Pronouns: He/him, she/her, they/them

Addressing someone how they want to be addressed

pronouns
From the National Institutes of Health – Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

At my church – well, remotely – my buddy with a great first name recently gave a presentation for our adult education class. One of the aspects of his talk was the use of pronouns, and the possibility of us posting them on our social media.

Months earlier, my pastors started using she/her and he/him, respectively on Facebook and in email. I hadn’t really followed the issue in the broader society. Sometime thereafter, my daughter asked if I had added he/him to my Facebook; I had not, but it was based on inertia. Eventually, I had changed it on FB, but it took actually writing this for me to do the same on Twitter, mostly because I don’t often go onto that site.

Bottom Line has a good article about this topic. “Typically, society has taught us to make automatic assumptions about what pronouns to use for someone… However, gender is not always that simple. Sometimes a person’s gender identity (the way the person identifies internally in terms of their gender) doesn’t align with their gender expression (the way they look). In addition, not everyone identifies strictly as male or female. So when a person includes their gender pronouns on their email signature line (or on a nametag, when introducing themselves, etc.), they are simply taking the guesswork away for you!”

The “they” question

In other words, they’re doing YOU a favor, people! I note this because I’ve seen so much grumbling about it in certain circles, based on the change in language, their perception of biology, whatever.

This is important: “If someone feels the need to state their pronouns, does it mean they are transgender and/or gender non-conforming?

“Not at all. Everyone has a gender identity, and most of us have specific pronouns we’d like people to use when we are being referred to… Most of us are privileged in that when someone guesses our pronouns, they’ll get them right. However, that’s not the case for everyone.”

Another article I found, from 2019, is Welcome, singular “they”. “The singular ‘they’ is a generic third-person pronoun used in English… Although the term singular ‘they’ may be unfamiliar, you’ve probably heard and used the singular ‘they’ in conversation throughout your life. Here is an example: ‘A person should enjoy their vacation.'”

I’ve come to not just accept but to actually embrace “they” in these and other contexts. There was a song by Sting back in the 1980s called If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, which was ahead of the curve. Although I understand Chaucer and Billy Shakes also used the singular “they”, most of us pedantic types were taught that it was “wrong.” But language changes, our understanding of our world evolves, and I’m good with that.

Easy

I agreed with these pronoun usages. But I must admit that a bit of it is probably the same reason most people agree with new ideas. It makes sense and it isn’t all that much of a heavy lift.

I’m reminded of the adoption of the term Ms. in referring to women half a century ago. I was thinking back in 1972, “Hey, why SHOULD women be labeled by their marital status? Men aren’t!” And Ms. had the S that was included in Miss and Mrs., so it was easy to remember.

 

Z is for Ze (or zie)

American University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion offers a pronoun guide.

zieWhile many of the world’s languages do not, English has historically had gender specificity in certain of their pronouns, particularly in the third person singular (he, she). For many years, a gender-specific, almost always masculine, pronoun was used to express a gender-neutral meaning:

“A candidate should work to the best of his ability, and he must comport himself appropriately.”

A few solutions that been used to improve on this, include “he/she” (clunky), the word “one” (did not seem to catch on), or the third person plural word “they” (which I hate). Some attempts have been made, by proponents of gender-neutral language, to introduce invented gender-neutral pronouns.

In September 2015, “Harvard University made a buzz after allowing students to select gender-neutral options like ‘ze,’ ‘e,’ and ‘they’ on registration forms. In doing so, it joined a wave of other major colleges in acknowledging that gender identity, and the pronouns that go with it, is more fluid than how previous generations understood it.”

American University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion offers a pronoun guide which states “the practice of asking individuals what pronouns they use for themselves should be done in an effort to respect the diversity of gender identities beyond man and woman.”

Here are some of the gender-neutral contenders, with a breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses:

Ne: Ne laughed. I called nem. Nir eyes gleam. That is nirs. Ne likes nemself.
Ve: Ve laughed. I called ver. Vis eyes gleam. That is vis. Ve likes verself.
Spivak: Ey laughed. I called em. Eir eyes gleam. That is eirs. Ey likes emself.
Ze (or zie) and hir: Ze laughed. I called hir. Hir eyes gleam. That is hirs. Ze likes hirself.
Ze (or zie) and zir: Ze laughed. I called zir. Zir eyes gleam. That is zirs. Ze likes zirself.
Xe: Xe laughed. I called xem. Xyr eyes gleam. That is xyrs. Xe likes xemself.

As noted, “‘Hir,’ although it’s supposed to be pronounced ‘here,’ is read as ‘her’ by many people unfamiliar with the term.” The author prefers ne (n as in neutral) or ve (popular in science fiction), to ze, for reasons of pronunciation in combination with other words, as well as being more gender-free.

I’m not opposed to the use of more gender-neutral language. But the linguistic conservative in me wishes that some sort of consensus would have developed in the past few years, such as when firefighter replaced fireman, and flight attendant encompassed stewardess and steward.

Now, The New York Times Adds ‘Mx.’ to the Honorific Mix, at least on one occasion, in lieu of Mr. or Ms.

Of course, this all has been and will be, a continuing source of debate about whether the trend is cultural sensitivity, or political correctness run amok.

abc 17 (1)
ABC Wednesday – Round 17

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