Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 11:48:23 +0800

Tim -

from the alt.usage.english FAQ (not the most recent):

> Gender-neutral pronouns
> -----------------------

> Singular "they" (as in "Everyone was blowing their nose"), which
> has been used in English since the time of Chaucer, has gained
> popularity recently as a result of the move towards gender-neutral
> language. Prescriptive grammarians have traditionally (since 1795,
> although the actual practice goes right back to 1200) prescribed
> "Everyone was blowing his nose."

> Proposals for other gender-neutral pronouns get made from time to
> time, and some can be found in actual use ("sie" and "hir" are
> the ones most frequently found on Usenet). Cecil Adams, in _Return
> of the Straight Dope_ (Ballantine, 1994, ISBN 0-345-38111-4) says
> that some eighty such terms have been proposed, the first of them in
> the 1850s.

> Discussions about gender-neutral pronouns tend to go round and
> round and never reach a conclusion. Please refrain.

I don't have a firm opinion about this either way. I'd rather not use 'his'
when I mean 'his or hers'. I'd rather not say 'his or hers' at all if I can
avoid it. I'd rather use a generally accepted pronoun, but there isn't one.

Using 'them' or 'their' is one way to write around these problems -- there
are others. I try to use whatever seems best in the circumstances, so that
how I say it does not distract the reader from what I say. It's cold
comfort to know that both the usage and the dispute go back at least to
Chaucer's day.

Good writing and correct writing are not usually incompatible. Those rare
times when I can't do both, I gulp, turn my wife's picture to face the
wall... and write wrong.

Stuart Burnfield (slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au) Voice: +61 9 328 8288
Functional Software Fax: +61 9 328 8616
PO Box 192
Leederville, Western Australia, 6903

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