Re: use of he/she/they

Subject: Re: use of he/she/they
From: Paul Baechler <bachp -at- HIWAAY -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 15 Aug 1997 01:19:49 -0600

On 8/12/97 3:49 PM Huber, Mike wrote:

>Another problem - other than context, how do I know how many bosses?
>Maybe we all report to the same person? Maybe you are referring to Eric.
>So you fix the sentence up to make it clear, and (if you are talking
>about Eric-I know you weren't but only because of the context) you get
>"I think each of us should go to the boss and see what he thinks."
> or (if you are saying what I think the context implies)
>"I think each of us should go to our respective bosses and see what they

But what is really meant is probably:

"I think each of us should go to his respective boss and see what she

Using plurals for boss implies asking more than one person in the chain
of command. Why are you going past your first-line supervisor, and what
are the implications?

>While I agree about writing the way you talk for first drafts and for
>casual writing, it doesn't always work in technical or formal documents.
>I have yet to *need* a pronoun other than "you" in documentation. It's
>either "you" or some specific third person (usually "the operator" or
>"the designer" or possibly, though I avoid it, "the user") or else I
>look again and find I've been sloppy or vague. Having to deal with the
>"he/she/them" problem is one of my self-editing red flags, like the
>passive voice. More reliable than passive voice, actually.

I doubt that even "you" is needed. I just finished going through a 185
page technical manual, which did not contain "he" or "she" and used "you"
six times. Of the six three were inthe paragraph on reporting errors, and
two were in the statement "Your experience is recognized, thereforee
basic principles are not includeed."

That said, I believe that the use of he, or she, or the neuter personal
pronoun, it, are all preferable to the mixing of singulars and plurals.
Almost everyone in this discussion, while arguing historical correctness
or changed conventions or gender awareness, has ignored the obvious truth
that not all people using English-language manuals have English as a
primary language. In some cases the user may be close to functional
illiteracy in English. Clarity is more important than maintaining
"gender-neutrality". BTW, how do "gender-neutral" people deal with
languages where nouns have gender?

Paul Baechler Most people will rather die than think.-
bachp -at- hiwaay -dot- net Langewiesche

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