Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Kent Newton <KentN -at- METRIX-INC -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 07:21:00 PST

On Thursday, March 14, 1996 7:42 AM, Tim Alton wrote in reply to
Colleen's dsipleasure with "he/him/his" as an indefinite pronoun:
>[snipped historical study of the indefinite pronoun]
> I'm frankly surprised that it's hard to read around, since that's the
>we're all taught to read from our very earliest days in letters.
>our more poetic constructions wouldn't flow very well if we changed the
>pronoun structure. "He who would be wise, would do well to listen to the

>sounds of the earth," would sound silly with some unisex substitute.

Actually, Tim, you chose a bad example. That quote would sound just as
good if you use the plural form that many people advocate: "They who
would be wise, would do well to listen to the sounds of the earth."

>We've talked about this sort of minority-by-minority language flushing
>the list before. "Being in a black mood" would surely not appeal to
>Afro-Americans, and "Sitting at the right hand of God" may well be
>irritating for lefties. Still, would you excise those too? The
>has already made itself look ridiculous by banning real estate ad
>that discriminates against imagined hurts, such as "Great view"
>irritating prospective blind buyers. To avoid this, would you advocate
>ad that says "House. For Sale. Come See"?

Your revised ad would be no better for blind (or should I say,
"seeing-impaired"?) buyers than the original. If they could not enjoy
the "Great view" how would they "Come see" the house for sale. If you
really wanted to avoid potentially offending someone, you'd have to leave
the ad at: "House. For sale." (But I suspect that may offend the
financially-challenged who can't afford to actually _buy_ a house.)

While it may sound otherwise, I agree with Tim: I hate to see people
intentionally bugger with the language structure. And lest I sound
totally insensitive to the feelings of my female readers, I do try to
avoid using "he/his/him" when I can restructure the sentence without
disrupting the flow or meaning. I often recast sentences to have plural
antecedants so the plural pronoun is correct. I try to use second person
instead of third person when possible. But still, there are some
sentences when neither option will work. Instead of using the clumsy "he
or she" or mutant constructions like "s/he," I use "he." I suspect,
however, that we will eventually have to accept plural pronouns with
singular antecedants as a means to avoid gender bias, but it will take

One side note: How is this issue treated by speakers of languages that
are much more gender-based than English (such as French or German)?

Kent Newton
Senior Technical Writer
Metrix, Inc.
kentn -at- metrix-inc -dot- com

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