Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 1996 07:58:00 EST

At 11:48 AM 3/15/96 +0800, you wrote:

>> 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.

Thanks for the cross-post of the FAQ. My major objection to using "they" and
"them" and "their" is that in English we've been conditioned to expect these
to be plural constructions. And since our stock in trade in precision, I
think we should be behind the curve, not ahead of it. Now, in my columns, I
can be out in front as far as I deem fit. But not when I'm writing for a
client. I'll stick to language that's meant to be informative, not flattering.

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

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