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Re: Prefer non-gender specific pronouns

From: Greg Wooledge
Subject: Re: Prefer non-gender specific pronouns
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2021 11:27:58 -0400

On Sun, Jun 06, 2021 at 05:12:21PM +0300, Oğuz wrote:
> If that really is a problem that has to be addressed and not
> bike-shedding, let's compromise and say "his/her" instead of "his" or
> "their".


I probably shouldn't do this, but let's dive into this just a bit, because
apparently it's too late to turn back now.

As background information, I was born in 1970 and was educated in the
public school system in the United States.  I supply this background
information because how one responds to this discussion depends greatly
on WHEN and WHERE one learned English grammar.  That's why there is such
incredible divisiveness on this topic.

In the grammar classes that I took in school, we were taught that "they"
and "their" are plural pronouns, and should always be used as such.  I
believe at least one other person on this list was taught a similar thing,
and has not updated his or her standards.  We all know the person to whom
I'm referring.  It's the really loud, angry one.

Now, I'm not an expert on the entire history of English grammar education
around the world, but it's my understanding that this ironclad insistence
on the plural-ness of "they" was prevalent mostly in the United States,
in the mid to late 20th century.  Thus, it was how many of us were raised,
but not all of us.

The issue, just for the record, is the lack of an acceptable gender-neutral
singular pronoun set in the current English language.  There are a few
choices, all of them bad:

1) "It".  This is considered offensive, because it implies a lesser status
   (an inanimate object rather than a person).

2) "Him or her".  This is awkward and long, and nobody likes it.

3) "Sie" and other non-English words.  These were suggested in the 1990s
    but never caught on.

4) "They".  Some people strongly dislike this because it conflicts with the
   grammar rules they were taught.

5) "Him".  One of the older style guidelines suggested that when a person's
   gender is unknown, one should default to the masculine pronoun set, and
   the reader will understand that this is being used as a placeholder.

So, English gives us 5 choices, and they all suck.

Bash's documentation is using choice number 5, which was (as I understand
it) commonly taught prior to the mid 20th century.  It's basically 19th
century usage, and reflects and reinforces the patriarchal societies of
that time period.  It's quite understandable that someone would dislike
this choice strongly enough to offer a patch to undo it.

Out of these 5 choices, the one that seems to suck the *least*, according
to observed usage patterns in current written and spoken English, is

Personally, I've been trying to update my usage to embrace "they".
It's not easy, and sometimes I forget and fall back into older patterns,
but at least I'm trying.  This is the way the language is evolving.
If you refuses to embrace it, you will be left behind.  (Unless of course
a massive popular usage shift occurs and some other choice becomes the
new front-runner.  I've seen no signs of this happening.)

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