Non-gendered pronouns and their requested usage

It’s unreasonable to expect someone to follow that request.

I’ll admit I’m old-fashioned on this one. Referring to an individual as they or them seems weird to me.

But if it’s their preference, I’ll comply with their wishes. My minor disquiet does not outweigh their preference for how they want people to refer to them. I expect as the usage becomes more common, I’ll get used to it.

However I agree with the OP; choosing what pronoun you wish to have used to refer to yourself does not mean you can choose what pronoun should be used to referred to others. That’s the very thing people who are seeking to promote the use of they/them are acting against.

Which made up words are you referring to?

I have seen at least one book refer to a generic individual as in a gender-neutral way as ey/em/eir instead of he (or she). This does not really come up in conversation in English, though, since one typically addresses the other person as “you”.

Here are a few books that use it; it’s rare enough that someone might flippantly refer to those words as “made up” (first recorded use 1890).

If you want to be gender-neutral in your own writing, then either everyone is a fireman or everyone is a firefighter, or, if you use both words, do not reserve one for men and the other for women. I’m not even convinced it is gender non-neutral for a woman to be a brakeman or a chairman or a mailman, or that you must be strictly neutral all the time and will piss someone off if you call her an actress or a princess or a queen (less sure about tailoress or baxter).

It’s one thing to talk about singular they when referring to a person of indeterminate gender (whether because you don’t know the gender of a specific flesh-and-blood person–The new accounts receivable person is supposed to have started today, but I haven’t met them yet–or because you’re writing some kind of non-specific sentence: The executive power shall be vested in a President of the Earth Federation. They shall hold their office during the term of four years…) To a substantial extent singular they is already used in informal speech, and may perhaps become more acceptable in more formal use as well in circumstances like the above. And of course polite people will use singular they for the minority of the population who prefer it be used to refer to them (however much some of us old geezers may sometimes struggle with it–at least in spoken language–simply due to ingrained grammatical rules that have gotten baked into our brains).

But I think the idea that the English language is going to lose he/him and she/her anytime soon, and we’ll all just be referring to everyone with singular they at all times and in all circumstances, is much less likely to come about. The whole point of things like “mail carrier” instead of “mailman” is that the biological sex and gender identity and sexual orientation of the person who delivers your mail are all irrelevant to you. But the reality is, and probably will continue to be, that the great majority of the human race has a definite interest in the biological sex of their fellow humans in very important social and emotional contexts. This includes the heterosexual majority (which is a majority, and a quite substantial one); not to mention everyone in (at the very least) the “L” and “G” portions of “LGBTQ”, plus all the trans people who have in some cases expended considerable time and effort to get their gendered pronouns where they want them to be. I don’t really see anything on the horizon, socially or culturally or technologically, to indicate that human beings are going to start reproducing exclusively using test tubes and will either give up recreational and romantic sex or all become genderfluid and perfectly 50/50 bisexual.

]It was from a viewer (actually several, with similar messages) - I did an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on YouTube and a few people contacted me in response to my answer on Gender, Sexuality and Pineapple on Pizza here:
In particular, people contacted me to volunteer their advice in relation to the part where I admitted that most of my stance is theoretical in everyday life - just because the topic doesn’t arise in my daily walk.

I get the impression that these were people fairly freshly emerging either from situations of oppression or just emerging from hiding for years - I guess it’s fair to expect that a person in such a situation might over-compensate for the problem they previously suffered.

Interestingly, I have noticed that some other YouTubers seem to have adopted habitually neutral pronouns even in contexts like the one I described in the OP, where the gender of the subject in discussion is specific and known. It was hearing them that made me wonder if I am missing part of the picture.

In the case where you don’t know the gender of someone, “they” seems appropriate (although I’ll still often use “he or she” because I’m old fashioned that way). However, when the gender of someone is known, isn’t referring to that person as “them” just as misgendering as referring to a gender-fluid or agender person as “he” or “she”?

For example, my pronouns are he/him, like the vast, vast majority of people who present as men in public. If you knew that and still referred to me as they/them, you’re misgendering me, right? It would be very confusing to me and people I know to read “There’s RitterSport. They are going to the store.”

And, just to water down this on-point and insightful post, I have a grammar question. Should we use the plural form of verbs when using they/them to refer to a single person, or the singular? I might argue for singular, since it would make it clear that you’re referring to a single, non-gender-specific, person. “They go to the store” meaning that group goes, and “they goes to the store” meaning that person of undetermined gender goes.

You do not go all the way and argue for number-neutral as well as gender-neutral language. We are slightly disappointed :slight_smile:

Examining quotes like “No man goes to battle to be killed.… But they do get killed” and “You should ask your partner what they think” suggests that they is still plural, even with a singular antecedent; do you have many examples like “They goes to the store” seen in the wild? Note, also, that everyone says “you have”, “you go” and not “you hast”, “you goest” even when talking to a single person.

It would be “thou hast”, I guess, if you want to use that.

No, zero examples of course. Just wondering – if we’re thinking about replacing gendered pronouns with non-gendered in general, would that make sense from a clarity point of view.

We really should bring back “thou” or make “youse” standard English. I’d like to be able to identify the plurality of the 2nd person readily, and don’t want to lose it for the 3rd person.

I slipped it into a letter once without (IMO!) it being incongruous, where I deemed it necessary rather than an affectation, though I would admit the effect is probably “literary”. So no one is stopping you: worst case, people will assume you are from Yorkshire or someplace like that.

My suggestion is that, instead of prescribing a radical shift in grammar, namely that every word be gender-neutral, so “he” and “she” (and I assume “man” and “woman”) be out, one’s true goal should be to avoid sexist language and assumptions. Judgment is necessary, because some words or linguistic features may historically spring from sexist roots, but I daresay it is not offensive in this day and age to write or say, “Queen Elizabeth reigned 44 years, from 1558 until her death.”

plus, I guarantee you will find people who shall be offended if you refer to them as “they” and “it”. The person mentioned in the OP is quite unreasonable.

It is unreasonable. I think most gender-non-conforming people would feel the same - I’m not gender-nonconforming but many of my friends are. I don’t think most of them actually want to erase he and she, they just want to add to it.

Use they if you don’t know the gender, or it’s irrelevant, or if the person identifies as they. Use he or she if you know for certain, like in your examples, that they used the term he or she for themselves.

Be open to correcting your article if the person in question asks you to correct it.

Using “they” is slightly problematic in some contexts.

On a site like this where a lot of people don’t know my gender, it’s probably the politest way to go and probably slightly better than the huge number of people over the years who’ve assumed I’m male - that’s not offensive, just amusing, but if I were less secure in my gender identity then it might sting.

If I were out in public and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but visibly female, and got captured on a photo and referred to as they, it would be OK, because it would be being polite too, but it would also make me wonder if I should wear more make-up or something. I prefer to be referred to by female pronouns. If it were at a lesbian event I’d feel slightly weird about being called they despite everything saying I was probably a she.

So it can be tricky on occasion, but referring to historical persons, or for people who have never said “I want to be known by they”? Nope.

Yep, joining the general group in that of course you use the reference of preference for the person involved who so informs you, and that it is good to avoid presuming the default gendering of generic unknowns(*) as a matter of courtesy, but no need to go around de-gendering known third parties or editing actual on-record quotes.

(* ) OTOH if you know some specific information such as the person’s first and middle names are Roderick William, and his picture shows male pattern baldness and a beard, and you refer to that person as he/him/his, IMO you have acted reasonably and committed no offense until reliably informed otherwise.

Language will evolve. Eventually. As it will. Forcing language to evolve in a specifically targeted direction, though, can be tricky. Yes, you can stop using the *-man construction and some specific words that used to be neutral or clinical become unacceptable within a single generation, but ISTM usage is one thing and grammar is another. As mentioned, the elimination of the distinct gendered 3rd person singular pronouns and possessive adjective would seem to also exclude the 3rd person singular -s/-es verb ending except when associated with “it”. Which may lead to “it” also eventually just taking the plain verb form too for economy of language purposes.

Interestingly, I just realized that due to the general social conservatism of my community of origin, essentially all of my discussions about this happen only in Anglophone circles, so I find myself unaware of what is the Spanish equilvalence for the “I take ‘they’ pronouns” phenomenon. And it has to be different since though our possessive pronouns (his/her/their) are already neutral (su, sus), the third person plural personal pronoun is gendered (ellos, ellas). Time to do some reading up…

Corporate writers sometimes use style guides to lay out a consistent set of rules and conventions. One change over the past few years is the acceptance of “they” as a singular pronoun. Previous solutions included:

  1. Use “his or her” as in “the user can connect his or her USB cable this way” – awkward.
  2. Go plural all the way, as in “users can connect their USB cables this way” – vague.
  3. Formally use “one” as in “one can plug in one’s USB cable this way” which sounds affected.
  4. Use the second person, as in “you can plug in your USB cable this way” which is friendlier but don’t overdo it.

Now, we can say “The user can connect their USB cable this way” or even “Users can connect a USB cable…” etc. So there are ways around it.

For a YouTube channel, just have a policy and stick to it going forward.

I use E, em, es, emself when gender is either unknown or irrelevant. The way I use it, it can be interchangeable with other gendered or non-gendered pronouns, but it’s specifically singular, not plural. That is, if either “he” or “she” or “they” is correct, then “E” is also correct. It’s not a “chosen” pronoun.

I use e, em, emself as well. But in speech ‘e’ sounds like ‘he’ in my accent, so ‘they’ is useful.

I agree that you should use the pronouns preferred by people who request them. Otherwise, the default should be historical usage, until a new universal standard is defined and adopted.

I understand language tends to simplify over time, so I wonder why the most simplified forms of pronouns (some mentioned up-thread) have not already evolved. Maybe forced evolution is needed in this case.

S/he (shuh-hee) and h-er/im (herim?) seem awkward, difficult to pronounce and overly letterly. And, using the plural “they/them” as singular form is confusing.

For "he/she”, drop the gender-defining “h” and “sh”, which leaves the in-common “e”, pronounced, “eee”. Example: “E’s got a lot of nerve, doesn’t e?”. It sounds a bit cockney, but that’s not so bad.

For “her/him”, drop the gender-defining “-er” and the “-im”, which leaves the in-common “h”, pronounced, “huh.” Example, “why did you stab h?”

In both cases, with a little practice, the pronunciations would sound natural, and, with fewer letters, writing would become easier.

See above