Am I the only grammar geek /word nerd up in arms over the neverending changes to pronouns and words we’ve used all our lives? As long ago as 2016, I climbed up on my soapbox in one of my “Ink Penn” blogs to protest the notion that “they” could be used as a singular pronoun:
•… “they” can be used to refer to only one person. That’s right; you may think “they” means two or more people or animals, but not any longer. Now, because it can be awkward or possibly offensive to say something like, “We want any student to feel as though he or she can speak up,” it’s been decided that “they” in place of “he or she” is acceptable.
• The Washington Post added this usage to its style guide, and the Canadian Government endorsed it. After all these years of rewriting sentences to avoid having to say he/she, it seems I have one less thing to worry about.
In the same blog, I bemoaned the fact that Mx had joined Mr, Mrs and Ms as a gender-neutral title. Three years hence, a shift to Mx and they seems pretty darned simple. Why? Because I read an article in the Wall Street Journal citing a blog post titled, “Gender Neutral Pronouns — What They Are & How to Use Them.” Though it mentioned using “they,” “them,” “their” as easy non-offensive ways to refer to individuals, it also provided this list of replacement pronouns for the ones we’re all accustomed to:
• He/She — Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E
• Him/Her — Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em
• His/Her — Zir, Hir, Eir, Vis, Tem, Eir
• His/Hers — Zis, Hirs, Eirs, Vers, Ters, Eirs
• Himself/Herself — Zieself, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself
See what you think. Instead of, “She likes her books and prides herself on her collection of mysteries, while her husband prides himself on his collection of Westerns by Louis L’Amour,” let’s try, “Sie liked vis books and prided verself on vis collection of mysteries while vis husband prided zieself on zis collection of Westerns by Louis L’Amour.”
Of course, it doesn’t stop with pronouns. The latest speech guide from the Inclusive Communications Task Force at Colorado State University offers additional help. It cautions us not to “call people ‘Americans’ because that erases other cultures” and not to say “you guys” but instead “all folks.” And, naturally, we are not to say male or female but instead say “man, woman or gender non-binary.”
Seems that change was only the beginning. A July article by Gracie Bonds in the AJC alerted me that the Berkeley City Council voted to replace terms in the city’s municipal code with gender-neutral words. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when I read that a manhole would now be referred to as a maintenance hole and manpower will become either human effort or workforce.
Funny, I can’t recall ever being offended by the term manhole, nor was I ever offended that the organization I belonged to at Georgia State University was called a sorority. In Berkeley, a sorority or fraternity will now be called a “collegiate Greek system residence.” Coming from a communications background where I always strived to use as few words as possible to get a point across, I find replacing one word with four quite irksome.
What’s your preference? Me? If I must, I’ll give in and adopt “they” as a singular pronoun if it means I don’t have to learn a whole new language. Somehow, though, I don’t think the new powers that be will let me off that easily.
Kathy is a Sandy Springs resident. Find her books, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch” and “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” at the Enchanted Forest and on Amazon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KathyManosPennAuthor/, and/or read her blogs at https://theinkpenn.blogspot.com.