Date: Fri, 16 Feb 1996 16:23:33 MST
From: Tom Uharriet UTOM[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ADMN.SHS.NEBO.EDU
Subject: Re: silly rules of grammar
The "they" used below suggests that the police have reason to believe
that more than one person was involved in the crime. This inference
has legal significance in the courtroom. Either way it would need to
Here is one more good example of why it makes sense for speakers of English
to use "they" as the indefinite pronoun of singular reference (rather "he"or
From the *South Florida Sun-Sentinel," 15Feb96, 9B/1-2: "POMPANO
BEACH--Police are trying to figure out who would want to kill James Maxwell,
"Maxwell, 40, who owned a commercial fishing boat and an electronics
company, was killed outside his upscale waterfront condominium at 8:10
Tuesday night, police spokeswoman Sandra King said.
" 'It was a hit,' King said. 'Whoever killed him waited for him a great
deal of time and, when he showed up, they emptied their gun.' "
" . . . neighbors saw a white man, about 5 feet 8 inches tall with a
medium build . . . hanging around Maxwell's home Tuesday night."
If the "police spokeswoman Sandra King" had chosen to say either ". . . he
emptied his gun" or ". . . she emptied her gun" would have implied that she
knew more about the shooter's identity than she did. The use of the
gender-neutral "they . . . their" not only avoids this trap, it also allows
for the possibility that more than one person was involved in the killing. In
this case, "they . . . their" also eliminates a potential confusion of "he"
the victim and "they" the killer(s).
The good sense of ordinary speakers of the language once again triumphs over
utom[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]admn.shs.nebo.edu