There are (at least) two different issues swirling around pronouns:
- Singular they, which I wrote about in 2018
- Calling someone by their preferred pronouns (in terms of gender), which I wrote about earlier this month
Both of these issues feel new to most people. But they aren’t! For all the peeving about singular they — which, incidentally, was Merriam Webster Word of the Year for 2019 — it’s neither new nor destructive to the language. We survived the transition to singular you in Elizabethan days, before which it was necessary to use thou and thee, and no one was confused by the use of the same pronoun for singular and plural. So relax! Most of the people who object to singular they are under the mistaken belief that it’s ungrammatical, because they have Latin stuck in their heads as the model of true grammar. Latin is great, but it isn’t English!
Now some new but old news about gendered pronouns. Dennis Baron tells us about the case of a Chicago Superintendent of Schools who promoted gender-free pronouns more than a century ago! The newspaper clip in the figure above comes from this post (I love the subhead “Makes Principals Gasp”). Go to the link and read Baron’s entire piece, where you will learn much more context about this historical curiosity and its relevance today. I’ll review his new book, What’s Your Pronoun? Beyond He and She, after I have had a chance to read it. Unfortunately it isn’t out yet.