They is Here

I give up.

I will no longer use he/she, him/her, his/her. These are clunky and awkward, and re-wording isn’t always better.

‘They,’ ‘them,’ and ‘their’ are now third person indefinite pronouns. I don’t like it, but everybody uses them that way; it’s time to give up the fight to keep them as exclusively plural.

At heart, I am a descriptive grammarian. Rules are good, but there’s a point when rules need to change. Language is not static.

But there are a few usages that really irk me — not because I’m opposed to change, but because I hear people using them without any thought as to what they are saying.

“If anyONE has lost THEIR student I.D…”

“I saw someONE in the lobby, but I didn’t speak to THEM…”

In case you didn’t know, we already have a generic pronoun: ‘one.’ Example: “When one is speaking of an indefinite person, one ought not use ‘they.’”

The problem with ‘one’ is that when one uses it, one sounds rather prim, as if one were really saying, “I’m right about this; everyone else is an idiot.” It’s time to let that ‘one’ go.

For years, linguaphiles have been trying to come up with a suitable word for the indefinite third person so we wouldn’t have to hear sentences like these: “If a student has done his or her assignment, he or she may use his or her time to…”

Or this (written by a fellow teacher): “(Name) has missed his/her assigned detention. Please send he/she to the appropriate administrator…”  *shudder*

Some of the replacement suggestions have been ‘per’ (presumably short for ‘person’), s/he (I don’t know how you would pronounce it, but it has a certain elegance), and ‘e for he/she, h’ for him/her, and ‘s for his/hers. Or the one my students suggested: heshit (for he/she/it). We’ve used that one in class; it’s good for a laugh when things get boring.

But most people aren’t willing to exchange their pronouns for novelty words. So they/them/their wins.

Peeve #1 resolved (reluctantly). Peeve #2: “you” instead of “I.”

From a commercial: “I put it on before I go to bed. When you wake up, you don’t have acne!”

That’s pretty neat – someone else uses the product, and I don’t have acne.

A hero, describing the rescue: “I don’t call myself a hero. You don’t think about the danger. You just see someone in need, and you do what you have to do.”

Who, me? I’m not rushing into that burning building!

Is it modesty, or trying to make it more personal that makes people do this? In saying ‘you,’ perhaps these people are trying to show that ‘I’ am nobody special, that ‘you’ would have done the same, that ‘you can benefit from this product just as ‘I’ did.

To me, it’s just weird, and annoying.

Am I the only one this bothers?  If it bothers even one person out there, I hope they will leave me a comment. When one writes one’s opinion, one likes to get feedback.

You never know. At least, I don’t.


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