International Pronouns Day

As everyone knows, today is International Pronouns Day.

Why, you might ask, does such a day exist? There’s no International Adjectives Day, after all. Or International Verbs Day. What’s so special about pronouns?

It’s all because English has these gendered pronouns — he, she, hers, etc. The official solution is to use the ostensibly plural forms (they, them, their) instead of the awkward “he or she” and so forth. But there are scores of reasons why that isn’t great, and I don’t just mean the stodgy English teacher’s claim that it’s ungrammatical. You can all about the history of genderless third-person pronouns here. It’s well worth doing so. Language does change, of course, and just as we have all gotten used to the substitution of the plural you for the originally singular thou and thee, we will get used to the substitution of the plural they for the originally singular she and he. But in the meantime there have been dozens of suggestions for non-binary third-person pronouns such as ze and thon.

It’s probably worth pointing out two of the reasons for this endeavor, especially for readers who are aware of one reason but not the other. The older reason is the obnoxiousness of saying that the masculine form is the default: just use he when you don’t know, they say, as in “The reader will realize that he has been unaware of this issue.” As they taught me in elementary school, the male embraces the female. The less said about that, the better.

The newer reason is LGBTQ awareness; we don’t always know what pronoun somebody prefers, hence the name tag in the image. Picking a preferred pronoun is a normal orientation-week activity in many colleges.

By the way, do not be under the illusion that elimination of gendered pronouns would do the least bit of good in reducing sexism in our society, as some believe. All you have to do is look at a country like Turkey, where there are no gendered pronouns and never have been. Clearly this phenomenon hasn’t made Turkey into a non-sexist society.

Anyway, remember to observe International Pronouns Day, and stay aware.

Categories: Life, Linguistics