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Subject:Re: Changing our Language From:"Knox, Phebe" <pknox -at- CADMUS -dot- COM> Date:Fri, 15 Dec 1995 15:27:48 EST
David Fisher says "he" is the American English standard for
a gender-neutral referent. Indeed, it used to be, and I can
remember in grade school in Tennessee being taught "the
masculine embraces the feminine" (yes, the teacher smirked).
But that was a LONG time ago, and although we certainly
haven't found a perfect way to incorporate both sexes into
general reference, we've come so far that I never see this
error in the tech manuals I read, and I read a lot of them,
female though I am -- my hobby is PC software and hardware.
It probably isn't true that 50% of the tech audience is
female; but a strong minority is, and after all, it is
gallant not to leave us out.
I don't think it's at all true that academics change
language. The people change language, and academics are
dragged kicking and screaming and hooking their feet around
fenceposts along with the change. This is a change that is
far along but not complete. I don't like the plural pronouns
for singular referents either, and although I normally use
the construction s/he in informal writing with literate
people such as a group like this, I wouldn't use it in 1995
for professional editing or writing. The best way we have
found so far is the write-arounds: getting rid of pronouns
altogether by expressing the thought differently, and also
sometimes by using the second person: "Press enter, then
I love writing so that no one will feel excluded. It's a
generous and kind new style, and very American.