Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 1996 17:00:00 EST

At 09:01 AM 3/13/96 -0600, you wrote:

>Here's an example. I'm working on a speech-enabled telephone "receptionist"
>which uses recorded speech to prompt a user for information. The following
>prompt is played when the user wants to call someone:

>"Who do you want to call and where do you want to call them?"

>This is an interesting prompt. "Who" is used (and in my opinion, correctly so)
>instead of the grammatically correct "Whom" because "Who" is more colloquial.
>But using "them" to refer to an individual bothers me. As I've told the
>powers-that-be here -- I may be overweight, but I don't deserve to be referred
>to in the plural. But I seem to be the only one here who's bothered by this
>particular example of language evolution.

>I'm interested in hearing your opinions.

Well, Tony, here's mine. I think "them" is here to stay, but I don't have to
like it. I'm a precision junkie when I write stuff that's going to be used
by the big wide world, and using "them" to refer to both singular and plural
strikes me as laziness leading to evolution. And I'd add that it's been a
guiding principle of English for a long time that one may speak as one
wants, but must write according to generally-accepted guidelines.

Here in your example, it would seem to be a combination of laziness and
political correctness. Many companies are now scuttling into cobwebby holes
to avoid confronting angry feminists over "his" as the indefinite pronoun. A
lot of otherwise thoughtful people have suggested using "them" as an
acceptable substitute. Sorry, but I can't agree. I see using "them" in
singular applications as a "bump" that the user has to get over.

Your prompt seems lazy to me because it's incorporating two functions into
one: the name, and the location. These should, perforce, be divided into two

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice)
317.899.5987 (fax)

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