Date: Sat, 5 Nov 1994 10:42:00 -0600

From: Katherine Catmull kate[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]BGA.COM

Subject: Re: "them" singulars

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.

I don't think this is the case. It has been commonly used in informal

speech throughout my lifetime at least. When I taught freshman English,

well before "PC" (I don't like that term, but that's another subject) was

an issue, it was one of the most common mistakes in student papers.

I think the problem is that we need a gender neutral singular pronoun, and

English speakers are grabbing the handiest possibility.

I believe the singular "they" is in the throes of becoming common usage. I

have no problem with that.

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.

It leads to amusing sentences, though, such as one I recall that went

something like this: "Whether a patient is in the hospital for heart

surgery, a broken bone, or to give birth, he . . ." If "he" were truly a

gender-neutral pronoun, there would be no problem with this sentence, when

clearly there is.

Furthermore, the situation is easily avoided by either

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

awkward) "him/her."

If "he" were truly a gender-neutral pronoun, why would this be necessary?

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.

This has not been my experience.

Kate Catmull