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Subject:Re: He/she/they/them debate From:Krista Van Laan <kvanlaan -at- UNDA -dot- FI> Date:Mon, 18 Mar 1996 10:22:20 +0200
I have a funny story about the use of "they" vs. "him." My mother
saw someone looking into her neighbor's patio doors. The neighbor
called the police, who came over later to question my mother. My
mother wasn't sure if the peeper was a man or woman, although she
suspected it was a man, so to be neutral, she kept saying things
like, "And then they came around the side of the building..."
"They?" said the police officer. "You mean there was more than
"No! They were looking in the window..."
"So there was more than one person!" repeated the police officer.
This continued for a ridiculous amount of time. When my mother told
me this story, she asked, "Isn't 'they' a normal pronoun to use
when you don't know the sex of the person? I thought that was common
Of course clarity is important when you're reporting a crime. But in
technical writing, what's the big deal about writing "the user"
or "they" + a plural verb form? The best way around it
is to always write in the second person, of course, but if you can't,
how is it hurting the language to write gender-neutral but correct English?