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
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[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]bga.com