RE: he/she thread

Subject: RE: he/she thread
From: "Carnall, Jane" <Jane -dot- Carnall -at- compaq -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 25 Nov 1999 09:17:51 -0000

To summarise yesterday's posts:

John Posada writes: >>ARGH!.....there are hundreds of them!!<<
>>There are literally hundreds of: "He/she can browse the list by....."<<

Maggie sympathises: >>Oh dear! Poor John! Can you just change all the
he/she (icky indeed) to "you"? <snip> Then go out in the parking lot and
blow something up. You'l feel so much better :)<<

R.Hume says sunnily: >>i like to use "s/he"<<

M. Giffin (M for MCP? :-) offers >>Use "he or she" once or twice near the
beginning of the document to publicly identify yourself as someone who is
aware that there are males and females in the world, then just use "he"
unless you feel like identifying yourself again.<<

Robert E. Garland makes a well-balanced point: >>he is correct English, and
she is often politically correct: <snip> he in odd chapters and she in even
chapters <snip> [or] the gender in each paragraph was selected at random. <<
He adds: >>Perhaps the dictum "know your audience" applies here, but IT is
one area where women are well represented. Use of either he or she to the
exclusion of the other will get you in trouble. [damn right!] Anyone have a
solution to this one? Yes, "the user" can get old quickly.<<

Mike Stockman says, to MGiffin: >>Certainly tradition supports your plan,
but it takes no additional effort and doesn't hurt the document to simply
alternate he with she in your examples. (Obviously, if you start with "she"
in an example, use "she" throughout...)<<
>> "he/she" ... is truly odious.<<

I'm pleased and interested that (except for M.Giffin) everyone sees the
problem of non-gender-neutral pronouns. (I was going to respond to
M.Giffin's post with the suggestion that John use "she" throughout, since
"she" (literally) includes "he".)

In each place I've worked as a technical author, it has been understood that
using "he" as if it were gender-neutral is bound to upset a large percentage
of your audience. (A large percentage will never notice, and another large
percentage will notice but won't care, but the point is that you don't want
to knowingly upset large numbers of people, even if not a majority.)

If you have time to re-cast sentences, the best solution is *always* to do
so: it's easy to write in gender-neutral language, once you have sensitised
yourself to the point where writing a sentence like "He can browse the
list..." jars as badly as sentences like "You is browse the list..." or "You
browsing the list..."

When you get landed with a document like John's with lots and lots of heshes
-I agree with Maggie - the best solution is to take a nap and blow something
up. (I'm a vegetarian.)

If you really can't rewrite to "you", I would go for "s/he", or "they"
("They can browse the list" - "the users" - this should entail *far* less
re-writing that re-casting as "you" throughout.) Otherwise, playing around
with alternate she's and he's will at least look more aesthetically pleasing
than he/she.

Jane Carnall,
striving to be a Klingon Technical Writer, because:
10. You cannot really appreciate Dilbert unless you've read it in the
original Klingon.

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