Sexism and Pronouns

Subject: Sexism and Pronouns
From: Marci Andrews <Marci_Andrews -at- NOVELL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 12:41:24 -0700

In response to the following:

Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 00:45:12 -0500
From: Craig Patchett <PappasWest -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Subject: Re: Sexism and Pronouns
In fact, I would have to say that the secret to any kind of successful
with another human being (and writing is such a relationship) is the ability to
understand each other's perspective. To ignore the other's perspective, to try
conform it to your own, or to ridicule it is to destine the relationship to

I couldn't agree more.

This is an audience awareness problem, rooted in social upheaval, whose
solution has become an emotional issue for many. Because so many members of
our tech writing audience are bothered by the use of the masculine pronoun in
contexts where it represents both genders, we whose trade is communication
must acknowledge the fact and either address a fuller audience or knowingly
address only those who either don't care or don't want to include the "other"
gender in pronoun usage.

Pronoun usage is not a trivial thing. It is a pebble at the foot of a mountain.

The history of English shows that pronoun usage changed radically between
the Old and Middle English periods, and then again, but not so drastically,
between the Middle and Modern English periods. Pronoun usage has dropped
the use of the singular second person familiar forms (thee, thou, thy) since
and the language has seen many other changes. During most, if not all, of that
time, people have been protesting against many of the changes English has
undergone. Most of the big changes were probably very emotional issues for
the people who wanted the language to stay the same.

English changes. Social upheaval and common usage dictates what the
language will become. I predict that "they" will evolve to mean the singular as
well as the plural third person. Any other predictions out there? (But maybe
predictions are off-topic...)

Marci Andrews
Editor at Novell, Inc.
former PhD candidate studying Old English at University of Oregon
<mandrews -at- novell -dot- com>

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