Perhaps they’ll like it

In the process of grumbling about Air Google’s new digs, Warren Meyer notes:

By the way, if anyone read the fabulous book Barbarians and the Gate, they** will remember RJR Nabisco’s construction of a corporate aircraft palace in Atlanta marked the beginning of the end of that company’s fiscal extravagance.

Which, shortly thereafter, became the beginning of the end of that company, period.

But what I wanted to talk about was the footnote connected to “they”:

I know this is grammatically incorrect, but I am exhausted with English’s lack of a third person singular gender-neutral pronoun and hate saying “he or she.” English is a language built bottom up from actual usage, so lacking any better idea, I support “they” as the solution.

It’s a legitimate gripe, and “he or she” does sound somewhat clumsy. Still, I’ve used it fairly often, on those occasions when I haven’t decided simply to reword the whole sentence just to get out of using that particular construction. (And once in a while I’ll use “she” as the default, partly because of some vague concept of “fairness” and partly because I write stories in a fantasy universe with a preponderance of female characters.)

“They,” I suspect, can migrate from plural to singular; “you” did it, largely supplanting “thou” along the way. And what will we miss if — when — it does? Not much, really.


  1. McGehee »

    20 April 2013 · 9:39 am

    I generally use “he,” and am prepared to discuss it with anyone who objects.

    As yet, I have not had to discuss it; I think people get it, even if they don’t think other people will.

  2. McGehee »

    20 April 2013 · 9:39 am

    …besides, wasn’t it Barbarians at the Gate?

  3. McGehee »

    20 April 2013 · 9:41 am

    One more:

    English’s lack of a third person singular gender-neutral pronoun

    Has he not heard of “it?”

  4. CGHill »

    20 April 2013 · 11:09 am

    Title should indeed be Barbarians At the Gate.

    “It” has the advantage of literal fairness, but that’s not the sort of fairness to which anyone aspires.

  5. McGehee »

    20 April 2013 · 4:30 pm

    It’s high time people understood the downside of fairness.

  6. Roger Green »

    22 April 2013 · 8:13 am

    I agree – ‘they’ will become singular or plural. ‘It’, referring to people, won’t fly.

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