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msilverstar

hah! support for my usage of the indefinite pronoun "they"

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Mar. 29th, 2007 | 09:38 pm
mood: victorious

From today's Language Log:
The different forms of the pronoun they have been used with singular antecedents throughout the history of English. The established usage is to use it when the antecedent is so indefinite that any choice of gender would be unmotivated: any employee who wants their office repainted, or a customer who finds that their shipment was incomplete. Most writers use this (it is particuarly common in Jane Austen, for example), and almost everyone does in speech. It is not a mistake and never has been. Singular they is an excellent choice in many contexts when choice of a gendered singular pronoun would imply falsely that one sex or the other is being excluded. To say Every writer has his own style implies that all writers are male. If your company is open to hiring women as writers, then Every writer has their own style is preferable. (Older grammars that say he can be used to include females are just factually wrong: notice that the phrase if either your father or your mother breaks his hip is incoherent!).
I've been saying this for years. Nice to have linguistic support.

ETA: the dinosaurs agree (via buckle_berry)
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Comments {20}

Rosamunde Brownlocks

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from: rosamundeb
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)
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I agree - good to hear that. If it's good enough for Jane Austen, it's good enough for me!

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:24 am (UTC)
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Yes! The Jane rulez!

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hanarobi

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from: hanarobi
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
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Oh, thank goodness. I've argued this point for years. Thanks for the supportive finding.

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:25 am (UTC)
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Yes! We win! I love their last example sentence, it makes the point so very completely :-D

(note my use of their, haha meta)

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Any further questions? Ask the shrimp!

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from: txvoodoo
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:25 am (UTC)
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O.O

I didn't even realize that this was an issue!

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:31 am (UTC)
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OMG yes, every place I wrote tech manuals I had to insist that indeed, some software users are WOMEN and would be RIGHTLY OFFENDED if we said the user should do A and then he should do B. Feh!

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Any further questions? Ask the shrimp!

(no subject)

from: txvoodoo
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 06:01 am (UTC)
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hehe most of the places I wrote for (late 80s, early 90s) were barely aware women existed. Since I freelanced and worked at home, they often forgot *I* was one!

Another place just had us alternate our scenarios to be male or female ;)

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blink back to let me know

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from: bunniewabbit
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:27 am (UTC)
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Cool! My inner grammar geek is happy.

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)
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I'm quite enjoying Language Log: I don't get some of the technical linguistic things but am glad to know they exist.

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[will fuck for sex]

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from: anatsuno
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 06:34 am (UTC)
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I tried to explain this to my ENGLISH TEACHERS recently and they looked at me funny. of course; the issue arose not when i used they as a subject pronoun but when, in the absence of gender marker; i used their as an ambivalent possessive pronoun. they recognized that they might replace 'he or she' singular as subject, but they felt 'strange' allowing this to become true in so far as i would use in other structures such as a genitive. i was livid at their ignorance once more.

sweet, sweet validation!

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 04:32 am (UTC)
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Yis! Well the guy who wrote this is an Eminent Linguist, so maybe he will appeal to their sense of authority?

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my wings are like a shield of steel

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from: buckle_berry
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)
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xkcd pardoying dinosaur comics agrees. *g*

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 04:33 am (UTC)
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Woot! That's strange but wonderful ;-)

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from: jubilancy
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 12:49 pm (UTC)
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I feel like the use of "they" is still a gray area, Jane Austen aside (quite a bit of her prose is considered non-standard). It can still jar people from the text.

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
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Have you ever noticed it in any of my stories? It's there...

There are some sentences I just can't rearrange to avoid it. And many instances where the text is not important enough to worry about jarring, such as tech manuals and business writing.

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from: jubilancy
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm not saying that there aren't times when it can work, just that I personally am cautious about it. I rather hope that singular gender-neutral pronouns become more widespread in upcoming years.

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girl with curious hair

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from: kiltsandlollies
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm half-okay, half-rankled with this. I don't mind it in speech, but it bothers me in text. Hmm. :/

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)
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I'm a radical here, I know, but the alternatives are so much worse.

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the Legs, the Nose and Mrs Robinson

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from: matildabj
date: Mar. 30th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
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At work it's our corporate style to use 'they'.

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Mar. 31st, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)
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How enlightened of you!

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