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He, she or they?
Thread poster: Lesley Clarke

Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 03:21
Spanish to English
Apr 29, 2012

http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/20/messages/363.html

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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 10:21
German to English
+ ...
Ye Gods Apr 29, 2012

some people can really talk rubbish! I actually feel sorry for people who seem to suffer mentally because other people use language differently to/from (?) them. But not really worth taking seriously!

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:21
Hebrew to English
"They" is acceptable in my book Apr 29, 2012

1. I don't buy the argument that "he/his" can be gender inclusive to include women too (not in English anyway).

2. Am I the only one who feels that arguing that "everyone" is singular, is a bit pointless. It may be syntactically singular, but semantically it has a plural meaning (everyone means more than one person surely), so why get so worked up about using plural referencing for it?

3. Frequently using he/she or his/her is so jarring and cumbersome, it just makes for a really awkward text in my opinion.

4. Language changes, and like it or not, "they" is filling a gap - the need for a gender neutral pronoun (in this age of political correctness and equality where referring to a generic he/him/his is just not palatable). With the likelihood of coining new pronouns about as likely as me growing wings and flying, then the only other option is for existing pronouns to broaden their meaning (not that it is, as you can see from the article below, singular "they" has been around for a very, very long time).

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/singular-they-and-the-many-reasons-why-its-correct/

Good article above.

[Edited at 2012-04-29 20:05 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 10:21
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I favour the singular they Apr 29, 2012



The article says:
Incorrect: [The] department employee should make sure they dress appropriately.
Better: [The] department employee should make sure he or she dresses appropriately.
Best: Department employees should make sure they dress appropriately.


But I say: the third sentence does not mean the same as the first one and can't be used as a drop-in replacement for it. Grammar is always easy when there is no context, and dissing dissenters is no art when sentences are viewed in isolation.

The article author's solution then is to simply pluralise everything, i.e. get rid of the singular altogether. Sacrifice meaning for the sake of form, they say. The way we communicate is more important than what we communicate, in other words. How silly can you get?


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 03:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Yes but... Apr 29, 2012

I also like and defend the singular they, but I still like the solutions offered and they are much more sensible than the introduction.

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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:21
Swedish to English
+ ...
Flying hen Apr 29, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:

With the likelihood of coining new pronouns about as likely as me growing wings and flying...


Better not learn Swedish as there are those who promote combining "han" (he) and "hon" (she) into "hen"


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Texte Style
Local time: 10:21
French to English
What's the difference, honestly? Apr 29, 2012

Samuel Murray wrote:



The article says:
Incorrect: [The] department employee should make sure they dress appropriately.
Better: [The] department employee should make sure he or she dresses appropriately.
Best: Department employees should make sure they dress appropriately.


But I say: the third sentence does not mean the same as the first one and can't be used as a drop-in replacement for it. Grammar is always easy when there is no context, and dissing dissenters is no art when sentences are viewed in isolation.

The article author's solution then is to simply pluralise everything, i.e. get rid of the singular altogether. Sacrifice meaning for the sake of form, they say. The way we communicate is more important than what we communicate, in other words. How silly can you get?






In what way does first differ from the third?
Even if the department only employed one person, it's OK to put the sentence in the plural, since it's a general recommendation and there could always be another employee in the future. Saying that they do not mean exactly the same thing amounts to nit-picking because all these sentences basically convey the meaning that there is a dress code.

The use of the plural for general statements is, after all, really quite common.

I have nothing against the first sentence either actually. Taken out of context you might wonder whether the department employee has to check whether others are dressed appropriately but of course, context is everything!


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:21
Hebrew to English
Value judgement Apr 29, 2012

In some contexts, the kind of substitution they propose might be possible/favourable even, but not in all.

In addition, I'm not sure that by changing the meaning entirely (singular > plural) that they can really describe the outcome as "best" - surely nothing can be described as "best" when you have completely sacrificed the meaning. I also don't like the labelling of the original as "incorrect", as it isn't...it just doesn't follow the prescriptive rules the writer believes to be sensical.

I have to agree with Samuel in that the kind of avoidance of the singular that they are proposing is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 10:21
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Man has embraced Woman since time immemorial... Apr 29, 2012

... Or so our Law lecturer told us with regard to Law.

A physical person was to be referred to as he, unless known to be female, in any work submitted to him for assessment.

No messing about with he/she, him/her etc.

He did advocate using common sense: wives, mothers, daughters and specific people with female titles or names are female and referred to as she etc.

He also gave suggested some ways of evading the issue where suitable.

Why not use the infinitive as a neutral solution?
That was one of my lecturer's suggestions that works in some situations.

A department employee should make sure to dress appropriately.

Though I would use the plural all through, assuming that it applies to all employees in the department. (It's hardly a department with only one!)
__________________________

Like Swedish, supposedly gender-neutral pronouns have been suggested for Danish, but they are in some people's opinion far too close to hens (called høne/høns) and the English him, which everybody knows is masculine, so they don't function.
Or of a metaphorical 'smell' or atmosphere, which is far more frequently associated with masculinity (mandehørm) than femininity - definitely not neutral...

A child is grammatically neuter, as in German, so it is possible to be politically correct in the early years, and it is possible to continue with young, (persons, but the word person is not used) and go on with teenagers to person(s)/people and adults.
But as soon as anyone is too old to be called a child, the pronouns are gender specific or plural, as in English...

You can't win.
Everyone is logically plural (as opposed to each), and I accept remarks like
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion ...

Because it is usually impossible to find a better solution.

There are some kinds of pedantry up with which you should not put...


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 16:21
Chinese to English
I think the writer summed it up themself: Apr 30, 2012

"Here's something I put together for a business writing course that was canceled for lack of interest"

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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 03:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the discussion Apr 30, 2012

Very incisive criticism here and Samuel's remark about invention suitable sentences to illustrate his point is so true. In fact I came across the article because I was dithering in the case of what pronouns to use in a generic contract for a bank customer, that could just as easily be an individual or a company. I've read so many things criticisms of the use of "they" in singular I'd lost my confidence in it, but my proz colleagues are so sensible, thanks.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:21
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Anything is better... Apr 30, 2012

Anything is better than the practice among some groups here in Spain who think that this makes sense: "L@s compañer@s iniciaron la marcha."

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:21
Hebrew to English
Gender Neutrality Apr 30, 2012

One simply cannot believe one's eyes. When one strives for gender neutrality in English, one often runs the risk of sounding anodyne, stilted, archaic...even pretentious, as if one is attempting to imitate the speech of those above one's station.

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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Agree Apr 30, 2012

David Wright wrote:

some people can really talk rubbish! I actually feel sorry for people who seem to suffer mentally because other people use language differently to/from (?) them. But not really worth taking seriously!


As soon as I saw the words "'Their' is absolutely wrong. The correct pronoun is ..." I'm afraid stopped reading. There is obviously no point arguing with that particular couch authority...


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Pointless is as pointless does Apr 30, 2012

Ty Kendall wrote:

1. I don't buy the argument that "he/his" can be gender inclusive to include women too (not in English anyway).

2. Am I the only one who feels that arguing that "everyone" is singular, is a bit pointless. It may be syntactically singular, but semantically it has a plural meaning (everyone means more than one person surely), so why get so worked up about using plural referencing for it?

3. Frequently using he/she or his/her is so jarring and cumbersome, it just makes for a really awkward text in my opinion.

4. Language changes, and like it or not, "they" is filling a gap - the need for a gender neutral pronoun (in this age of political correctness and equality where referring to a generic he/him/his is just not palatable). With the likelihood of coining new pronouns about as likely as me growing wings and flying, then the only other option is for existing pronouns to broaden their meaning (not that it is, as you can see from the article below, singular "they" has been around for a very, very long time).
Edited at 2012-04-29 20:05 GMT]


I myself use "they" neutrally. Anyone other than paying clients (who have NEVER compalined) who disapproves can.. well.. bring it on.


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