The All-Purpose Pronoun

William Safire’s On Language this weekend addressed the massive argument of English’s lack of a gender neutral singular pronoun. I’d say just read his article, but I’ve dedicated today’s entry to a synopsis. Some argue that to use “he” or “him” for anyone is sexist. Others blow a casket at the proposal that “they” might be used instead. He or she, or his or her, has always been cumbersome, and, as Safire points out, brevity is essential in a Twitter world limited to 140 characters per message.

Safire’s article makes two very important points. First, he explodes the idea that using the first person masculine to mean anyone is an age old tradition of English, dating it back to the mid-1700s by a female linguist. Originally, Safire points out, the use of the plural was always acceptable. Chaucer is his prime example of authors who used the “they” for “he or she” regularly.

Second, on a side note, Safire points outs that we have no problem using “you” to first person and nominative, when orignially it was a plural objective pronoun, as opposed to “thee” and “ye.” The purists, he argues, are barking up the wrong tree.

I never think that we should change the English language out of ignorance, and I do feel that we loose valuable rules that truly hurt the language. Here is a case where adherence to a “rule” continues to hamstring English. Let it go, people. All we need now is to come up with a distinct and widely accepted second person plural.

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