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Maxinquaye
12-13-2015, 09:42 PM
http://mentalfloss.com/article/72262/washington-post-style-guide-now-accepts-singular-they

What do you do when you run into your friend on their birthday? You wish them a happy birthday, of course!


Or wait—you wish … him or her a happy birthday? When you run into your friend on … his or her birthday? That's how you’re supposed to say it if you want to avoid using they to refer to one person, but it’s a bit wordy and awkward. You could use just him or her alone, but what if you don’t want to be specific about the sex of the referent? You could make it plural—“what do you do when you run into friends on their birthdays”—but that sounds a bit strange, like there’s a whole group of friends having their birthdays at once. Anyone who writes for a living runs into this situation all the time, and must go through all kinds of contortions to avoid the easiest solution: singular they.



I am honestly surprised that it has taken this long. Singular 'They' have been an elegant and efficient part of the English language for hundreds, if not almost a thousand years.

One can compare it with 'you' - which is perfectly okay to use in both singular and plural. Singular 'they' just avoids a lot of awkward writing.

jjdebenedictis
12-13-2015, 11:20 PM
Hurrah! I've always viewed 'they' as an elegant way to avoid both convoluted phrasing and the distastefulness of erasing women by referring to hypothetical people as 'him' by default.

ironmikezero
12-13-2015, 11:35 PM
I find this a bit sad. Persistent and pervasive misuse of grammar tends to enjoy a general sense of winking acceptance. But then again, that's how language evolves. To be honest, I'm as guilty as anyone. While I've used they in singular intention in dialogue, it still offends my sense of grammatical propriety and I otherwise would avoid it in prose--anyone's style guide notwithstanding. It's conceivably a matter of one's education, experience, and no doubt personal taste . . . and let's face it--us older curmudgeons just don't like change. :Shrug:

Dennis E. Taylor
12-14-2015, 01:12 AM
At least one dictionary I've seen actually recognizes "literally" as synonym for "figuratively". It's now okay to say "he literally went through hell."

jjdebenedictis
12-14-2015, 01:41 AM
Singular 'They' have been an elegant and efficient part of the English language for hundreds, if not almost a thousand years.


[L]et's face it--us older curmudgeons just don't like change. :Shrug: If you're over a thousand years in age, then "older" is quite the euphemism!

But I am very impressed with how well you've taken to using the internet, as a millenarian. :D

Kylabelle
12-14-2015, 01:43 AM
I'm glad the singular "they" is coming into legitimacy. We needed that. This "he/she" stuff was getting old.

*embraces change when it's useful*

Maxinquaye
12-14-2015, 02:26 AM
If you're over a thousand years in age, then "older" is quite the euphemism!

But I am very impressed with how well you've taken to using the internet, as a millenarian. :D

Chaucer in 1395 is probably a bit far back for most of us here. Although sometimes I feel like Chaucer must have been a babe in my middle age. :D

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/mect/mect27.htm

Maythe
12-14-2015, 02:30 AM
The Washington Post Style Guide Now Accepts Singular 'They'

http://thecarnivoreproject.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8345295c269e201a5116584a7970c-800wi

Haggis
12-14-2015, 02:53 AM
I find this a bit sad. Persistent and pervasive misuse of grammar tends to enjoy a general sense of winking acceptance. But then again, that's how language evolves. To be honest, I'm as guilty as anyone. While I've used they in singular intention in dialogue, it still offends my sense of grammatical propriety and I otherwise would avoid it in prose--anyone's style guide notwithstanding. It's conceivably a matter of one's education, experience, and no doubt personal taste . . . and let's face it--us older curmudgeons just don't like change. :Shrug:

This.

I'm sorry. I'm an old fart. I had it pounded into my head when I was a youngster. Miss (not Ms. there was no such thing as Ms. then) Webster is probably rolling in her grave. If you haven't figured it out, she was my 7th grade English teacher. It grates like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. Like "We should have went there." Or like "I see that alot." Or like "I graduated high school," rather than "I graduated from high school." Yes. I know. I'm an artifact. And, yes, I know language evolves. But at my age I'm done evolving. I get and appreciate the reason for it and avoid using "he" as an all encompassing pronoun, but I try to work around the rest of it using different words.

DragonHeart
12-14-2015, 03:02 AM
I use singular they a lot, it did seem weird at first but it's second nature now. I use it mostly from spending time online, especially in games. Sometimes you're just not sure how else to refer to someone and I thought it a nice solution to the problem. Glad to see I'm not the only one.

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2015, 03:43 AM
I am so glad those phoney rules invented to crush certain longstanding English language usages are falling.

Doesn't matter how vehement the rules lawyers were. They made them up.

"His or her" was always kind of awkward anyhow.

andiwrite
12-14-2015, 03:47 AM
Not a huge fan of this. I much prefer "he or she," although it depends on the context. I often find myself in situations where I have to find another way to say something to avoid too many confusing "he or she" moments, but I can almost always do it without resorting to the singular "they." I'm fine with it being accepted; it just looks weird to me.

Haggis
12-14-2015, 04:07 AM
In fairness, "zhe" and "s/he" never took off.

jjdebenedictis
12-14-2015, 04:17 AM
I was always partial to s/h/it because I am nothing if not puerile and juvenile. :D

Perks
12-14-2015, 04:27 AM
At least one dictionary I've seen actually recognizes "literally" as synonym for "figuratively". It's now okay to say "he literally went through hell."

That's lousy. I literally hate that.


But using "they" this way is useful. I wish our language was cleverer and had an appropriate pronoun for non-gendered, singular.

rugcat
12-14-2015, 05:02 AM
But using "they" is this way is useful. I wish our language was cleverer and had an appropriate pronoun for non-gendered, singular. A non-gendered singular pronoun would be nice. But lacking that, and acknowledging that pretty much everyone uses "they" in that fashion, at least in oral usage, I think it's a terrific idea to make it sort of official.

It's about time, say I.

Dennis E. Taylor
12-14-2015, 05:48 AM
One could get used to the new usage, though, if one really wanted to.

Hapax Legomenon
12-14-2015, 06:49 AM
That's lousy. I literally hate that.


But using "they" this way is useful. I wish our language was cleverer and had an appropriate pronoun for non-gendered, singular.

We have. I'm partial to spivak pronouns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spivak_pronoun) but they're not so popular.

Maythe
12-14-2015, 10:33 AM
I'm not keen on the 'literally' usage but I think anyone stating it means figuratively in the 'I literally died of embarrassment' situation is mistaken (not that I'm saying it is never a synonym for figuratively). It's an intensifier just like totally or really are when they are used in the same context. Use of metaphors like that in our every day speech is common and is one of the awesome things about language. 'Literally' used in this way does grate a bit but that's because it's a change in use and change is always pretty crunchy and uncomfortable.

Roxxsmom
12-14-2015, 10:52 AM
If singular "they" was good enough for the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare, then it's good enough for me.

I'm surprised by the things people worry about with word usages sometimes. Literally has been used to mean figuratively since I was a kid, which was literally eons ago ;) I always assumed that "literally" was a reference to "literature," because something that happens in literature is often exaggerated for effect.

And I was thinking about the kerfuffle over "decimate" in another thread, which means to obliterate or nearly wipe out in modern lexicon. I was preparing a lecture the other day, and the course's biology text says that DDT decimated raptor populations, and I'm pretty sure they didn't mean it killed just one in ten ;)

maxmordon
12-14-2015, 11:39 AM
We have. I'm partial to spivak pronouns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spivak_pronoun) but they're not so popular.

I actually would prefer this being used for those wanting to make Latino/Latina gender-neutral instead of the cumbersome "Latinx" I've seen around lately. "Latine" feels more natural, instinctive and -e already has a history of gender neutrality in Spanish.

Jamesaritchie
12-14-2015, 11:57 AM
Great! Now even bad writers can have a career. So can talented writers who are simply too lazy to rewrite a bad sentence.

mccardey
12-14-2015, 12:35 PM
What a time to be alive!

Once!
12-14-2015, 12:45 PM
I am sure that Chaucer and Shakespeare would be absolutely delighted.

Cramp
12-14-2015, 02:49 PM
This is one of those things where it blows my mind that this bothers people.

Hasn't "they" always been used in the singular?

"I finally went to the doctor about my pain today."

"Oh! What did they say?"

That looks to me to be an entirely everyday use of English.

Captcha
12-14-2015, 03:05 PM
I still have it shoved pretty deep in my skull that "they" is wrong, including in contexts like the one in Cramp's post. So I'll probably still avoid this usage, just because it grates. But maybe I'll eventually get used to it. It certainly would be useful.

Lillith1991
12-14-2015, 03:22 PM
I still have it shoved pretty deep in my skull that "they" is wrong, including in contexts like the one in Cramp's post. So I'll probably still avoid this usage, just because it grates. But maybe I'll eventually get used to it. It certainly would be useful.

Well, at least you can take heart that it isn't a new thing. Both Shakespeare and Chaucer use it, so it had to be in use before them both. Seeing as Chaucer is 14th century, that means using they in the singular has been around for far longer than the rule people had drilled into their heads about not using it.

Kylabelle
12-14-2015, 03:36 PM
I went to an online publication recently, following up on a poet I was reading -- I can't recall if it was exclusively a poetry journal or one more inclusive of other writings, or what the name was or even who the poet was. I was interested to notice that they had an editorial policy of using singular "they" in reference to the poet I was reading about. It was obvious it had been an editorial decision from the quality of the writing (in other words, it wasn't just an example of bad editing or proofreading.) We (some of us) do use "they" here at AW because it preserves the annonymity of users who may not wish to disclose their gender. But that was the first time I'd seen it in published writing.

I admit, it took some self-desensitization for me to stop wincing every time I encountered the usage! I'm someone who uses "whom" in objective case, and who insists (with myself) on agreement in number for pronouns following "any" which is singular and not plural (bla bla -- :greenie). So, yeah, I sympathize with the resistance. But like they say, language lives and evolves and if you cling too long to what used to be the only correct expression, you end up a fossil.

Well, maybe we're all going to end up that way anyhow. But I'd like to forestall the development.

Albedo
12-14-2015, 05:46 PM
Good.

Captcha
12-14-2015, 09:24 PM
Well, at least you can take heart that it isn't a new thing. Both Shakespeare and Chaucer use it, so it had to be in use before them both. Seeing as Chaucer is 14th century, that means using they in the singular has been around for far longer than the rule people had drilled into their heads about not using it.

I've never really understood the Shakespeare/Chaucer argument. I mean, if I were saying "It has never been acceptable to use singular 'they'", then I guess it would be a useful argument. But we don't base other rules of contemporary pronunciation, spelling, or usage on Shakespeare and Chaucer, right?

Language evolves - it evolved away from singular 'they', at least in some places, and now it seems to be evolving back toward it. But I'm not evolving in that direction as quickly as others, obviously!

Lillith1991
12-14-2015, 09:51 PM
I've never really understood the Shakespeare/Chaucer argument. I mean, if I were saying "It has never been acceptable to use singular 'they'", then I guess it would be a useful argument. But we don't base other rules of contemporary pronunciation, spelling, or usage on Shakespeare and Chaucer, right?

Language evolves - it evolved away from singular 'they', at least in some places, and now it seems to be evolving back toward it. But I'm not evolving in that direction as quickly as others, obviously!

It originally evolved for the same or a similar reason to the one it evolving back. Languages are sort of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey in how they evolve. And to say that a language has evolved away from a use of something, doesn't mean that it won't evolve back or to some form of other past usage.

jjdebenedictis
12-14-2015, 09:52 PM
Imma just keep thinking of those of you who dislike 'they' as being elegantly distinguished-looking thousand-year-olds, grumbling on the internet about the kids today, because that mental image amuses me. :D

Alessandra Kelley
12-14-2015, 10:04 PM
I've never really understood the Shakespeare/Chaucer argument. I mean, if I were saying "It has never been acceptable to use singular 'they'", then I guess it would be a useful argument. But we don't base other rules of contemporary pronunciation, spelling, or usage on Shakespeare and Chaucer, right?

Language evolves - it evolved away from singular 'they', at least in some places, and now it seems to be evolving back toward it. But I'm not evolving in that direction as quickly as others, obviously!

I think the argument comes about because the rules against what you're not allowed to do were invented (relatively recently, for political reasons, more or less) by the same sorts of people who venerated Shakespeare and Chaucer as exemplars of all that was best.

(I lost respect for laws of English grammar when I learned that "never split an infinitive" was invented by Latin-idolizers who were trying to force English to ape Latin. In Latin infinitives are single words, impossible to split. Simple as that.)

Fuchsia Groan
12-15-2015, 09:18 AM
I do not like this usage because it forces us either to use the obviously plural "themselves" for a singular being or to invent the new form "themself." I welcome it in writing only when it is the pronoun that a particular person prefers. Maybe I will mellow on this, but I haven't yet.

As for "literally" as an intensifier, that's fine in speech and dialogue, but not in a newspaper article. It makes the author sound all breathy and excited, which -- just no. Also, "literally" is a word you can have more fun with if you actually care about its ... literal meaning. If we use it to mean "totally," then we have no word for those more interesting situations where a literal description suddenly lines up with a figurative idiom ("In his job as a zookeeper, he was literally shoveling the shit.").

Yes, I am an editor and a curmudgeon. Don't get me started on "begging the question."

DancingMaenid
12-15-2015, 06:58 PM
As someone who is neither a "he" nor a "she", this makes me happy. Though I'm not overly picky about pronouns, personally, I do hope that people who are "old-fashioned" about language respect that not everyone is covered by "he or she." Not everyone is male or female.

Maythe
12-15-2015, 08:16 PM
I wouldn't expect to see ' totally died of embarrassment' in a newspaper either. They're both definitely casual usage.

andiwrite
12-16-2015, 11:12 AM
As someone who is neither a "he" nor a "she", this makes me happy. Though I'm not overly picky about pronouns, personally, I do hope that people who are "old-fashioned" about language respect that not everyone is covered by "he or she." Not everyone is male or female.

Very true. I know someone who identifies as both, so I've considered this. It's not something that has come up so far in my own writing, but it's a good point.

Roxxsmom
12-16-2015, 02:05 PM
Language seems to pick its own solutions, like water finding a path downhill. Sometimes an old usage doesn't fit anymore or ceases to be useful. Consider all the profession names that used to be gendered (chairman, policeman, fireman, salesman, waiter/waitress) that are falling out of use in favor of more neutral ones (chair, police officer, firefighter, sales representative, server). No one issued an edict here. The words just drifted into use and caught on.

We've definitely gotten to a point where using "he" as a generic pronoun for someone of undetermined gender feels a bit weird, if not blatantly wrong, to most people in my own generation or younger (and some who are older too). "One" feels a bit quaint and formal, okay if you're going for that feel, but not something we tend to use informally. And he/she, (s)he, or he or she are cumbersome to type, so they haven't caught on outside of rather formal contexts either.

So in the absence of a new word being coined (which could happen, but there are obstacles to that too), we're sort of stuck with singular "they." As others have pointed out, it's not just about being sensitive to the increased social status and visibility of women (though that's certainly important in its own right), but about acknowledging that not everyone fits the male/female binary.