Saxons
invented our language a milennium ago. Not until grammarians with classical
language backgrounds undertook a systematic study of English in the 18th
century was this usage of "they" considered illogical and vulgar.

I refuse to get tied up in the argument that grammar should be descriptive
rather than prescriptive, but if a common usage makes sense, it seems
sensible to me to adopt it for more formal purposes, especially if it is
used and understood by 99.44% of the potential readership. Manuals are
commodities, not literature.

Several other posts suggest that references to persons, no matter what
pronouns are used, have no place in technical writing. I thought we had
left behind the days when procedures seemed to happen without human
intervention through the constant use of passive verbs and omission of the
"by" phrase. But that's another battle, isn't it?

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