Grammar question

I read in Wikipedia this definition of “buckaroo”:

“The sport of stacking as many things as you can on top of an unconscious friend before they wake up.”

It does not sound right to me.

Shouldn’t we say before he wakes up

or, if it is meant that “the things are waking him up”, before they wake him up ?

Why should we assume the friend is male?

Anyway, singular “they” in situations of unknown or generic gender is, if not already standard, clearly headed that way quite soon. It sounds perfectly fine to me.

If you want to follow the “must-reflect-Latin” prescriptive grammar approach that I was taught in the 60’s, then yes. Be aware that this school of thought is losing ground these days, and not without good reason.

Or you could say “before he or she wakes up,” “before he/she wakes up,” or “before s/he wakes up” to not be gender-specific. Or “before she wakes up” to default to the feminine rather than the masculine.

Or you could accept the singular “they” with the realization that it is in widespread use, it handily solves the gender issue without the clunkiness of my above examples, and it’s nothing new in English usage. Note the fifth paragraph in Cecil’s discussion of the matter here: Is there a gender-neutral substitute for “his or her”?

Thank you both for the explanations, and the links.

Being a macho* I never thought that in this case “they” could include a female :smack:

But being old-fashioned, I’m somewhat relieved that the Chicago manual of style could consider me a reasonable reader.
*Not really