There’s a theory in linguistics that the words we learn and use affect the way we think and what we believe.
There’s also a term commonly used to malign English teachers, majors and other pretentious wordy types: grammar nazi.
The Argus intends to take on both today.
Chances are it’s been burned into your psyche: the terrible conflicting guilt over using “he” as a third-person singular pronoun when gender is ambiguous, even though it’s grammatically correct.
So, just use one of the fixes, I guess?
“He or she?” Well, it’s okay, but don’t expect favors from your reader when he or she needs to read hes and shes until his or her wits are at an end.
“One?” Alright Mr. or Miss Pretentious, I’m reading the email you sent me, not a philosophical treatise.
“S/he?” That’s not even a pronounceable word anymore.
Chances are you’re just going to pull some tricks and pluralize the hell out of everything, because everyone loves the third-person plural: they.
They say “the world is full of ‘theys,’” and they’re right, but a lot of them are the theys we constantly and “incorrectly” apply to singular people to mitigate the cultural guilt of sexist language.
It’s certainly a guilt we should feel. With language being the main means by which we think, sexism inherent in our language is sexism inherent in our minds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cut ourselves a break from this rhetorical mix-and-match of singular and plural.
All we need to do is finally, once and for all, get over ourselves and just admit that “they” is acceptable as a first-person singular pronoun.
“We shouldn’t feel compelled to stick to some stupid rule just because some asshat in the ‘50s would want us to,” said president of IWU Feminism: Equality Matters Katie Rose Brosnan.
We already do it all the time. In fact, unless you pick up your Argus and read it cover-to-cover first thing in the morning, it’s more than likely you have already committed this technical fallacy today.
But don’t worry, The Argus absolves you—no—encourages you to continue your grammatical rebellion.
“English rules change with trends in colloquial speech, not with the judgments of self-important linguistics scholars,” said junior history major Kenny Tymick.
While students are likely to embrace this attitude of linguistic progressivism, the same can’t be expected of the professors.
“It’s an error because it just doesn’t make sense. As a writer, you can commit one writing sin, or many writing sins. But, singular or plural, you are still a sinner,” said Illinois Wesleyan University Writing Center Director Joel Haefner.
Of course “they” doesn’t make sense so long as “they” is exclusively plural. But who decides whether it’s plural, singular or both? People who speak English. And the vast majority of use it as both. And thus it is.
All it is a matter of now is getting folks such as the MLA, APA, Microsoft Word designers and others who control our writing lives to finally let us do it without making a green squiggly line beneath our “theys.” Don’t worry, people, we know what we mean, and so do you, so let’s all just save ourselves the headache.