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Gender equality creates long needed “gender neutral” pronoun

January 10, 2016

Sorry, grammar nerds. The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.
[Don’t know how the title slug got bound with a story about Trump]

I had long thought we needed a gender neutral singular pronoun.

“Earlier, the so-called proper way to say it would have been, ‘Everyone wants his or her cat to succeed.’
But what gave this word new prominence was its usefulness as a way to refer to people who don’t want to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’.”

I would think it was just easier to say or write, as the three word “his or her” is just too “clunky”. It interrupts the flow of even my thoughts!
“They/their” seemed to be what filled the bill, as it’s simply taking the plural, which was already neutral, and moving it to the singular. I would say the spelling should have been changed for the new use. Like perhaps, the Brooklynese “dey” could have finally found some justification and official usage.

In passing, I also remember hearing, briefly in some English class along the way, that the “‘s” as a possessive term, is a contraction (which “‘s” always indicates, so it was like a mystery what that was for) actually of “his”. So “the man’s cat” is actually “the man, his cat”. This naturally raised the question of what about women? Why no “‘r” or something? It was said that back when the language was developing, women owned nothing, so the contraction never developed. (I later imagined, something like a part of themselves. Like I imagined a more fresh mouthed male could have interjected “what about ‘her boobs’?”, but appparentely no one thought of that).

One commenter pointed out English already had a third person singular gender neutral pronoun: ‘one’ and acknowledged that it sounds too formal.
“One”, while a legitimate third person pronoun, doesn’t quite fit, as if referring to a particular person, it sounds too “general”, like not necessarily that peraon, or perhaps a “fourth person”, even. Lke “that person wants one’s cat to succeed”. I guess technically correct, but just sounds funny, and is simply not what developed.

I think there were also other attempts, such as “hizzer” or something like that, and then, you see “s/he”.

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