Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 10:17:05 -0400


Subject: "them" singulars

Did I actually see someone on ADS-L use [sic] on a singular they/them referen

ce to a singular prior reference which was unspecified for sex?

What is one to do when they dont know the sex of a prior referent?

Yes, I did indeed use [sic], obviously not with any implication that

Professor Mufwene was unaware of English grammatical structure,

but to indicate that the "them" was not a typo or editorial revision of my own.

Furthermore, I am unwilling to apologize for it. The use of a plural

pronoun to stand for a singular referent in order to achieve gender

ambiguity seems to me to be heavy PC. For one thing, although in the mists

of history there may have been some male dominance suggestion in the use

of "him" as a generic for "human being," in the case in question "him" is

certainly a generic form. To demonstrate this one need only suppose that

it was intended as masculine. The result would be that the preceding noun,

"person," was meant to refer only to a male--clearly a ridiculous

assumption. Furthermore, the situation is easily avoided by either

changing "person" to the plural form, or using the (admittedly somewhat

awkward) "him/her." We already find ourselves in a situation in which

grammatical structure has broken down to the extent that millions of

Americans are unable to say clearly what they mean. (And one wonders, if

they are unable to say it, whether they know what they mean.) I, for one,

am unwilling to sanction any surrender of clarity of expression for

sociological purposes.

Bob Lancaster

SUNY-emeritus, English