Date: Fri, 16 Feb 1996 16:23:33 MST


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

be clarified.


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,

and why.

"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

mindless prescriptivism!